Simple Question to Add to Your Massage Session

dreamclinic massage seattleCommunication is key between massage therapists and their client, both before the session and while the client is on the table. Despite great technique delivered with care, it’s not unheard of for a client to feel like the therapist almost addressed their primary complaint, but they would have liked a little more work on the problem area. Or the client would have liked the therapist to spend some time on the area or to have focused a little higher or lower along the muscles.

Imagine a client who comes in with a chronic condition, or an injury. The therapist determines where the issue is and starts their massage plan. They work diligently on that issue, and after 20 minutes they feel confident that they’ve done a good job, they’re are ready to move on to the rest of the body so that the client can get an overall effective massage. Question: did they do their best for the client and did they address their primary complaint? Most likely they did, but sometimes not.

When the therapist thinks they are ready to move on from the primary area of complaint, a simple question increases the likelihood of getting results and having a truly satisfied client who is going to not only come back to see that therapist but also refer others to them, and that question is: “Do you feel that we’ve gotten good results? Do you need me to spend any more time here?”

A satisfied client will simply say “yes, you can move on,” but in those occasional situations where something is off, this gives the client the opportunity to speak up for their needs, and the therapist gets instant kudos for caring enough to ask and to check.

End result: happier client, better massage, and a busier clientele.

Delivering the Right Massage for the Clients’ True Goals

One of my pet peeves, as someone who receives massage regularly, is getting what I call “the wrong massage.” That’s when you’re there on the table, being worked on, but you don’t get the work you need. You know what I mean, like when you want full body, but instead get work on just your back and legs. Or, your shoulders really hurt, but you end up with a lot of time spent on your feet, head, and hands. It can be really unsatisfying. It’s a key responsibility of therapists to tune in to communication from their clients so that the right places get the attention that they need.

So what happens to cause a massage therapist to ‘get it wrong?’  A lot of therapists during massage intake ask clients if there are areas where they want focus and then they create a massage plan that treats just those areas. That can be a mistake, especially if the client’s general stress level is contributing to their discomfort or if they are not aware of tension in other areas that is contributing to the pain in the primary area.

It’s necessary for massage therapists to connect with the client’s true goals by asking their clients plainly and straightforwardly if they would like to work exclusively on their problem areas, or if they would prefer a full body relaxing massage with a little extra focus in their area of concern. The results can be surprising. Just because a client speaks at length about a particular condition doesn’t mean that’s the only place where they want work.  Taking the time to ask, to really listen, and to act on the answer ensures a more effective massage for the client and a more satisfied client for the therapist.

Genuinely Inviting Feedback

massage therapy seattle dreamclinic All massage therapists know that we prefer our clients to speak up during a massage if anything feels uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the necessity of this message leads us to repeat ourselves so often on this score that, if we’re not careful, the discussion about feedback becomes rote, almost robotic, as in: “by-the-way-if-anythhing-doesn’t-feel-right-please-let-me-know.”

The trouble is that when we sound insincere or automatic about this, the client hears that their comfort doesn’t matter on our table, and that’s the last thing we want to communicate. This can be especially true for our clients who are new to massage therapy. Unless we have actively invited them to speak up, they can be genuinely reluctant to provide us with feedback during the session because they don’t want to upset their therapist with what might be interpreted as negative comments.  Realizing that just because we’ve said a million times to our clients that we welcome their feedback, doesn’t mean that a particular person has heard it a million times; this may be only their first or second time. Slowing down and really putting our heart into it and explaining to our clients that, not only are we open to feedback, but we count on it and appreciate it, will go a long way toward letting them know that we mean it, that their comfort matters.

Here are some examples of how to do this:

“It’s really important to me that you let me know if anything could be better or is uncomfortable at all for you.”

“Feel free to speak up. I really count on feedback from you to make sure that what I’m doing works for your body.”

“There are so many styles and techniques, and I want to be sure that the ones we use are the right ones for you. So, go ahead and let me know what’s working, or not, or is at all uncomfortable, while we’re working.”

Next time you greet a client, make sure you tune in and pay attention. Are you just speeding through this important part, or are you genuinely inviting your clients to give you that vital feedback?

Palpating and Communicating with the Client

Before a massage session begins, it’s not uncommon for a massage therapist to palpate their client to get a feel for the quality of their muscle tissue and where to focus their treatment. This allows the therapist to understand what techniques to use and perhaps get an indication of the underlying problem. However, palpating without also engaging the client is a missed opportunity.  If the client says the pain is “in my neck,” or “my lower back,” those are broad regions that involve a number of muscles. For example, I have a shoulder injury, where my main tension is right in my supraspinatus, but if I only say “shoulder,” therapists will work on the interior angle of my scapula, or even my lats, and barely focus at all on the supraspinatus, which is right on top of the shoulder.  While palpating, asking the client to confirm where they feel their aches and pains not only allows you to be more specific in understanding where a particular injury may be, but also gives the client confidence that you are really attuned to their issues, which will make them feel more trusting and comfortable about the massage that’s about to follow. Asking a few questions lets your client know that you care by showing them that you are actively investigating their needs, rather than just going “hmmm, mmm-hmm, I see…” which can inadvertently come off as uninterested and dismissive.

