A Qualitative Investigation into Why Massage Therapy Students’ Motivation Changes over the Course of Their Professional Education

Paul Finch, PhD, MSc, DPodM



Purpose: Previous research(1) indicated that the motivation of massage therapy students changed between commencement of their professional studies and entry to practice. This paper reports on the influences underlying these changes.

Methods: The research was a qualitative design in which data were collected during a series of individual in-depth semi-structured interviews with massage therapy graduates, just after completion of a 2 year full-time program. After obtaining informed consent, interviews were taped, transcribed, and analyzed, resulting in identification of a number of themes and sub-themes.

Results: Previously noted changes in student motivation involved an increase in the influence of extrinsic rewards and a decrease in motivation related to helping and working with people. The findings of the present study suggest that these changes are explained by two themes, each with a number of sub-themes. The first theme, The Reality of Life in Practice, is associated with two sub-themes: Debt Load and Effectiveness in Achieving Positive Health Outcomes. The second theme, An Evolving Self-Image as a Health Care Professional, is associated with three sub-themes: Rigor / Intensity of the Educational Program, Developing Perspective of Massage Therapy as a Career, and Interaction with Faculty.

Conclusion: The data suggest that the change in motivation noted in previous work (increased extrinsic motivation and decreased intrinsic motivation) is influenced in different ways by each theme identified above. While schools must be vigilant in ensuring that programs support the humanistic mission of health care, the present study indicates that the change in motivation noted in earlier work is not sinister. Rather, it appears to be related to the development of a realistic perspective of life as a health care practitioner, which departs from the more naïve expectations of students when they commence their professional studies.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3822/ijtmb.v2i1.33

International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
ISSN 1916-257X