Massage therapy gaining recognition

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Coming soon to Fort Hays State University: a two-semester, 500-clock-hour certificate program designed to prepare students to test for the National Association Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

Leading it is a person who came to massage therapy by accident. She is a registered nurse who became a believer in the therapeutic effects of massage for such things as fibromyalgia, Parkinson's, autism, arthritis, some cancer patients and hospice care. She has been practicing and teaching the skill for 20 years.

"I was a marine biology major living in Galveston, Texas, and volunteering at the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network," said Ceena Owens, who most recently was director of the massage therapy program at Colby Community College. She is a Lenora native and an FHSU alumna.

Rescuing and rehabilitating sea life was rewarding, but, said Owens, "I decided that was more of a hobby and not a career choice." Besides that, none of her fellow marine biology majors were finding work in that field. Then a mentor suggested massage therapy school. She went to a workshop to see if she was interested, and if she could do it.

"It changed my life," she said. "I wanted something more nurturing and holistic, not so sterile and scientific." She found it in massage therapy and, beginning in the spring 2015 semester, will begin teaching it at FHSU.

But before that, she will offer a series of workshops so that prospective students can see some of what is involved and see if they want to do it.

"These are two-day workshops, all hands on, no textbook required," she said. "It gives them an idea if this is really for them without investing a lot of time or money, and they can see if they will really be able to handle touching other people's skin."

The first workshop was Oct. 4-5. Others this fall are scheduled for Oct. 25-26, Nov. 1-2, Nov. 15-16 and Dec. 13-14. The workshop cost is $148.95, the current undergraduate tuition and fee cost for one credit hour, plus a $30 application fee for non-students. Workshops will be in Cunningham Hall, room 145.

Each workshop class is limited to 10 people. Current students can sign up through TigerTracks.

"It is a great class to learn some skills so you can work on family and friends without killing your hands," said Owens.

Massage therapy, she said, "can be very difficult on the hands." Part of the focus of the first semester in the certificate program is teaching technique.

"The first semester is a concentration on great body mechanics and using elbows and forearms for more intense pressure, not thumbs and fingers that wear out easily," she said. "The second semester includes an introduction of tools, again to create longevity in the profession."

She has also scheduled an open house for 2 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Memorial Union, next to Starbucks.

She will be able to take 20 students for the first semester's basic class and hopes to be able to take 40 students total in the fall 2015 semester, when both the basic and advanced classes will be taught.

The program will be operated by the Department of Health and Human Performance in FHSU's College of Health and Life Sciences. Academically, the course is 32 credit hours, half online and half in the classroom.

Owens' desire is for FHSU to be a provider of continuing education credits for massage therapists around the country. National licensure requires 12 continuing education units (CEU) every two years. Kansas and four other states do not require licensure, but Owens and other massage therapists hope that will change in the coming legislative session.

"We are hoping for it because it gives validation to the rest of the medical community and health care professionals that we are trained professionals," said Owens. She also noted that health insurance policies will not cover massage therapy in states which do not require licensure for massage therapists.

And she is a fervent believer in the utility of her profession. In addition to its uses as a tool in therapeutic and rehabilitation treatment, it is gaining more and more recognition as effective aid for pain management. It can serve to work synergistically with other drug therapies, she said.

"Many clients on narcotics, muscle relaxants, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds are at a loss, since some of those things don't work for them anymore, or if they do, it is minimal. But massage therapy can and does help some of them."

Her ultimate goal is for FHSU to offer a bachelor's program in massage therapy, which is available in some states. But in Kansas, licensure must come first. The classes here will result in a school certificate for students who successfully complete the program and then pass the national examination, if they choose to do so. Later, the hope goes, will come an associate degree followed by bachelor's program.

From the introduction to massage therapy 20 years ago, Owens' personal story progressed to licensure in Texas and certification by the National Certification Board for Massage and Bodywork, the highest credentialing level.

She earned an Associate of Science from Barton Community College in 1993, an associate degree in nursing in 2006 form Galveston Community College, Galveston, Texas, and a Bachelor of General Studies form FHSU in 2014. She has also worked as a nurse at Shriners Pediatric Burn Unit in Galveston. From 1997 to 2007, she was a manager, trainer and massage therapist at Moody Gardens Hotel Spa in Galveston and has worked in the same capacity simultaneously, from 1999 to 2007, for Spa San Luis Resort in Galveston.

She moved to Hays in 2007 and opened her own massage practice, Elements of Massage LLC, which she sold in September, and operated that while also directing the massage therapy program in Colby. She was ready to "expand to more students," and after talking to Dr. Jeff Briggs, dean of the College of Health and Life Sciences, and Glen McNeil, chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance, found that FHSU "was ready to be a pioneer in a career choice that is taking off and that is recognized more and more for its health benefits."

"I was blessed to work in beautiful places, be mentored by extremely talented therapists, and have exceptional clients who helped guide me on my way," said Owens.

"What I want to do now is take that to another level, to take education and research in my profession to the next level. I want to advance the profession in my home state, and I want to be an inspiration to students and provide an education for those who want a career in massage therapy."

She is on Facebook, Fort Hays State University Massage Therapy Program, and the website is Massage Therapy.

Owens can be contacted at 785-639-7218, by email to or through the Department of Health and Human Performance at 785-628-4376.

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