Gunbarrel institutes launch careers and health

Melinda Besse, owner of Boulder Massage Therapy Institute

Gunbarrel is home to three non-traditional health learning institutes – Boulder Massage Therapy Institute, Southwest Acupuncture College and the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute. If the start of the new year has you considering ways to change your life, knowledge and career opportunities are abundant and close by, and there are low-cost clinics at each school to help improve your health as well..

Boulder Massage Therapy Institute (BMTI)

Health Benefits: Professional massage therapy offers pain relief, reduced stress and anxiety, increased blood circulation, and muscle stretching in a safe and comfortable space.

Instruction: In March 2018, Melinda Besse, a healing arts practitioner, purchased BMTI from its founder Angela Grasso. Grasso started the institute five years ago. While running the school, Besse is also attending classes to get her license in massage therapy, allowing her to experience the program from the inside out.

Job growth in the massage therapy industry is projected to be 38 percent, according to BMTI’s website.

“Massage therapy is in high demand now. We get a couple of calls a week looking for our graduates to join them, both in Boulder and around the Front Range,” Besse said.

Class sizes are intentionally small, around 12-16 students per session. A faculty of 15 highly experienced massage therapy and healing arts practitioners are onboard as instructors.

The program consists of 625 hours of instruction which can be completed in five months if done intensively, or in 10 months if done part-time, six days per month. Sessions start twice a year, in spring and fall.

Graduating students, after passing a national exam, are licensed massage therapists (LMT) and can go on to become certified massage therapists with advanced instruction. The school has a 100 percent pass rate on the MBLeX exam, the test most states utilize to license massage therapists.

During the program, students complete 90 hours of hands-on massage time in the school’s clinic. Curriculum covers basics such as anatomy, kinesiology, Swedish Massage techniques, and other specific skills such as foot reflexology, pain management practices, and even entrepreneurial skills.

Besse said, “Massage therapy is finally being respected alongside other health fields. So you’ll find us in chiropractic offices and hospital settings. Through this work you can have a greater impact than you can know. What the practice of massage does for one person at a time brings them out of the flight or fight state that we walk around in. It really activates that person’s own inner healing and brings a lot of joy.”

Tuition costs: $9,995 for the 625 hour program leading to licensure.

What students are saying: Both Abbie Palmer and Mikayla Simoneau graduated from local high schools in 2018 and started at BMTI in Sept. 2018. Both students said they chose to study massage because they enjoy helping people.

“It’s a great way to get an education fast and get an actual career and job pretty soon after high school,” Palmer said. “The teachers are amazing, and that’s my favorite part.”

Simoneau said, “I’m looking into the path of healing, possibly medical school, and massage was the first place I could start that journey. We get a lot of one on one attention here because classes aren’t big.”

Clinic visits: Student massages cost $35/55 minute session and are open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Graduate massages cost $60/hour and are available Saturday and Sunday. Call 303-530-1270 to schedule appointments.

For very comprehensive information including a description of the curriculum and clinic information, visit, 6658 Gunpark Drive, Gunbarrel, 303-618-5518

Southwest Acupuncture College (SWAC)

Health Benefits: Oriental medicine treats the whole person, not just symptoms. People who want pain management, stress and anxiety relief, injury healing, sleep improvement, or have challenges with fertility, would benefit. Patients with PTSD, Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis or cancer are excellent candidates for health improvements.

Instruction: SWAC was founded by acupuncturists Skya and Anthony Abatte in Santa Fe, NM, and expanded to Boulder in 1997 because of the area’s beauty and demographics, SWAC Academic Dean, Corine Danchik said.

Gunbarrel institutes launch careers and health

A student at Southwest Acupuncture learning to apply their knowledge in a clinical setting.


“I found a huge shift in demand starting in 2017 where a lot of people are now being hired with this degree,” Danchik said. “More hospitals are taking on acupuncturists, Kaiser has an acupuncture department. Blue Cross Blue Shield has started an opioid cessation program using acupuncture to manage pain, the VA has a new program where they are referring to acupuncturists to help with PTSD, and holistic practices are growing to include acupuncturists. There’s a new franchise called Modern Acupuncture and they’re hiring positions.”

SWAC has 63 students presently enrolled, with 15 slated to graduate this August. Applying students must be 20 years old and have at least 60 credits from a baccalaureate program. Students graduate with a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine (M.S.O.M.) or a Master in Science in Acupuncture (M.S.Ac.) The difference between the programs is that M.S.O.M. students are taught herbal medicine practices. Classes begin each fall and spring.

