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So, here’s an interesting conundrum: we all know to keep our conversation with clients to a minimum so they can have the most relaxing session, and yet, reports from those on the table abound of overly talkative therapists. No one wants to be a “Chatty Kathy,” but it happens.

Years ago, before I even went to massage school, I had a pretty good massage therapist who happened to decide that she liked me. Over the course of four or five sessions, I ended up learning everything there was to know about her boyfriend, her living arrangements, the health condition she had experienced, and her personal opinion about many politicians. When I showed up the next time, she literally said, “oh, good! You’re my favorite client!” And she started talking at me just like in the previous sessions. I said nothing. I kept my end of the dialogue as best I could while trying to relax, but I made a mental note to make this my last appointment with this therapist.

Why does this happen?

Clients do sometimes ask us questions like: “Where are you from?” or “How long have you been practicing?” or “Where did you go to massage school?” Social norms dictate that the polite thing is to answer them. And hence, we are drawn into a dialogue, but it doesn’t need to get out of hand.

In order to know when to stop talking, try thinking of that dialogue as a dance. One person leads, and the other follows. The person with the lead shows interest and asks the questions. Always let the client be in the lead position. If they ask how long you have been practicing, you can answer politely that you’ve been practicing for two years—without going into the details of where and how and that one funny thing that happened that one time with that first coworker who drove you so crazy…

While in general conversation it’s polite to reciprocate with interest and questions of you own, it’s vital, with a client on the table, to take care to avoid taking the lead. If you find that you’ve been talking for several minutes, chances are you’re shifting into the “Chatty Kathy” mode, which can be a real risk. The average client is too polite to tell you to shut up. They might even acknowledge your comments. They’ll never tell you point-blank that you talked too much for their taste; they’ll simply opt to see another therapist.

If you’re lucky, the therapist will be one of your colleagues, but if you are in private practice, you’ll likely never see that client again.

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