Interview with Bellus Academy's Director of Massage Diane Trieste

Programs and Schools

Based out of San Diego, Diane Trieste has a unique perspective on the various aspects of massage therapy. In addition to her massage therapy license, Diane has a degree in business and work experience that reaches from massage therapy to management to education. She has been a part of the wellness industry since 1991 and currently serves as the massage and wellness director of Bellus Academy in San Diego.

Diane shares with her insight into the changing face of massage therapy education and careers.

Q. What are some things that led you to become an educator in the massage therapy and wellness field?

A. Being a business major, I was able to articulate what makes someone a better employee, and that took me right into providing on-the-job training and mentoring peers [in the massage therapy field].

Then, as a [business] manager, I worked with local schools -- whether it was an aesthetics school or a massage school. I taught some classes from [the perspective of] being in the industry and knowing what employers like to see when they hire. That was the bridge for me to get involved in education.

Q. What are some challenges typically associated with the instruction of massage therapy programs?

A. One of the bigger challenges facing our our industry, at large, is trying to keep up with current medical and public expectations of massage therapy programs.

Massage [therapy] is becoming very, very popular with the public as a typical [part] of people's weekly schedules and also in medical care. What I observe is that the schools aren't changing with the times, and they are teaching what they taught 20 years ago.

Q. How then should students go about finding the right program?

A. I think it's more about looking at a vocational school as a career choice. You really have to invest time in seeing which school is going to give you a program that will help you succeed.

When you go to college, you really research it, and I believe massage therapy careers now require almost the same thing. Basic massage really isn't going to take you very far. You really need to understand more skills to make you competent -- like business skills and self-development.

Q. As an instructor, how do you define the success of a course or program?

A. You define it by numbers -- how many people are coming through your course. You also define it by the surveys you get back from students. Feedback is from your alumni is really important.

Q. How many different types of massage styles do students learn in your classes/program?

A. At Bellus Academy, we have a 700-hour program and a 1000-hour program. Within both of those, students are going to learn Swedish massage. They are also going to learn sports techniques and some medical, therapeutic massage skills as well as a vested base of Asian studies that include Shiatsu and Thai massage -- and we also have equipment for hydrotherapy and body therapies including Vichy showers and wraps.

Q. What types of volunteer opportunities do you incorporate into your program?

A. We do voluntary field trips all the time to different events. We go to corporate events and give chair massages to their folks; we'll go to athletic events and do pre- or post-sports massages. We like to get into geriatrics, and go into nursing homes and do touch therapy. We try to reach different demographics, because it gives students a keen sense of what areas of study they want to pursue once they graduate.

Q. In what ways have you attempted to maximize your students' comprehension of a particularly troublesome concept or subject?

A. We look at teaching everybody individually. Some people are book learners. Some people are tactile learners. So we have different ways of approaching the same subject to make sure the students are all learning together in the best way they are capable. Skills are taught visually using pictures and videos on the board, and, of course, through hands-on training.

Q. Do you have any experience incorporating newer educational technologies into your courses?

A. We have digital projectors so we can utilize videos and the Internet. We are also trying to understand the changing demographics in our classrooms. That's why I consider Bellus a leading educator in our industry; it is looking at the current needs and what is constantly trending up.

Q. How do you communicate with your students?

A. Our teachers and even our administrative staff are always available to the students when they need to ask questions. We pretty much have an open door policy where students can come in and ask if someone has a minute to spend with them.

If they need extra help with their studies, teachers are pretty available. We make time to nurture and mentor each student. There is also one-on-one counseling and mentoring to check in and see how they are doing throughout the course.

Q. What skills will your students not be able to learn in the classroom?

A. We can't teach our students when they are actually in the real world, and they need help to handle something. But we certainly try to prepare them.

As a teaching institute, we have a clinic that is supposed to simulate a work environment. The public comes in, and individuals book services as if they were going to a clinic, massage practice, hotel or spa. We try to emulate what literally happens in the real world.

Q. From your own experience, what are some fundamental characteristics a student must possess to achieve success in massage therapy?

A. I think anybody can do massage [therapy]. To be successful, you have to have an open heart and be self-motivated to help.

You can't fix someone -- you have to be willing to help them fix themselves. So there is that bit of open-heartedness where you can't get frustrated at someone who doesn't listen to you. It is a completely different field. You really have to go in with no expectations other than to facilitate care to them through touch therapy.

Q. Are there specific skills or work experience that will help prospective students?

A. You have to have a flexible attitude coming in. When you are working in the touch therapies, it's really not a 9-to-5 job. It's about helping others and that means you could be working nights and weekends. Once you have the experience in the field and understand what markets you like, whether it's hospitality or self-clientele, then you can create your own work schedule.

And that's the beauty of touch therapy. You have the ability to take it anywhere and work in any environment.

Q. What associations or professional groups do you recommend to your students?

A. The biggest two out there are the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) and the AMBP ( Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals). Both have large memberships, and they both offer personal insurance and all types of resources for professionals, including conferences. They are also very good networking associations.

And then there are local groups and chapters as well. So really the best thing, depending on where someone lives, is to go online and see which associations are locally based.

Q. Does massage therapy training differ by state?

A. Yes, that's one of the challenges in our industry. Not every state has licensure. Within the last 8 to 10 years, we created a national certification, and some states base their licensure on that certification. Some states just require a national certification and other states require neither. Somewhere between 38 to 42 states actually have [their own] licensure, but they are literally all different. [Their training requirements] could be anywhere from 350 hours to 1150 hours.

Q. Are there any types of individuals that should completely stay away from this program?

A. No, I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from learning massage [therapy].

Q. What is your outlook on the future of massage therapy programs and the field in general?

A. I think the industry is only going to grow. I think we are very blessed that our society is embracing that touch therapy can help people. It's not just a pampering, rich person's treat.

Massage really has a lot of benefits, even as minimal as allowing someone to really relax for an hour which can have therapeutic results. Now that our health care is looking at alternative therapies and we have integrated medicine, massage is being considered part of that dynamic.

That's why schools today have to look to the future, invest in their curriculum and make the right changes to prepare our students to be competent and meet the public's expectations.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of or any other organization.