As of January 2018, the first portion of student instruction was moved to an online format, allowing students to work while taking classes during their free hours. The second part of the curriculum is completed in-house.

Danchik said. “The online classes have really upped our rigor tremendously and we’ve always been a rigorous school. You have to have an 80 percent to pass the program and what I’ve seen the students produce in the online courses shows amazing processing and thinking.”

The school has a 100 percent pass rate on the board certification and Danchik credits student preparation for those exams to the college’s long term, high caliber instructors.

The program is the equivalent of a four-year degree, which can be taken in accelerated mode and finished in three years, full-time which takes four years, or part-time which can be done in up to seven years. The modalities students learn are comprehensive, but the emphasis is on acupuncture and herbal medicine.

SWAC runs an athlete clinic at CU Boulder, a senior clinic at Golden West Retirement Home, and has won an award for its clinical work with the Boulder County Aids Program.

Tuition: $64,000 for an M.S.Ac. degree, or $78,000 for an M.S.O.M. degree.

What students are saying: Kate Elliott moved to Colorado specifically for Southwest Acupuncture. She will graduate the summer of 2020.

“The teachers have very diverse backgrounds and training and so they have a lot of perspective on the medicine, which I love. I love the administration, the student body, the medicine, and I love Boulder,” Elliott said.

Clinic visits: Sessions include diagnosis and treatment. The cost is $29.25, with discounts to seniors, pediatric, and students. For appointments, visit .

For more information on classes and clinic sessions, visit, 6630 Gunpark Drive, Gunbarrel, 303-581-9955

Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® (DIRI)

Health Benefits: Rolfing utilizes a specific Ten-Series of sessions that manipulate fascia, the body’s connective tissue, where injuries and repeated patterns of movement may have caused constraints. The intent is to relieve pain, renew energy, improve posture, and restore range of motion, and it often alleviates emotional trauma harbored in our bodies.

Gunbarrel institutes launch careers and health

Dr. Ida Rolf, founder of the Rolf Institute located in Gunbarrel


Instruction: While other schools teach Structural Integration (SI), they do not teach Rolfing, a specific method developed by Dr. Ida Rolf. DIRI opened in Boulder in 1971, making it the first and now the largest SI teaching institute. Rolf’s approach to SI and accreditation protocol holds practitioners to a high standard of practice and a high level of integrity.

DIRI’s Executive Director Christina Howe said, “Rolfing impacts our nervous and structural systems, how we walk through gravity. It’s transformative work.”

In the next 20 years, Howe said the field of Rolfing is predicted to grow as much as 36 percent. More practices will be opening and Rolfing practitioners are joining other health centers. Pediatric, geriatric, and veterinary Rolfing are all growing areas. Graduates can expect to earn six figures, Howe said.

Applying students need to have completed at least two years of college. DIRI has 150 enrollees per year and last year 65 students completed the program.

Students are taught foundational knowledge and skills, embodiment which Howe described as a felt sense in gravity and each person’s presence or mindfulness, therapeutic relationships, and the Ten-Series. In the final phase of learning, students primarily work on clients. They will have Rolfed three clients by the time they graduate and will have gone through the Ten-Series themselves.

After completing 730 hours of instruction, graduates will have earned a certificate of structural integration. The program can be completed in eight months taking daytime classes. Class sessions start five times over the course of a calendar year.

DIRI also teaches an advanced certification program and Rolf Movement Integration. Following those programs, students typically go on to be members of the Rolfing Association and can call themselves a Rolfer.

One of the myths about Rolfing is that it’s painful to be on the receiving end. Howe said that was the case in the olden days, but it has evolved to use a “much wider use of touch” and even with a very light touch, a lot of change can take place.

Tuition: $17,000 to $23,000 for the basic Rolfing certificate, depending on the student’s previous education and background.

What students are saying: Erin Solveig graduated from DIRI in March 2018 and has opened her own practice in Boulder, Origins Rolfing.

“I was looking for something that allowed me to do clinical work, but also had a little bit of autonomy and holistic exploration around it,” Solveig said. “Rolfing allows me to approach a client in an open, all-encompassing way while having a strong foundation in science and is also very open to alternative methods.”

Clinic visits: Cost is $20-$45/session. It’s done in a supervised setting. For clinic information, call 303-449-5903, ext. 104 or visit

For more information, visit 5055 Chaparral Court, Ste. 103, Gunbarrel, 303-449-5903.