Massage Therapist Interview

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Donda Sternberg
Professional Massage Therapist
Director, Gentle Healing School of Massage
Years in the Industry: More than 20

Training to Become a Massage Therapist

More than 20 years ago, Donda Sternberg could not envision how much a single decision would change her life. At the time, she was an esthetician. Her clients often told her she had great hands and should consider going into massage. She heard the comment enough times that she decided to attend massage therapy school. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “I never knew how phenomenal the power of touch could be for the giver and the receiver.”

Training to become a massage therapist, Sternberg learned first-hand how touch influences well-being. “In my early 20s, I had constant stomach problems and headaches. After six months of massage school, all of my symptoms went away.” She started practicing meditation and yoga and learned the importance of making a body-mind connection to maintain her overall health.

Massage Offers Diverse Healing Powers

Sternberg finds that people seek massage treatment for very different reasons. Some go in order to relax; others come to reconnect with their spiritual side. Some need help with physical problems, such as sciatica, aches and pains in the lower back, and even prenatal issues. Read more about prenatal massage.

“We live in a society where people are in the habit of looking outside themselves for answers about the well-being of their bodies, minds or spirits. I try to help clients learn to listen to their own gut instincts.” She encourages clients to learn to heal themselves by finally allowing their bodies to release a pain or emotion that’s hindering them.

Since becoming a massage therapist, Sternberg has seen the industry emerge in importance in the health care field. In a 2018 survey, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) found that 67% of individuals say the primary reason for receiving a massage was medical or stress-related. Half of those surveyed said that a conventional medical professional has strongly recommended massage as part of their treatment.

State Massage Regulations

When Sternberg completed her massage training in the late 1980s, only two states had regulations surrounding the industry. Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to regulate massage therapy. Read more about states regulating massage.

Additionally, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) administers a national certification exam. To become nationally certified, practitioners must not only pass the exam but also meet specific standards for education, experience, and training.

Massage Therapist Training Programs on the Rise

A pioneer in the field, Sternberg received her massage training at a small school that was located inside a post office. “There weren’t that many schools around back then.” Now, however, roughly 1,300 massage therapy postsecondary schools, college programs, and training programs exist throughout the country.

Sternberg opened in 1996. She teaches a well-rounded curriculum that combines Eastern and Western methodologies, anticipating that her students will focus on the areas that resonate with them. “Most massage therapists who start in one place can wind up in many different places.”

Sternberg started as a traditional massage therapist and soon moved into energy work. She spent time working side-by-side with psychiatrists to help patients process their emotions. From that early experience, she learned the importance of intuition.

Tapping into a Sixth Sense – Intuition

“I always use a questionnaire completed by the client to assess his or her physical or emotional state prior to the massage. Then I decide what kind of bodywork to do.” During the massage itself, however, Sternberg may shift her approach based on what she discerns from the client’s energy.

Part of her students’ training involves getting in touch with their intuitive side. “At a certain point, we blindfold students when they do bodywork so that they can learn to feel the client’s energy. If they can do this, they can better evaluate a client’s needs and give massage from their hearts instead of their minds.”

Massage Is About Helping People, Not Making Money

To prospective massage students, she says, “If you want to become a massage therapist because you’re thinking about the dollar value, things may not unfold for you. If you are doing it from your heart, you will have a phenomenal career. You have to have it in you to help people.”

In addition, Sternberg owns a wellness spa. While these two ventures keep her busy, she maintains her private massage practice.

“It’s a passion,” she says.

Sternberg’s enduring aspiration is that in the course of her career she has succeeded in making a difference in the lives of others. “I hope I’ve been able to change people’s lives the way mine was changed just from the importance of what touch is all about.”


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