Michelle Alley is the coordinator of the licensed massage therapy program at Centura Institute in Orlando.
ORLANDO – Any student who eyes their homework wearily as a stack of books waiting to be read, or a pile of papers left to be written, may want to consider what the students at Centura Institute do to work their way toward a degree.
They apply their hands to the sore backs of people lying on a table, and give them a soothing, relaxing, and possibly even therapeutic, massage.
If that sounds a lot more fun than reading a course book, said Michelle Alley, then keep in mind that her students come out of her program ready to jump into one of the fastest growing fields in Central Florida.
“They’re very highly trained professionals,” she said.
Alley is the program coordinator for the licensed massage therapy program at Centura Institute on Edgewater Drive. If becoming a massage therpaist sounds easy, Alley points out that courses run from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays for 11 months – “eight-hundred and ten hours in total,” she said. “The state requires a minimum amount of hours.”
For those who complete the course, “They’re actually a licensed health care provider under the (Florida) Department of Health,” she said. “It’s an extensive curriculum. They have tests they have to take every week.”
Those tests include participating in a student clinic where the public can come in to get a free massage. It’s part of the training the students undergo, and, Alley said, the last thing they do before they graduate.
Alley said she gets plenty of feedback from members of the public who visit the clinic to help students with their homework – and who clearly enjoy the soothing massage they get treated to.
“They’re always telling me all the wonders of massage therapy,” Alley said. “And our students get to work in a very nice, professional atmosphere.”
“I think it’s a calling,” said Katie Stone, a recent graduate of the program, who said she went into massage therapy because in a tough economy, the job options are fairly diverse. Massage therapists can open their own massage clinic or work in a local one, can assist other medical professionals such as chiropractors, or work in the growing number of local hotels and resorts that have health spas with massage rooms for their guests to enjoy.
“There are a huge number of options,” Stone said.
Dr. Darren Hollander, who runs Orlando Family Chiropractic in downtown Orlando, said chiropractors often hire licensed massage therapists to work with them.
“I do it myself,” he said. “I have a person I work with very closely. I’ve been working with her ever since I opened my office. Massage therapy is great. In fact, the last time I read about this, I think chiropractic medicine is the number one field that hires massage therapists.”
Alley agreed, saying “That’s what I tell my students. You can do your own thing and work on your own, or for someone else.”
Alley got into this field more than two decades ago, because she was experiencing pain in her back and shoulders, and traditional doctors were unable to help. Then someone recommended she try a massage therapst, and before she knew it, her pain was on the way out.
“It gave me relief,” she said. “It was very profound to me.”
It was an eye-opening moment for Alley, a realisation of just how effective this kind of therapy can be for those coping with muscle pain.
“I had tried to do some things to relieve the pain, but the massage therapy is what worked for me,” she said.
Over the years, Alley said, the image of massage therapy has changed as well. It’s become more sophisticated, as the health benefits become more widely known.
“I’ve been a massage therapist for 20 years, and I’ve seen it evolve,” she said.
Her classes start every five weeks, although Alley noted that she keeps each class size fairly small.
“Our students find small class sizes make a difference,” she said. “We have a lot of one on one lessons for our students. We teach you everything you need, even if you don’t have a background in anatomy and pathology.”
Centura Institute is at 6359 Edgewater Drive on Orlando. To learn more, call Alley at 407-275-9696 or email her at mtcoordcorl@Centura.edu.

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