Thai Massage therapy is a wonderful and rewarding profession. It is great to talk about all the benefits, how we can help our clients, how we have an ethical obligation to never discriminate against anyone, etc.
But what happens when we run up against our limits? What happens when we don’t know how to manage our physical and mental energies properly?
Being honest with yourself: Acknowledging challenges
That’s not a very juicy or popular subject, but the fact is that massage therapy as a profession is often short-lived with a high dropout rate. So let’s talk about potential issues and their solutions.
Massage therapy is not just about techniques. And it is not just about your clients. It is also very much about your own health, your energy, and your attitude.
Therapist, heal thyself
Unless you, the therapist, are in good shape and in good spirit, you won’t be able to help your clients much – at least not for very long.
As massage therapists, we have to protect our bodies and our energy. Our most precious tool is our body. If it malfunctions, our career can stop dead in its tracks.
Many therapists assume that it is their sacred duty to work on anyone and everyone, to give all they can. While this sounds very noble, here is a reality that we should not and cannot disregard: Sometimes we have to know when to say NO.
Let me explain by using my own career as an example.
My first exposure to potential problems in my new career
When I first started learning Thai Massage, we were taught many – actually way too many – techniques that required strong thumb pressure on legs, arms, and back.
It only took me a few months of daily Thai Massage work to develop problems in my thumb joints. Actually it was so bad that it almost killed my new career before it had even started.
I soon realized that I had to use different techniques if I wanted to survive as a Thai Massage therapist.
How saying NO turned a problem into an opportunity
As a result, I developed a massage style that is clearly Thai Massage, but is much easier on the thumbs and wrists – it is more therapist-friendly.
So the original problem resulted in many new and innovative techniques which have contributed a lot to my success as a Thai Massage therapist and teacher. It happened because I said NO to all the thumb and wrist stressing methods.
Are you sure you can handle this client?
Occasionally someone requests a session from me who is very large, heavy, and stiff. Over time I have come to terms with what I can do and what I need to stay away from.
As long as you are in private practice as a massage therapist, there is no obligation to work on anyone and everyone. However, if you work in a hotel or spa, you generally don’t have as much choice who you work on.
Assuming you do work for yourself and have a choice of clients, let’s say that someone who is very heavy wants a session. This is not so much a problem in oil massage, but in Thai Massage you actually have to move and lift (potentially heavy) body parts around a lot.
Size and weight considerations in Thai Massage sessions
Someone might say that very obese people have the same right to get a massage as everyone else.
Sure they do. Nobody disputes that. And it doesn’t even have to be an obese person. It could be a large, muscled man.
Ethically, such people should be able to get a massage just like everyone else. But they don’t have the right to get a massage from just anyone.
If you weigh 100 lbs (48 kg), and the client weighs 250 pounds (120 kg), that’s simply not a good match.
For the same reason, 100 lbs featherweight wrestlers or boxers are not matched up with 250 lbs heavyweights, but with someone from their own class. That’s just common sense.
If you are able to work effectively with Thai Massage on a client who is much larger and heavier than you – great.
But if you feel that you just cannot handle a client well, then you should not force yourself to work on this client.
There are larger and stronger therapists around who are better suited for such a client, and much more effective than you might be.
Don’t delude yourself. Wearing yourself out or risking injury does not serve you or your client.
How I learned my lesson
I once had a client, a giant of a man, who needed shoulder work. I worked on him with all my power for 2 hours.
But after the session, my hands, wrists, and arms were totally worn out and hurt for several days. That was a lesson for me.
After a session, both therapist and client should feel good. It’s not that one should feel good, and the other is exhausted and in pain.
My wife is good at that. She tells her Thai Massage clients right up front what she is capable of and what she cannot do. No pretense there, just self-knowledge and honesty.
If someone tells her that they want really strong and deep work, and if she senses that she cannot deliver that on this person, she tells the client what she can do and asks the client if that is good enough or not.