Some easy questions to help you clarify & confirm your client’s needs as you palpate:

“Is this where you are feeling the pain?”

“Does it ache anywhere else?”

“How far down does it go?”

“Is it tender here, too?”

When you palpate, give yourself kudos, but don’t miss the opportunity to communicate with your client and involve them in dialogue while you’re doing so. An engaged, trusting client will experience your work far more positively, making for a better experience, and better outcomes, for both of you.

Effective Communication with Your Massage Clients

Every field has its own language or lingo, and massage is no different.  We all know about the importance of genuinely inviting feedback during massage.  You can further connect with and engage your clients by empowering them with the appropriate vocabulary to comfortably and confidently give you actionable feedback.  Shared vocabulary is what makes communication work.  Rather than leave them stumbling for phrasing like,

“uh, the place that hurts is kind of y’know, down underneath where you’re working, I guess. Uh, could you push a little harder?”

A more effective method is establishing  comfortable vocabulary for your client. You can let them know to tell you to go “deeper” or “lighter” so that they know how to convey their preferences. This can be done ahead of time, as part of your invitation for feedback, and it can be reinforced during the session as you mirror what you heard, by simply replying

“Oh, so you’d like me to go deeper here.”

One more thing you can do to really take your feedback to the next level is to invite your clients to speak up not only when things don’t feel comfortable, but also when what you’re doing is getting great results.  You could say,

“Of course I want you to let me know if anything is uncomfortable, but please know that I’d also love to hear if anything’s really working for you.  This really helps me to adapt my style and technique to what is most effective for you.” 

You can say this either during the session or afterward.  With the right words and an open invitation, your clients will be delighted to know that they can now have dialogue with you about the session and will grow in their appreciation of you for caring enough to connect with and educate them.

Building Connections with Massage Clients

massage seattle dreamclinicMany massage therapists worry about providing pleasant service, but clients can be more nervous than we are.  After all, it can feel very vulnerable, lying there disrobed on a table for an hour, having a therapist working hard on them.  Some clients even worry that they’re somehow inconveniencing or overworking their therapist.  This concern comes out in questions such as, “how many people have you seen today?” or kind statements like, “it must be hard to do this job.” One of the best remedies to ease your clients’ anxiety is to overtly ask the client to come see you again. This reassures them that not only do you not feel put out by your work, but you enjoy it and look forward to it and to building a good rapport with them. It’s important to keep in mind that, beyond good clinical massage technique, clients are also looking for a connection or relationship.  It can be easy to overlook that critical aspect and think that you can let your massage speak for itself, but a few simple words to the effect that you’d like to see the client again makes clear that you are inviting that connection. A lot of therapists will use words something like “It was good to work with you” or “I hope you come back to see me again.” While this is better than saying nothing, it is very passive and doesn’t really speak for your genuine desire to have the client come back.

Phrasing that shows your active engagement with the relationship is more effective. For example, “I really enjoyed working with you. Will you be in again?” or “I loved working with you. I’d like to see you again.” goes a lot further in having the client feel confident that you genuinely would like to work with them again. If they had a particular concern that brought them in that day, you can even include that, such as “I’d love a chance to do more work on that shoulder. Are you able to come again next week?”

If you’re not asking your clients to come see you again, definitely start. If you are, check your phrasing and go from the passive “hope you return” to the active “I would love to work with you again” to better ease your clients’ worry and assure them that you’d like to have them back, again and again.

What Your Massage Room Says About You

Chances are, if you’ve been practicing massage for a while, you are a skilled, effective, and caring practitioner and that you put yourself forward as such with a professional demeanor and appearance.  But what about your massage room? Have you ever wondered what it says to your clients about you?  Try doing this quick audit the next time you have a few minutes:

  • Look at the client area. Is there a little tray clearly set out for their jewelry or cell phone? Or, is your water bottle, lotion, and knick-knacks in that space? With those there, it isn’t clear to the client whether or not this is a place for their belongings.
  • Check your massage table. Does it look nice and crisp, with the sheets pulled tight like in a 5-star hotel room? Or, does it look like somebody’s been rolling around on there and you might have forgotten to change the sheets?
  • Look through the cradle. What do you see? Is it a nice clean floor or carpet? Or, can your client see a garbage can, your shoes, and some old smelly socks tucked in the corner?
  • Turn over, and look up. Is the ceiling in good repair? Or, is there a harsh light fixture that could be softened by tacking up a scarf? While your client might close their eyes for most of the session, this is the first thing they’ll see when you’re done.
  • Check your plants or flowers. What kind of shape are they in–healthy & green? Or, are there some yellowing leaves or signs of plant-neglect? If so, know that it can imply you don’t care.
  • Look at the floors. Are they clean and neat? Or are there pieces of paper, tissues, or other types of debris strewn around the room?

