Come to COMTA

I just got home from doing a site review from COMTA. It was my third trip as a peer reviewer, and once again, an enlightening experience. COMTA is the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Gaining accreditation is a strictly voluntary process. It’s estimated that there are about 1500 massage schools/programs in the US, and less than 100 of them possess the accreditation. Obtaining COMTA accreditation for a massage school is not cheap, and it’s a lot of hard work, so you might wonder why a school would do it. After getting acquainted with all the ins and outs of it, the answer, to me, is that it’s a  hallmark of excellence. It’s a way to say “We’re going beyond what the state requires to prove that we have a superior school.”

Part of the accreditation process is a very thorough self-study report. Schools must review their policies, their procedures, the way they conduct business, the education they provide. If it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist. As a peer reviewer, my job is to study their documentation before getting to the site, and then doing an actual visit to the school. Every syllabus, every lesson plan, every piece of documentation related to their educational process and their business proceedings is reviewed. The curriculum needs to fall in line with the mission statement. The education offered must match the learning objectives that are stated. When the reviewers show up for the site visit, we basically review every piece of documentation they claim to have, to make sure it actually exists and to make sure it does what it claims to be doing.

The accreditation doesn’t just earn a nice label for the school. It provides a measure of protection to the student, as well. It assures that the school has definite policies on qualifications for insuring the competency of instructors, absenteeism, grading, following a carefully thought-out lesson plan, and much more. It assures that financial aid is being administered correctly and that student finances are carefully documented. It assures that their are policies on sexual harassment, and that instructors have to continually improve themselves with technical training and continuing education.

A COMTA school can’t rest on their laurels. It’s an ongoing process of maintaining the standards, and regular review. A school that is poorly managed isn’t going to cut the mustard. It’s safe to say there aren’t any diploma mills or haphazardly run schools among the ranks.

COMTA standards are on the organization’s website. Anyone can access them. I challenge every single school owner in the country to review them one at a time, and see how your school stacks up. Take the leap and apply for accreditation. When we review your documentation and show up for a site visit, we’re not there to thump you on the head for any shortcomings; we’re there to help you come into compliance with the highest standards in the massage profession.

COMTA is also always seeking competent peer reviewers. The training to be a reviewer is also available on the website. Visit, and come to COMTA.


14 Replies to “Come to COMTA”

  1. Isn’t fascinating that when you post something important like this Laura, no one comments? Hopefully you are recovering from your trip, cleaning house, and getting ready for the trip to FSMTA. COMTA and the Massage Therapy Foundation seem like afterthoughts in our world. Let’s work together to get the orgs to REALLY support them through PSAs and educational pieces directed toward massage therapist specifically and the public in general. See you soon. P>

  2. Laura,

    Thanks for volunteering your valuable time to support COMTA as a peer reviewer. I don’t know if many people in our field realize that much of the work that is done to determine whether a school is in compliance with the COMTA Standards of Accreditation is performed by volunteers from within the field who serve in their particular areas of expertise.

    COMTA is a tremendously important entity in our field. All the fully-formed professions have their own accrediting commission that is dedicated to overseeing education in that particular discipline. In fact, it’s a critical part of what defines a “profession”. We have a challenging structure in place, where COMTA is one of seven different accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education that accredit massage therapy programs and/or institutions. In addition, graduation from an accredited massage school/program is required for licensure in only four states. As a result, only half of massage schools in the US are accredited.

    I recommend to my fellow school owners and program directors that COMTA be carefully examined as your preferred choice for accreditation. The processes have been streamlined over the past several years, and COMTA’s Competency Based Curriculum Standards are the best working model we have in the field to build and maintain a solid entry-level training program.

    In the interest of full disclosure, we have been a COMTA-accredited school since 1999, and have been through two re-accreditation cycles (every five years). We are a much better school for having gone through these processes. What’s more, operating in compliance with the highest standards for massage therapy education brings great benefits for our students and the people they will touch in their professional practice.

    COMTA deserves to be supported in all possible ways by the other stakeholder organizations in our field. We need a strong accrediting agency that is dedicated to massage therapy, and the staff and volunteers at COMTA are doing everything possible to carry its mission forward. However, they can’t do it alone.

    Rick Rosen, MA, LMBT
    Founder & Co-Director, Body Therapy Institute
    Siler City, NC

  3. Agreed Rick and Sandy! The COMTA peer review process has also helped us at our school. The Florida School of Massage has improved its systems, looked at classroom standards in a new light and even helped COMTA Commissioners see things in a different light based on our FEEDBACK to them. Accreditation is a benchmark to measure progress and improvement. My disclosure is that I am the Accreditation Program Manager for FSM and have gone through 3 renewal cycles, been on at least three site visits, and been on the COMTA Appeals Panel. Let’s focus on helping folks understand the value and importance of programmatic accreditation. P>

  4. the biggest thing I see missing from the COMTA process is any mention of placement rates.

    The goal of education is to prepare students to earn a living using the knowledge they have gained — no, sorry, education is not there just for the sake of gaining knowledge — that is a luxury for the alleged idle classes.

    Part of the education needs to be how to get a job or start your own practice. How to be a good employee — how to be professional, show up for an interview on time, etc.

