By default most folks get a Swedish massage. Whether called by name or not, a full body, Swedish massage is what is generally expected when an appointment for a massage is made. Done well, a Swedish massage can make you feel like you have died and gone to heaven. My very first massage from a professional therapist was like that. I hadn’t known it was possible to feel so good. I figured a massage was a massage was a massage and couldn’t wait to get another one.

Finding the right massage therapist or the right massage therapy school is much easier than finding a needle in the haystack, but may take more than one attempt. There are great therapists out there.

The massage therapist who gave me my first massage was a Natural Therapeutic Specialist or NTS – a designation given by the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics in Albuquerque. This particular therapist lived about 2500 miles away, so getting additional treatments from him was not practical. I quickly learned that there are HUGE differences in the quality of treatment you receive from a massage therapist. A portion of this difference is skill level or natural ability of the practitioner and the much of rest has to do with the training he has received.

At the time of that first massage I was a flight attendant. Shortly thereafter my base was closed unexpectedly and I had to decide if I wanted to commute to JFK or Miami, or try to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I chose the latter option and decided to become a massage therapist. My next question was what massage school did I want to attend. Being a single homeowner, the logical choice would be to go to a school near where I lived. I visited the local schools and liked certain aspects of all three. My next test was to get a massage from a licensed massage therapist who had graduated from each of these schools. This test opened my eyes.

The results of my test were as follows. Therapist from “school A” gave me a mediocre massage and used enough oil for about six massages. I felt like I had crawled out of a salad bowl with too much oil and vinegar. I went home, took a shower and actually used Dawn dish washing soap to cut through the oil. The memory still makes me shudder. The therapist from “school B” gave me a decent massage – not spectacular but not bad either. If I hadn’t had my first experience, I might have chosen to attend the school where she had been taught.

The therapist from “school C” was another story altogether. This gal’s therapy of choice was sports massage. The clients she preferred to work on were large, male athletes who wanted her to go deep into the tissue and work out knots. At the time I was not a wimp. I was in good physical shape and danced 3 to 4 times a week. This therapist’s advertisement said she did Swedish and sports massage. I requested and got a Swedish massage of sorts, but there was nothing relaxing about it. I thought my muscles were being turned into mince meat, and when she found a knot of any type she attacked it with a vengeance. I told her at least a dozen times to use lighter pressure and it helped for about 15 seconds then she went back to working the way she liked. I finally gave up trying to get her to adjust and prayed for the hour to be over quickly. If I were to experience a massage like that now I would terminate the massage after the 3rd or 4th attempt to get her to lighten up.

Needless to say I did not go to any of those local schools. I checked out a number of other schools across the country and found several excellent programs that produced good therapists. In the end I chose the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics. They teach an interesting mix of modalities, have a great reputation, a strong line up of teachers and produce quality graduates.

When I look for a therapist I automatically look for an NTS designation. It doesn’t guarantee that I will feel like I have died and gone to heaven, but I don’t have to worry that I will feel like I stepped out of a salad bowl or was just taken off the rack when the session is over.

Not all therapists who are entitled to use the NTS designation do so, and many excellent therapists do not have the designation because they trained somewhere else. So, if you are interested in finding the right massage therapist, looking for an NTS designation is one place to start.

About the Author

Jacquelyn Martin is a Natural Therapeutic Specialist and author of How to Find the Right Massage Therapist. She has served as Treasurer of the Delaware AMTA and was involved in getting legislation passed regulating massage in that state. She has practiced as a Licensed Massage Therapist in both Delaware and North Carolina.