Hands-on learning leads to hands-on career

Oct 30, 2019Courtney Morris

Edana Roque has a passion for massage therapy. After all, it turned her life around.

More than a decade ago, the former stay-at-home mom of two boys learned she had an autoimmune disease. It took three massages every week to fight the overwhelming fatigue and achiness.

"I remember how I felt and how I overcame it, largely through massage," Roque said.

That experience and her older son's college graduation last year led her to do something for herself: enroll in the San Jacinto College Massage Therapy Program.

Now in her late 40's and nearly done with the program, Roque looks forward to giving back to others as a massage therapist.

"Sometimes it takes something big happening in your life for you to know what you want to do," she said.

Flexible Helping Career

The Central Campus program offers an affordable path to this high-demand helping career. Most students can complete the program, pass the licensing exam, and start job searching in just 12 months.

In addition, massage therapists make a real difference. Take it from the American Massage Therapy Association: Not only do massages relieve stress, but they also improve sleep, lower blood pressure, and reduce pain from medical conditions or surgery.

"There are a lot of people in the helping community — nursing, physical therapy, counseling. This is a way to help others that requires less classroom time than other types of programs," Shelley McCaul, San Jacinto College massage therapy professor, said.

McCaul adds that the job opportunities are endless, with entry-level therapists making up to $25 an hour with tips.

"You can own your own business. You can work in a hospital, day spa, airport, chiropractor's office, hotel, and on a cruise ship," she said.

For students like Alexia Donnelly, flexibility is a huge program perk.

Although geared toward full-time students, the program, which will move to the South Campus in fall 2020, accepts those holding a full-time job or pursuing another degree program.

Donnelly, who earned her associate degree from San Jac, attends the University of Houston-Clear Lake while pursuing massage therapy. She hopes to combine massage and physical therapy to help military and geriatric patients.

"I wanted massage therapy as a back-up in case I can't get into physical therapy," Donnelly said. "Some classes can be difficult, but it's a rewarding program. The best part is seeing people relaxed as they leave."

Advantages of the program? Students earn 23 hours of college credit, and even though tuition is low, applicants may still be eligible for financial aid.

Hands-on Experience

In their final semester, after practicing extensively on each other, students participate in an internship that includes at least 40 public client massages.

The internship classroom is divided into curtained cubicles with individual massage tables. After checking in as if visiting a traditional massage spa, clients are escorted to their private cubicle for a 50-minute massage, with lights dimmed and soft music playing.

According to McCaul, students always respect modesty by carefully draping sheets. They are eager not only to try new techniques but also to provide a comfortable experience.

"Know that your limits will be respected. If you only want your feet massaged, you'll just get your feet massaged," McCaul said. "The appointment is solely in your hands."

Seeking aches and pains management, Cris Santiago has frequented the internship since the program started about a decade ago. She says students are courteous and attentive, giving a firm elbow if she wants pressure.

"It improves your health and relieves stress. They're just as good as any other massage place out there that charges $60," Santiago said.

Retiree Dennis Hayter has visited dozens of times, mainly to relieve stress and back tension.

"I haven't had a bad massage yet," Hayter said. "A massage is not a cure-all, but it's a big relief. I'm more relaxed when I leave, and it lasts for a while."

Goodbye, Stress

According to Roque, massage therapy takes someone who is willing to give of him or herself to work out the kinks and knots of any client lying on the table.

Because massage made a difference in her own life, she shuffled work and family responsibilities to make time for classes to become a therapist herself. She can't even remember how she juggled everything initially.

"When you want something bad enough, you're going to figure it out," she said.

"Figuring it out" included relying on her own stress management go-to.

"I still get massages all the time!" she said.