    Given the shocking number of massage school graduates who never end up practicing, I don’t give a rodent’s rear end for anything COMTA has to say — about any of the things they look at — until they put an emphasis on placement and success of the students graduating from their beknighted schools.

    Otherwise, they are just a diploma mill — except they have fancy initials and can charge more and offer financial aid, everything that is wrong with higher education.

    I don’t care if the students were subjected to sexually inappropriate jokes or not if they can’t get a job, all the sensitivity training that puts them in COMTA’s good graces is a joke.

    The only real “protection” for a student is making sure their education leaves them better off — financially #1 — than they were before they plunked down their tuitiion money. Until schools can deliver — and be measured – on that, then accreditation is meaningless.

  5. I agree with Relax and Rejuvenate that an accreditation process that does not include an examination of placement rates, coupled with holding those schools to high standard, would be pretty meaningless. However, as one of Laura’s fellow volunteer site reviewer with COMTA, I can tell we do look very closely at the program’s placement rates, not just overall, but for each ‘start’ of a class, as well as their percentages for graduation/completion and licensure/credentialing. And just as with everything else in teh COMTA process, not only do we look at it, but the school must go to great lengths to prove and re-prove their numbers and claims.

    As Laura points out in her post, part of the requirement for a school is to do an incredibly thorough self-study report. The items on the self-study read like a check list and are available to anyone with an internet connection. Even if a school was not going to officially go through the whole process, the quality of the training experience offered to students could be so greatly enhanced if schools took advantage of that availabilty.

    If you own or manage a massage program or school, download the self-study application and go through it. It’s 54 pages and not a gentle process, but as your students reap the rewards of your efforts, word will get out that your school goes above and beyond and the return on investment will be obvious.

  6. Following the comments about placement rates and the success of students who graduate from COMTA-accredited schools:

    The COMTA accreditation process, along with the Annual Report, requires the school to submit a Completion, Licensure and Placement chart. This document tracks the number of students who start each class in a program, and the percentages who: 1) complete the program, 2) earn licensure, and 3) gain a successful placement in the field. COMTA sets benchmarks for each of these metrics, which a school must maintain in order to remain in compliance with the Standards of Accreditation.

    These are real-world performance measures that are one of more tangible aspects of the quality assurance process.

    Regarding financial aid: accreditation from COMTA, or one of the six other agencies that accredit certain massage schools, is just a gateway to financial aid eligibility. The institution must complete a separate application process to the US Department of Education, and must be deemed financial responsible and administratively capable. The work needed to gain and maintain this eligibility from the USDE is massive and complex, as any financial aid professional (or school director) will tell you.

  7. And what are those COMTA rates for mainting accreditation for: 1) complete the program, 2) earn licensure, and 3) gain a successful placement in the field.

  8. A great as well as a really newsworthy account! I am and so pleased I ran across your write-up. Carry on the fantastic operate. Possess a fantastic evening!

  9. I agree with Rick that COMTA needs to be supported by all stakeholders in the profession, as long as this does not mean that COMTA accreditation should be a requirement for all massage schools.

    I think that if a school chooses to become accredited, COMTA, being an organization that was born out of this profession, is the best choice in ensuring that competencies and quality standards are met.

    Having said that, I am still uneasy with using a process from last century to meet the needs of today. Five years is way too long of a time to go between reviews, completion and placement rates are often meaningless (free tutoring to ensure completion and placement for a month are often used to skew statistics), and the accreditation process is still very very expensive (my school with approximately 50 students per year would pay the same application and review fees as the school down the street with 400 students per year).

    Because of the costs of the process and access to Federal Funds, in which many small schools are not interested, only large schools (or those that aim to become large schools) are drawn to accreditation. This is unfortunate, because small schools can be a huge market for COMTA. I think that a lot of schools will “Come to COMTA”, when COMTA reaches out to the smaller, over 50% of schools that so far have chosen to remain unaccredited.

  10. This is an excellent initiative. It is definitely part of the process needed to bring massage therapy into the mainstream as a respected profession. Thank you Laura for volunteering your time as a peer reviewer and helping to make it all possible

  11. I agree with the vast comments above: I opened my certification program 3 years ago, with an idea and base that I would take my 12 years of international practice, which originated with credential in Washington state. My goal is to take massage to higher levels for my eastern Idaho establishment.
    I find it difficult that an accredited title is so very expensive , yet appreciate the value it brings. I am working to set my program up for a walk through in the next year. My start was with that intention.
    However, my standards are innovative and ahead of the times. I offer so much benefit for the student body, I require and pay for the NCBTMB exam. I give a grad cash bonus based on clinical income. I am competative to FAFSA payment options but held internally. I make it a requirement to take an indepth self awareness and competative

  12. Ethical and community business. I teach my students to run a business, from taxes, tokeeping their books , charitable service, barter and ceu upkeep.
    The fear I have with allowing a board to come in and put restrictions on my ability to work with my student body on a personal needs level. I also offer a VOH program where students are able to graduate with more hours than my base of 902hr. Say to relocate to New York or take a job in Switzerland. I want to keep my freedom of commerce and I feel accredited staus will weaken that for me.
    Any advice? Why is spending over $10,000 for a title worth it?

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