UAA massage school helps community heal, relax

For some, the thought of going to a business with “massage” on the sign and stripping naked conjures up ideas of places like the Minnesota Chateaux. Such misconceptions, however, have grown less common, and the need for good massage therapists to work on aching bodies has increased.

Since the University of Alaska Massage Therapy Training Program began in the fall of 1997, it has grown fairly steadily, spilling out of its bounds at two different locations. Starting with just 15 students and graduating only 10, it has maintained about over 30 graduates a year and now has 61 students in its third location at 3400 Spenard Road.

Rosanne Kruckenberg program assistant, said the program has turned away students every year, as there is space for only 28 students in each lab.

“There's always more demand than room,” she said.

The curriculum, created by former director Kathy Murtiashaw, is designed according to national accreditation standards and consists of courses covering anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and hands on massage training.

A professional massage does more than just feel good. Emotions can be held in a person's muscles, and massage therapy can help to release them, said Steve Hagan, one of the program's instructors. Hagan, 36, graduated at the end of the program's first year. He had been doing computer work when he decided to enter the program.

"It really turned into a life-changing experience," Hagan said. It gave him an understanding of how his body functions and he applied that understanding to his life. He still works with computers but has added a job at the Captain Cooke 30 hours a week at the massage school. He is using his new knowledge to help others.

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The two most common places unexpressed emotions are held are the shoulders and the stomach. Hagan, said that while emotions are released during one of his massages, he has witnessed everything from a person lightly crying to a person bawling in the fetal position. Often times, victims of abuse have repressed emotion saturating their muscles and it can be powerfully released.

"It's been a big eye opener, how much you can help someone just by laying your hands on them," Hagan said. Although massage therapy can't treat psychological disorders, it can help bring them to the surface and give a person a safe place to feel his or her emotions, Hagan said.

When massages are done on a professional level, a person doesn't just lie there, baring all to the world. He or she is covered with a blanket in a private room, and only the part currently being massaged is exposed, Hagan said. This is how the massage school treats its clients.

Even people without deep-seated psychological issues can benefit from massage therapy. It prepares the body for strenuous exercise, causes the body to heal quicker, and helps to relief stress. As final exams and the end of the semester get closer, students in the program are finding the third benefit particularly useful.

"We were in here every Tuesday and Thursday getting massages. It was great," said Louise Simpson, a student in the massage program. Simpson, who is currently in her second semester of the program, works during the day as an engineer's assistant. As with most people in the evening session, she works full-time before she goes to school.

"Because we all come here tired and spend the day here, we have built a good student to student relationship," Simpson said.

This semester, Simpson and her classmates will not be the only ones benefiting from the program. Students in the program are required to work Fridays and Saturdays at a new massage clinic put on by the program. They charge $20 for a one-hour full body massage.

Because of its many benefits, insurance companies are beginning to pay for massage therapy and employment opportunities have greatly increased. A few occupational therapists have taken courses and all of the program's graduates are utilizing what they learned.

"It's becoming a lot more acceptable in the medical community," said 54-year-old Ken Barnett, another instructor and graduate of the program.