1. You are always right and should get exactly what you want. Many massage consumers assume that you are going to a professional massage therapist and therefore whatever they say goes. The old adage that the consumer is always right also applies to the massage therapy industry. Of course, you want to work with a “trusted expert”, but that does not mean that if you think you need more focus on a particular area or altered pressure that you should not receive exactly that.
A “trusted expert” will listen to exactly what you want and apply the techniques that are going to help you achieve that goal. When you go out to buy something that you have already decided to purchase you are not going to let a salesperson sell you on something different than what you had in mind (although this happens all too frequently in the marketplace). The same is true for your massage therapy experience. If you are not sure what you need but have a specific complaint, your massage therapist should listen to your chief complaints and provide a solution that helps you achieve your desired outcome (more on this later).
If you sense that the massage therapist you are working with is not listening to your needs, it is perfectly alright for you to end the massage session. This may seem a bit harsh, but wasting your time and money on ineffective treatments is not an acceptable option.
2. What you should expect from your massage therapy treatment. The massage therapy treatment should specifically fulfill your desired result. You should expect that you are going to work with a skilled massage therapist that is going to listen to your issues and help you receive a massage that is very satisfying for you. From the moment you call in to schedule your massage treatment you should have a sense that you are going to work with a therapist that is going to treat you as an individual and respect your individual needs. It is appropriate to ask for the massage therapist’s credentials and experience.
You may also want to speak with an existing client to ensure that they have had a pleasant experience an existing client that they work with that has had a pleasant experience with the practitioner you are about to have a massage with. You can ask to come by and see the facility where you will be receiving your massage. Does it look clean, relaxing, and therapeutic? What does the energy of the facility feel like? Does it align with your energy and feel like a place that you will be comfortable with? It is also appropriate to ask to meet with the therapist who is will potentially be working with you prior to the massage treatment so you can be assured that you will be comfortable with the massage therapist.
When you have set up your massage treatment and arrive for your massage you will be asked to fill out some paperwork. Allow for enough time to fill out the paperwork so it does not interfere with your massage time. After all, if you are seeing a massage expert, chances are they are very busy and they have clients before and after you.
When you arrive at the establishment you should be warmly greeted and offered water while you fill out the paperwork and wait to meet your therapist (if you did not meet them prior). Your therapist should introduce themselves to you and welcome you and direct you back to the massage room. The therapist should then ask you about your specific goals for the session and listen to you before proceeding. You should feel that the therapist cares deeply about your goals for the session and is interested in helping you achieve them. The treatment room should be relaxing and comforting. The massage therapist should explain that you can disrobe to your level of comfort.
Note: For some people their level of comfort may be to keep all of their clothes on. This is perfectly fine. I have worked with clients who started with me working with me fully clothed and as their comfort level increased they began to remove some clothing so I could massage directly to their skin. The fact is that massage therapy feels better when it is applied directly to the skin. The other fact is that a skilled massage therapist can work with you with all your clothes on and still provide a great massage.
You should be covered or draped with sheets properly during your massage. This is not only a law, but is intended for your comfort. This means that only the area of your body that is being massaged will be exposed. The rest of your body will be covered by a sheet and when you are cold a blanket as well.
Note: I have had massage at establishments that have used very little towels to cover my naked body. I am very comfortable with my body, but in one session in particular (at a San Diego establishment) I was very cold during the session and the draft made the massage very uncomfortable. I have come to find out that this particular establishment may not be a legitimate massage practice but a front for prostitution. You would never know this as it is marketed as a day spa, so be wary of where you set up your appointment. I can guarantee that if I would have implemented these 5 steps I would have known that this establishment was not legitimate and I would have saved myself the uncomfortable experience and the waste of my time and money.
The practitioner will leave the room once they explain where you should place your clothes and they will indicate that they will be back in a while to start your massage.
Note: We implemented a “relaxation switch” in our clinics that when pressed by the client turns on a light outside to know you are ready. I have had numerous experiences of opening the door on clients who were not comfortably under the sheets. If the establishment does not have the “relaxation switch” make sure that you are quick to get on the table to avoid any uncomfortable racing to the table scenarios.
Once you are on the table you should not have to wait too long for the therapist to come and start the massage. The therapist should enter the room and ask you how you feel on the table. How is the temperature of the room? How does the table feel? How do the pillows or bolsters feel?
Before therapist begins doing the massage they should tell you that if at any time during the massage you would like more or less pressure to just let them know and they will accommodate you. If you are getting the massage for general relaxation the massage therapist should not talk with you during the session. This is one of the chief complaints I hear from massage consumers across the country when they tell me about their massage experiences. I have heard of therapists who will tell the client about all their personal problems while the client is “held hostage” and is paying good money to council these therapists on their personal issues.
Remember the first step, You are always right and should get exactly what you want, so tell the therapist that you prefer to just listen to the music or zone out during your massage. If your therapist is a massage expert you will find that they will have listened to you describe your goal of relaxation and therefore they would be quiet during your massage session.
Note: If you are receiving a massage for a goal of reliving pain or a specific injury then your massage therapist will need to discuss your history with you and explain what they are doing. You also may be asked to move around on the table from face down, side lying to on your back.
After the massage your therapists should thank you for the session and discuss their assessment of your muscular health. Your therapist will explain what happy ending massage they recommend for a treatment plan for you to achieve your goal. It may be as simple as you needing to receive massage once a month to keep stress levels low enough to help you to better manage your life; or it may require that you come in as often as 2X a week for 6 weeks to aggressively treat a specific issue you are dealing with.
Whatever the case is, the therapist you work with should give you a plan that will help you achieve your massage goals. It may be that massage therapy will not be the best method for helping decrease your pain. In this instance, your therapist should refer you to the appropriate group or therapy that will help you achieve this.
3. Why massage modalities are a thing of the past and what a massage modality is. If you are new to massage you will peruse the massage menu and wonder what all these treatments are. A massage modality is a massage technique that has a specific purpose for the massage receiver. There are literally hundreds of massage modalities and they can seem daunting to someone who has never received a massage before. There is also misrepresentation of massage modalities by therapists who are not adequately trained in the modality they offer. This is due to the third point I discussed in the potential problems massage consumers can experience when receiving massage.
The fact is that the only people that know what a shiatsu, reiki treatment, deep tissue massage or Swedish massage are massage practitioners. As the massage consumer you care about one thing: that you will receive a massage that will help you achieve your specific goal for that particular session. Whether that is stress management, sports performance, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, pain relief, or just overall wellness, the modality that is used to achieve these goals is not of importance to you. Most of the time you do not even know what the modality is. So, if you are faced with having to choose between a Swedish, deep tissue, shiatsu, thai massage or trager, then you know that you may want to look elsewhere to get your massage treatment. You want to work with a massage expert that will listen to your needs and integrate a variety of modalities that fulfills that outcome.
4. How to effectively communicate with your massage therapist. As you recall from the first step you are always right and you should always get what you expect from your massage treatment. Before, during and after your massage treatment you should have an open communication line with your massage therapist. If at any time during the session you would like more or less pressure you should only have to say a little less pressure and your therapist should immediately respond to your requests.
If for any reason you feel uncomfortable during the session you should be able to state it and have the therapist validate your feelings by making the necessary changes. So, it’s as easy as just speaking up. Unfortunately, I have heard from too many massage consumers who have received a massage that they were uncomfortable, but they did not speak up because they did not want to upset the therapist.