Of course we all know how important it is to have a clean, welcoming space, and yet, you’d be surprised how many times when you go into a massage room what you find is far from a stellar and welcoming presentation. So, my motto is:

“If you can’t show it off, don’t show it to anyone. Tidy up.”

If you wouldn’t take somebody on a first date to this massage room, or if you wouldn’t show it off proudly to your mom, then it’s time to get to work and make sure your room is sending the right message.

Basic courtesies when offering post-massage feedback

Successful customer service with massage clients is built on communication and trust.  An integral piece of building this trust are the basic courtesies of how to offer feedback at the end of a massage session.  A good massage therapist will quickly discover that clients enjoy a brief discussion at the end of the massage about how the session went, anything that the therapist discovered, and suggestions for a continued treatment plan.  However, many therapists can be unsure of how to initiate the post-massage discussion or grow to feel uncomfortable about it.

The reason for this discomfort is that the way that kind of feedback is offered can, at times, be awkward when we skip the basic courtesies that we would normally use in other areas of our life. While therapists have very useful observations to be shared, for example, “this muscle appeared to be adhesed,” or “that muscle group is very tight,” it’s important to remember that this is very personal feedback.

For example, if you had a friend who wanted to comment on how you were dressed, they probably wouldn’t just tell you “that shirt clashes with those pants.” They’d say something to the effect of “Do you mind if I give you a little feedback on your outfit?”

Yet, when we walk into a massage room and we have some information to give to our client, we can tend to skip that courtesy and jump right in, as in “by the way, I observed that your quads are really tight and you probably need extra work.” That can be just as off-putting to a client as if somebody gave you unsolicited wardrobe advice.  We are, after all, talking about their body, and that’s about as personal as it gets.

The best practice is to take a moment before you jump into providing information, and simply ask the client,

“I observed some things during our session; do you mind if I share them with you?”

This simple courtesy will make your client feel comfortable and will open up a pathway to comfortable two-way communication.

How to Properly Set the Tone for Massage Sessions

So, how do you start your massage session?  Not your intake, but the part of the massage where you’re actually making contact with the client’s body.  A lot of great therapists will come back into the massage room, walk right up to the table, and just begin their routine.  They might start with effleurage, the nice relaxing gliding technique.  Or, they might start with something called petrissage, the kneading technique.

As wonderful and effective as these styles are, it’s important to remember that jumping right into a technique can feel abrupt.  Just as you would not jump right into a conversation with someone when you enter a room without first introducing yourself, in a massage session, you need to take a moment to introduce your touch.

People are very stressed nowadays.  They have a lot going on in their mind, and it might take them almost half the massage session to settle in and relax.  Beginning with one of these introductory techniques can help calm your client and get them into a state where they can receive greater benefit from your massage:

  • Applying compression on different parts of their body through the blanket
  • Rocking their body gently to allow them to release tension they might be holding
  • Prolonged holding positions that can be combined with compression along the back of their legs, their lower back, or their shoulders

Generally, massages that start with one of these kinds of introductory techniques feel more satisfying and help your client be at their deepest states of relaxation earlier on in their session with you. So, go ahead and practice your own signature technique, but if you’ve never thought about how you introduce your touch, consider adding compression, holding, or rocking rather than just jumping right in to the massage.

Music in the Massage Room

Now, we all know massage, itself, calms the nervous system through the power of our tactile sense, the sense of touch. Many massage therapists also use aromatherapy, applying or diffusing essential oils, because smell can be another way to help shift somebody into a healthier state. But what about sound? Music involves yet another sense, the auditory sense. It’s important to know that while, for some of us, it’s just pleasant background noise, there are others who are incredibly sensitive to music. It can have a big positive or, unfortunately, negative impact on their experience. Taking a quick moment to ask your client if they like the music can make a big difference, but when and how can you do that? One thing that has worked well for me, when practicing with clients, is to have different music options readily available. I find that if I turn on a track as I leave the room after we’re done with the intake, it allows the client to listen to the music while they are getting undressed and are on the table waiting for me to return. When I come back, I can very simply ask,

“How do you like the music selection? Will that work for you?”

Three out of four times, they will say that it’s fine, but once in a while, a client will say, “Thanks for asking. Actually, do you have something different?” or “I don’t really like vocals.” I can then simply switch to another track. Even for those clients who are not sensitive to music, this asking demonstrates care and concern for the quality of their experience, which is an important part of building their sense of your massage room as a place where their needs and preferences matter, leading to a more trusting client-therapist relationship.