As someone who has interviewed and hired many, many therapists over the years, as well as received thousands of massages at other establishments, I can tell you with authority that there are a lot of massage therapists practicing their craft who could use a reality check.
Most of the massage-loving public, I think, will agree with me: When you find a great therapist, hold onto them! They are difficult to come by.
If you’re a therapist and you can take these three suggestions to heart, I think the advice might help you keep your clients satisfied and happy.
1. Listen to your clients. Being on auto-pilot and relying on your regular routine to satisfy each client isn’t the best way to go. People will tell you what they expect from their session. If you don’t pay attention to what they’re saying, how can you hope to meet their expectations? Here is a real life example that happened to me years ago during a job interview:
I explained to a prospective therapist that I wanted “an oil massage” so I could feel their touch. When they told me they usually did Trager (which is done without oil and involves a lot of rocking techniques), I explained that I wanted more of a medium pressure Swedish-style oil massage because we do oil massage at the Chopra Center, and this is what I needed to experience in order to make a hiring decision. When this person continued to try to convince me to have a Trager session, I finally said, “I don’t want that. I want an oil massage.” So I got undressed, got on the table, and this person gave me a Trager session anyway. I understand that this person was more comfortable doing Trager. But do you think I hired this person? I didn’t get what I wanted.
Every time you do a professional massage, it is like a job interview because you want them to call you back for more work (don’t you?). If you listen and attempt to meet their expectations, you have a better chance of getting the job. If someone tells me their neck and shoulders are really bothering them, and they ask me to help with that if I can, then that’s where I start the massage. I figure if I start on their feet, they will just be wondering when I’m going to get to their neck and shoulders.
2. Get rid of the junk. This is one of the first things I do with our newbies. I go through their basic massage routine with them and tell them which strokes or techniques are fabulous, and which are not. If the “not so great” techniques are salvageable, we work on them to make them fabulous, too. If not, I ask them to throw them out. Don’t waste your time doing things that don’t feel fantastic. Make every stroke count. Even when you’re applying oil to the body, it should be an event in and of itself. Do it consciously.
Don’t think that you have to dazzle your clients with impressive advanced techniques all the time. Most people just want a good massage. They don’t care if you just do the same three techniques over and over again, as long as it feels delicious. Many times when we’re first getting started in this profession, we feel as though we need to entertain the people on our tables, and we worry that if we keep doing the same thing they’ll get bored, so we try to switch it up. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.
In many instances, a stroke that is mediocre (because you only did it two or three times) can become fabulous if you do it ten or twenty times in a row. The repetition of a stroke over the same muscles can make a huge difference in its effectiveness. Take your best techniques and experiment with repetition!
It’s important to get honest feedback. If you don’t have a trainer or mentor to work with, find another therapist to help you. You can trade massages with the intention that you will tell each other honestly what you think is good, and what is not. It’s important to be in touch with the strokes and techniques you are using on other people. And don’t take it personally or beat yourself up if you find you’ve been doing things that people don’t like. Wouldn’t you rather know? Learning and growing is what’s important.
3. Don’t tell me what’s wrong with me. Well, there are exceptions, but for the most part, my doctor or other licensed health care practitioners will give me the bad news. Please consider offering positive feedback to your clients versus the usual bombardment of the negative.
Many, many times after a massage session, a therapist has said something to me like “You should check your liver.” What? Why are you saying that? Who are you? That doesn’t even make sense, coming from a massage therapist. (Has anyone else had these experiences?) Or how about, “You have a big hole in your heart chakra.” Are you kidding me?
Imagine you’re working on a client’s upper back, and you find some knots or trigger points in between the shoulder blades. Instead of saying, “Wow, you’ve really got some knots!” or “Your back is really tight,” why not take the opportunity to inject a positive affirmation into your client’s consciousness by saying, “Wow! Your body really relaxes easily.”
Aurora mentioned in her comments last week how vulnerable we are when we’re lying naked on a massage table. It’s so true. We therapists are in positions of authority. People believe what we say. If you tell your client she relaxes easily, then she will. She will believe it, and she will become it. The positive comments you make will do much more good for your client than pointing out his or her bodily flaws.