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How do you become a Thai massage practitioner?

The best way to start learning Thai massage is first to study Traditional Thai massage at an approved Thai massage school.

At what point are you a qualified Thai massage practitioner? How many in-person study hours do you need, and who regulates this? And what is the best way to study and choose qualified teachers? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to these questions.

In Thailand, many Thai massage shops offer one-day, three-day, or five-day training courses in Thai massage training and ‘guarantee’ that the students will be able to do a 2-hour Thai massage upon completion. Similarly, some Thai massage schools in the Western world offer weekend courses – one-day or even half-day courses that teach Thai massage basics, letting students believe they are qualified to give Thai massage.

This advertising is deceptive since there is no way that anyone can become a qualified Thai massage practitioner within a few days. There is no specific time frame for becoming a ‘qualified’ Thai massage practitioner, but it takes months and years to become good at Thai massage.

Learning Path

The best way to start learning Thai massage is first to study Traditional Thai massage. Traditional Thai techniques, transitions, and breathing are essential for future Thai bodywork. And since the lineage of every school offers different styles, it is beneficial to learn classic sequences from several other teachers, schools and lines and then practice them for an extended period before expanding the scope of the study.

Equally important is knowledge of traditional Thai medicine, herbalism, acupressure protocols and element theory. Though it may be tempting to superimpose similar traditions, like Ayurvedic or Chinese medicine, Traditional Thai Medicine is unique, and a student needs to understand Thai massage from this perspective.

The best way to become a Thai massage practitioner is to complete a training program at a school approved by Thai Healing Alliance International (THAI). THAI is an international network of massage therapists, teachers and schools that work in traditional Thai massage. THAI promotes standards of study and practice of traditional Thai massage worldwide and offers general information about Thai healing arts. THAI-approved schools show that the school or program demonstrates a standard of excellence set by the organization.

Many Thai massage schools, including Sirius Health, offer study programs ranging from 120 to 200 hours. This program will qualify a graduate to begin professional practice as a Thai therapist or teach Thai massage. However, these programs are only legally binding in countries with the affiliation of a licensing body. For instance, our 180-hour program gives students the requirements to register with the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) for Thai massage.

Some schools also offer Teacher Training programs that range from 300 to 500 hours. These schools insinuate that students will be legally certified to teach after completion. In most cases, these programs only give the student the qualification necessary to teach one or two levels of that school’s curriculum. To become a THAI Registered Instructor able to create a curriculum, a student must study Traditional Thai massage at multiple schools.

Where to Study Thai Massage

In Thailand

Thailand has informal places where you can learn Thai massage and formal programs for training Thai massage practitioners.

Informal Programs

As part of the Thai cultural tradition, Thai people learn Thai Massage at home from their family or someone in the village or neighbourhood. Sometimes free basic programs are taught at local cultural centres, and many Buddhist temples offer some Thai Massage education.

The typical learning path for many practitioners is to learn in-house from other practitioners at spas and massage parlours across Thailand.

Formal Programs

Three governmental departments oversee Thai Massage and Thai Traditional Medicine accreditation in Thailand. The Thai Ministry of Public Health oversees the Thai massage curriculum and research. The Thai Ministry of Education manages the education infrastructure for Thai massage. And the Thai Ministry of Labor manages the requisites and permissions to practice Thai massage in Thailand.

Thailand has five categories of places that offer formal Thai massage training. First, many universities offer a three-year Bachelor’s program in Thai Traditional Medicine, which includes Thai massage and other Thai bodywork modalities. This program has an option for a one-year Master’s program in this field.

The second category of formal training schools is traditional Thai Massage medical associations approved by the Thai Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Labor. The Thai Traditional Medical Services Society (TTMS) and The Union of Thai Traditional Medicine Society (UTTS) are widely known associations. The associations hand out certificates of completion approved by the Thai Ministry of Public Health and/or the Thai Ministry of Labor.

