There's not many in the spa industry who hasn't heard about Chiva-Som, one of the world's leading destination spas that has been offering its clients premier health facilities, treatment and services since 1991.
However, that's not all it is accredited for. Its training centre, the Chiva-Som International Academy, is also second-to-none for its education programmes that aim to produce spa, holistic and aesthetic therapists with excellence and professionalism.
Opened in 2003, the academy was the brainchild of Chiva-Som founder Boonchu Rojanastien who saw an increasing demand for well-trained human resources in the growing spa business.
"Mr Boonchu was well aware that the long-term success of this business would significantly depend on qualified individuals who can deliver substantial treatments for clients, thus a training institute for that purpose was founded," said Krod Rojanastien, sales and marketing manager of Chiva-Som International Academy.
He said all the courses at the academy have been developed from experience gained in Chiva-Som's 19 years in the spa and health business, with the aim to propel Thai spa therapists to an international level.
Students in Anatomy and Physiology class.
The current curriculum is approved by the Education Ministry and is accredited by the Confederation of International Beauty Therapy & Cosmetology (CIBTAC), the international body which is known for its high educational standards in aesthetic and holistic therapies.
The institute is also the winner of several spa academy awards, including the Baccarat Asia Spa Award 2006, and the Crystal Award Asia Pacific in 2007 and in 2009.
Basics is the key
What makes Chiva-Som Academy stand out from other institutions is its emphasis on the fundamentals.
Most students are encouraged to first attend fundamental courses on anatomy and physiology (A&P) and body massage since they are key to all kinds of spa therapies. This basic knowledge and skills can be further applied in other advanced training programmes.
The content of the A&P course covers the major body systems including cells and tissues, the integumentary system, as well as the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, lymphatic, digestive, respiratory, excretory, endocrine and neurological systems.
Patthama Thongprom teaches about the use of essential oils.
"Anatomy & physiology is the first subject to be taught here. It explains the structure and function of organs in the body that will be linked to the right massage positions and techniques. For example, students will understand why pressing at certain spots on the body helps relax the muscles, eases stress, and improves immunity," said instructor Patthama Thongprom.
The body massage course meanwhile is the foundation for all the different types of massages. Students will learn theoretically about the different styles of massages before getting involved with the basic practice.
The uniqueness of the Chiva-Som course is its emphasis on the right massage postures, the positioning of the hands and fingers, and ergonomic principles to prevent the therapists from possible injuries.
"Here we give much importance for the therapists' own safety so they can stay in this profession longer. Every time they do a massage, they'll properly use their hand and leg muscles without tensing up their shoulders and neck, in order to prevent them hurting their back," said Patthama.
An instructor demonstrates beauty spa treatment.
After learning these fundamentals, the students can choose the programmes that interest them. Some opt to be massage therapists while some prefer an aesthetic field of work.
A Touch of Love: The Chiva-Som signature
The right massage postures do not only help the therapists, but also bring comfort to the clients. Good ergonomic postures will allow for good distribution of weight on the clients' body. The therapists also won't become easily tired while the clients feel at ease and relaxed.
"If the therapists tense up their muscles, are under stress or have something on their minds while giving a massage, the clients can receive those feelings through their touch and thus feel uncomfortable," said Patthama.
"A skilful therapist will clear their thoughts, and flow along with the peaceful background music while doing their work. Once they relax and do it from the heart, their clients can sense it and feel relaxed, too. That's what we call 'a touch of love'," she said.
The "always-in-touch" technique is also a signature point of a Chiva-Som massage that's being taught at the academy. Students are told to always keep touching the client's body at all times during the therapy.
Students prepare healthy dishes in the spa cuisine class. SOMCHAI POOMLARD & CHIVASOM INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY
Instead of leaving the client alone during the 10-20 minute body-wrapping or facial mask treatment, the graduates of Chiva-Som Academy are taught to spend that period massaging the clients' head and limbs.
"The constant touching is the continual passage of energy from therapists to the clients. It assures the clients that we are always at their side," she said.