Mental or energetic considerations
Sometimes the chemistry between you and a client is just not right. It is not a matter whose so-called ‘fault’ it is. There are cases where the energies of two people just don’t match for whatever reason.
If you notice that there is such a mismatched energy between you and a client, then forcing yourself to continue sessions on this person will deplete your energy and depress your enthusiasm.
Again, it doesn’t serve you or your client. Instead of insisting that it is your moral duty to work on anyone, acknowledge that the client might be better served by someone else who does not have an energetic block or friction with this client.
Such cases are rare, but it has happened to me a few times in my career, and I have learned to listen to my inner self instead of climbing on my moral and ethical soapbox.
Therapeutic considerations in Thai Massage
There are situations where you notice during a session that for whatever reason you are not able to help the client effectively with a certain issue that they need help with.
Instead of struggling with the issue, it would be more honest and fairer to such clients to tell them that you feel that they would be better served by another therapist or by another modality.
It is better to let go of some dollars in missed sessions than to lose your integrity with your clients and your self-respect.
In the early days of my career, I thought that I had to work on anyone who asked for a session. Today I am much more discriminating.
I make sure that my massage clients and myself are a reasonably good match, that my style of massage therapy is right for them, and that I feel I can be effective on a particular person.
I believe that this is an important reason why I am still going strong after two decades as a massage therapist.
To whom do your ethics apply?
Granted, the above-mentioned scenarios are quite rare for most therapists. But they do happen, as I know from personal experience. And when they do happen, we should know how to act.
We don’t just have an ethical obligation to our clients. We also have an ethical obligation to ourselves. There is a bigger picture involved here.
We need to preserve our physical and mental health in order to best serve our clients in the long run. This may sometimes involve saying NO if this is in the best interest of our client and ourselves, or even just in the best interest of ourselves.
What is a good Thai Massage session?
The result of a good session is that the client feels better. But if the therapist feels exhausted and drained with hurting wrists, then it was not a good session.
Both parties have to come out ahead. As a Thai Massage therapist, you need to have your priorities straight – namely your health, your energy, and your longevity as a practitioner.
The risk of burn out for a massage therapist
I have met quite a few massage therapists who burned out physically and energetically because they did not set their boundaries, did not manage their health and their energy, and they could not say NO.
If you work in a way that depletes your physical and mental energy, you live on borrowed time as a therapist.
I remember, in the early days of my career, I sometimes accepted bookings that went beyond my capacity. I knew how many sessions I could handle a day while still feeling good.
But every time I violated this knowledge by adding an extra client because I could not say NO, I felt exhausted later on or even on the next day.
Practical steps for Thai Massage therapists
There are quite a few things you can do to stay healthy and feel good. They include exercise, meditation, Qigong, nature walks, enough sleep, yoga, healthy food, and a myriad of other options.
All of them will help your longevity in this profession. Last but not least, you have to know when to say NO to too many sessions, too heavy clients, negative people, and clients whom you do not resonate with.
A few reminders of good habits for a massage therapist
- Work with your entire body, not just with your arms
- Use body weight instead of muscle power as much as possible
- Learn how to improve your ergonomics
- Get massage yourself regularly
- Keep learning to remain inspired in your profession
- If possible, avoid working on clients who stress your body too much
What about the money?
You might think that this approach will result in less income.
While this might be true in the short term, in the long run, you will extend your career, you will preserve your health and you will keep your energy and enthusiasm high.
You will feel much better if you learn how to say NO sometimes. You will end up with a better and more dedicated circle of clients, more self-confidence, a better quality of your massage work, and a happier career as a Thai Massage therapist.
Solutions for better Thai Massage with no stress
One way to deal with situations that are difficult to handle is to say NO. However you can avoid some of these situations with special training.
At Thai Healing Massage Academy we have created courses that help you with preserving your health while practicing Thai Massage.
All our online Thai Massage training courses are designed to be very therapist-friendly. And we have specialized courses that help even more when it comes to the health of the therapist.
Examples are our Thai Rocking Massage course and our Hands-Free Thai Massage course. You will find them all on the page below:
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.