The next category of formal training schools is vocational Thai Massage and Spa training centres, which the Thai Ministry of Public Health also oversees. These programs are very accessible to Thai people as their tuition fees are much lower than the previous schools.

The fourth formal training option within Thailand is the Schools for the Blind. Thai massage is part of vocational training for blind people, and the programs at these schools cater to blind people.

Finally, private Thai massage schools, approved by the Thai Ministry of Education and Public Health, offer Thai massage training for Thai people and foreigners. There are about 400 private massage schools in Thailand. Some of these schools have English programs accessible to foreigners, but most have programs taught in Thai.

Thai massage education generates millions of tourist dollars each year in Thailand. Unfortunately, there is no standardized curriculum for foreigners or direction from the Thai government on educating foreigners about the safe, effective and legal practice of Thai massage in their native countries.

Private schools can give certifications recognized by the Thai Ministry of Education and Public Health. Some even offer certificates recognized by the Thai Ministry of Labor. However, many schools and teachers teach whatever they wish, including hybrid modalities and other therapies that do not originate in the Thai tradition.

In Europe

Nuad Boran Thai Association Europe (NBTAE)

The Nuad Boran Thai Association Europe (NBTAE) recognizes Thai massage practitioners and teachers whose qualifications and training correspond to standards similar to those in Thailand. The Institute of Traditional and Alternative Medicines of the Department of Public Health of Thailand (the only public institution in charge of fixing minimum criteria regarding Thai massage) requires a minimum duration of 372 hours of Thai massage training over two years for a certified practitioner training and of 800 hours for a master practitioner training.

Ancient Siamese Bodywork (ASB)

The minimum requirements for becoming a certified practitioner are 372 hours over a period longer than 12 months. Basic Thai massage training can only account for up to 70 hours. Some advanced training, like the medical advanced training of Wat Pho, will qualify. In case of controversy concerning the duration of approved studies, the applicant must pass an exam organized by the Nuad Boran Thai Association Europe.

In North America

Thai Healing Alliance International

Thai Healing Alliance International (THAI) is an international network of therapists and teachers who work in traditional Thai massage. THAI promotes the safe, ethical and effective practice of traditional Thai massage and offers information to the general public about Thai healing arts. THAI Registered Thai Therapists and Teachers practice in over 35 countries and territories.

THAI has basic standards of study and practice for traditional Thai massage worldwide and has the following requirements for membership.

Registered Thai Therapist (RTT)

The minimum requirements to become an RTT are 250 hours of formal hands-on training with two different teachers or schools, and 40% of this training must be with teachers or schools affiliated with THAI.

Advanced Registered Thai Therapist

The minimum requirements to become an Advanced RTT are 350 hours of formal hands-on training with at least three different teachers or schools, two of which must be certified by THAI. Advanced RTT members must also have studied at least once in Thailand and have completed at least 10 hours of Thai cultural studies.

Registered Instructor

The minimum requirements to become a Registered Instructor are 500 hours of formal hands-on training with at least three different teachers or schools, and 40% of this training must be with teachers or schools affiliated with THAI. Registered Instructors must have a wide range of studies and experience with many different teachers over a minimum of 3 years. In addition to manual techniques, they should also have some study experience in Thai acupressure protocols and basic knowledge of Thai element theory.

In Canada

Natural Health Practitioners of Canada

You may register with the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) to practice Thai massage professionally in Canada. NHPC represents over 6,300 practitioners who work in over 60 massage and holistic health practices, including Thai massage.

Certified Thai Massage Practitioner

Currently, there are three options for registering with NHPC for Thai massage:

Registration with the Thai Healing Alliance International (THAI) or the Nuad Boran Thai Association Europe (NBTAE).
Completion of a minimum 150-hour program from a THAI RRT Instructor/School.
Completion of a minimum 150-hour program from a school in Thailand that has been accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education and the Thai Ministry of Public Health.
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