Furthermore, the close attention given to the clients will allow therapists to observe any irregularities that may occur to the clients, such as any allergies to the treatment, and help them right away.
Where are the students from?
About 70% of the students are Thai, and 30% foreigners.
According to Patthama, they come with varying intentions. Some want a high-income job. Some like the nature of the work because it is health-related and involves no stress, while some look for a chance to travel abroad.
Many students are therapists who have returned from working overseas, mostly from the Middle East. They seek further training on original spa therapies.
"Our students are not rich, but they don't mind paying for our courses. Though rather expensive, they remain cheaper than those elsewhere overseas, and are internationally accredited because of our high standards and originality," said Krod, the academy sales and marketing manager.
It's not only females that are interested in the courses. Krod said males make up 40% of the students.
"There is demand and a career future for male therapists both locally and internationally. Males are widely accepted for their politeness and gentleness while performing their work. They are keen on applying proper finger and hand pressure on their clients," he said.
Instructor Patthama added the most important qualification for a spa therapist is being service minded.
"Other knowledge and skills can be learned and practised, but being service minded will see them always take good care of the clients, and do their job efficiently,"she said.
How to get a certificate
A graduate of Chiva-Som Academy will get a diploma approved by the Ministry of Education.
In addition, they can choose to sit theoretical and practical exams by CIBTAC which are held four times a year. Only those who pass the exams in every aspect will be awarded the internationally accredited CIBTAC diploma.
To achieve a Chiva-Som diploma itself is not easy. Evaluations by instructors are made during every step and at the end of the course. When the training is completed, students have to undergo a test with real clients.
Evaluation here begins when they first greet the client, serve them with a warm refreshing cloth and drink, interview them for personal information and health history, and their movement and body posture while providing the treatments.
"For example, when getting the clients to lie face up or down, we'll check if the students are polite and careful enough and don't embarrass or hurt the clients.
Also, when questions about the treatments are asked, our students should be able to provide satisfactory answers. If they fail in any aspect, we can't give them our diploma," said the instructor.
COURSES AND FEES
The academy offers a variety of courses in seven areas, including fundamentals (covering anatomy & physiology, body massage and spa English), massage spa treatments, beauty spa treatments, holistic treatments (such as Indian head massage, ayurveda, reiki, etc), physiotherapy treatments (including deep tissue massage and therapeutic exercise), fitness programmes (such as gym workout, sports massage), spa cuisine, as well as spa development and management.
Courses run from a few days up to three weeks. Each course is normally scheduled from Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm. The fees vary between 9,000-20,000 baht for most therapeutic courses.
The most expensive ones are spa dhdevelopment and management which are 43,000 baht. The courses are specially dhdesigned for those who want to be owners or executives in the spa industry. They cover all details including spa investment, finance and marketing, spa facilities' structure and floor plans, as well as management techniques for running a successful business.
Class sizes at Chiva-Som Academy are small, usually about 8-10 students per one instructor.
``We make our classes small so instructors can pay close attention to all the students, and that everyone has an equal chance to practice. With a limited number of students, we can concentrate more on quality and intense training,'' said Krod.
For more information, visit www.chivasomacademy.com
WORDS FROM A STUDENT
Warapan Tichan, 20, graduated in spa education from Sukhothai Commercial College. Now she is one of four finalists hoping to represent Thailand in the 8th Asean Skills Competition to be hosted by the Thai government in November this year.
All the four candidates are being sent by the Labour Ministry for dhadvanced spa training at Chiva-Som Academy.
Warapan said in the two weeks she's been at the school, she has gained a lot more knowledge and skills than she had imagined.
``The anatomy and physiology course helps strengthen my basic knowledge about the positions of internal body organs and their functions. The academy has also taught me about the benefits of essential oils in spa therapies. This knowledge is new to me,'' said Warapan.
The courses have improved her techniques in handling and taking care of clients, how to prepare the clients' position for the massage, how to choose the aroma oils and the type of massages that suit the individuals.
She said she is interested in spa education as the spa industry is booming, and she believes the profession can earn her a good income.