A healing touch

Story by Anna Browne


The massage therapy program at Whatcom Community College is one that has recently been expanding, and can offer many possible jobs upon completion.

As a licensed massage practitioner, students can apply to work in a number of different facilities throughout the healthcare community, such as hospitals, spas, and sports and medical clinics.

“The course is offered in two cohorts; the first one starting in the fall, winter and spring, the second one in the spring, fall and winter,” said Richard Butts, the program coordinator and one of the instructors for the massage program.

The spring cohort began this year, and offers classes in the evening, while the fall cohort classes are during the day, said one of Whatcom’s massage therapy instructors, Rhys Webb.

Webb said that the program offers online and hybrid classes as well as classes on campus.

“Now the focus is that we’re incorporating hybrid classes and online classes [into the program], and that’s fairly recent,” Webb said. “The program offers more flexibility.”

The course is successful, with a 100% passing rate in the last two years. “Since 2002, only three students have ever had to retake the final test,” said Butts. “Since 2011 everyone has been able to pass the course.”

Students can earn their associate’s degree or become a licensed massage practitioner through the course, said Butts.

“The course doesn’t tell us how to heal; it tells us how to apply healing through massage therapy,” said Kimmie Halwachs, 25, a student in the program.

There are many different types of specialization in the massage profession, which includes Swedish and Deep Tissue, both offered in the program and at the massage clinic run by students in the program during the spring quarter.

“Everybody’s bodies are different and everybody heals differently. The course encourages us to find a personal style and do some analytical thinking. I really enjoy it,” said Halwachs.

Massages aren’t just for relaxation, and massage therapists aren’t just for providing it either. One of the reasons why students love the program is not just for the amount of jobs available to them upon completion, but the opportunities people will get to help others are endless and highly rewarding, said Halwachs.

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” said Halwachs. “The massage program is a really good way to help people and help them relax.”

During the first quarter, the students focus on the Swedish massage, said Rhys Webb, one of the instructors in the massage practitioner program. In the second quarter the students learn about injury treatment while focusing on deep tissue, and in the third quarter students can choose from a variety of electives, like chair massages, reflexology, and sports and spa massages.

While the program teaches students what to focus on and how to apply healing, a good massage practitioner has to have certain skills in order to fully help the client.

There are two major skills a potential masseuse needs to have; they need to be professional, and they have to be a good listener, said Webb.

While students can work towards becoming a licensed massage practitioner and getting their associate’s degree with a focus on massage therapy, they do need to take a test provided by the state in order to become certified. “We’re helping them prepare for that test,” Webb said.

Students also learn about human anatomy, kinesiology, ethics, business and pathophysiology in the program, Webb said. Pathophysiology is applying healing through massage therapy to medical or sports injuries.

Students and community members who are interested in receiving a massage from one of the students and helping them practice can receive massages for $25 an hour from the student clinic, which pays for supplies for the clinic, as well as field trips, student CPR certification and guest lecturers, said Butts.

The massage program used to be offered in the Cascade building, but is now in the new Health Professions Education Center building, along with other healthcare programs. “What’s nice is everything is brand new and we have more space,” said Webb.

During the sessions students can ask instructors for help, said Butts, so that if a student has a question about something such as how much pressure to apply to a certain spot or point, the teacher can come inside the room and show the student the proper massage techniques.

The massage clinic is open to everybody in the community, and potential clients must call for an appointment as students reserve certain time slots to provide massages. You can call Butts at 360-383-3726 or send him an email at massage@whatcom.ctc.edu to set up an appointment.

Classes in the massage program are more expensive than other classes at the college, as students are charged $170 per credit, with a $25 application fee.  “There is no waiting list,” said Butts. “It’s a first-come, first-served basis. There are only a maximum of eighteen students allowed in each cohort.” Application submission for the program is due at the end of January for the Spring quarter, said Butts.



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