When you work with massage clients over long periods of time, you will notice certain patterns evolving. Some people come pretty close to being the ideal massage clients, but there are others where you keep glancing at the clock and just wait for the session to be over.
During my Thai Massage career most of my sessions were positive and often wonderfully uplifting experiences. However the skills of a massage therapist should include how to deal with situations that are not ideal.
I am offering some suggestions in this article about challenging sessions and what to do about them. They are a minority, but sooner or later every therapist will encounter most or all of them.
Here is a listing of the various types of clients that I have encountered in my Thai Massage practice over the years, and how to deal with them.
1. The open hearted type
This is my favorite client. He or she greets me like an old friend, is looking forward to the massage session, relaxes into it, gives me a big hug after the session and is totally appreciative.
Your approach: You count your blessings that you get to deal with such wonderful people who reconfirm to you that you are doing what you love. You don’t just give out energy, but you get good energy back from them.
2. The cautious type
These persons are trying your massage out, but are not quite sure if it will meet their expectations or if it even is for them. They don’t talk much, and after the session they leave quickly without saying hardly anything , leaving you to wonder if they really liked the session or not.
Your approach: Try to draw them into a little conversation at the end and ask them if there was anything in the session that they considered especially helpful or enjoyable, and if the session was something that worked for them or not. Just try to draw them out of their shell for a couple of minutes to get some feedback.
In some cases you can feel that it was not right for them, and then just let them go since they won’t come back anyway. Not every client is well matched with every therapist. Sometimes, when I feel that it was not the right match, I will actually suggest another therapy or therapist who might work better for them.
3. The chatty type
These clients tell you their life story and they cannot get their minds to relax. They keep talking throughout the entire session, and it is obvious that their hyper active mind is not allowing them to really experience the bodywork.
But generally they will tell you that they really enjoyed the session. In reality they came to the massage session because they wanted to talk to someone.
Your approach: In my experience it is best to just let them talk. Often I will actively participate in the conversation. After all, if they want to pay for talking, that is their decision. And it is none of my business to decide what is right for them and what they should do.
Alternatively you can gently suggest that they will get more out of the session if they don’t talk that much. The problem is that you don’t know if that is true. Maybe they really need to talk to someone more than experience the massage.
4. The therapist as counselor
There are clients who seem to confuse you with a psychotherapist. They tell you all the problems in their life and somehow assume that you have some good advice to give.
Your approach: There is no point in telling them that this is not your expertise and that they need to go to a psychologist – you will only disappoint them. Just dispense some simple advice that comes from your heart, or just reaffirm some positive aspects.
5. The fix-me type
These clients have been abusing their bodies for years or decades, and their lifestyle is contributing to or directly causing their problems. Then they expect that your massage will fix them.
Your approach: You have to make it clear that a one hour massage session will not fix a problem that has been existing for many years. Neither will massage fix a problem that results from a daily routine that causes it, like bad diet, lack of exercise, stress, bad mental attitude etc.
I will generally make it clear that regular massage will improve many conditions with frequent application, but that it is the client’s responsibility to deal with the factors that cause the problems. Don’t ever allow yourself to be put in a position where it becomes your responsibility to fix people.
6. The suspicious type
Those clients keep opening their eyes to see what you are doing, which can be quite unnerving. At the extreme end they don’t close their eyes at all. You can just see their mind working while they are watching you like a hawk.
Your approach: Fortunately such clients are quite rare, but if you do get one, you have to gently tell them to just close their eyes and relax. Make them feel safe by stating that they can tell you immediately if anything in the massage does not feel right, is too intense, or if they want specific attention to any particular area.
7. The involuntary client
There are some people who just come to the session because their spouse insisted that they should do so. They do not really care about massage and they are just there because someone else insisted.
Your approach: There is not much you can do besides just doing the best you can with your session and hoping that your client will get a taste for good bodywork.
8. The energy thief
These are people whom you do not resonate with at all. You feel your energy draining during the massage and you feel that no good energy is coming back from the client to you, or there is some negativity present.
Your approach: Sometimes the chemistry between two people just doesn’t work for some reason. In such cases I will use techniques like positive affirmations, consciously sending out healing and loving energy through my hands, calling on the help of my higher self/guardian angels/the universe/your guru/God, or whatever or whoever else makes your energy feel better and stronger. Surrounding yourself with protective energy bubbles or focusing on your breath also works well.
9. The spa client
Let’s say you work in a destination spa where most guests go from one spa appointment to the other all day long. You become just one of many therapists whom they sample, and your tight schedule does not allow for personal interaction with clients.
Your approach: In my experience it is again important to use internal energy techniques like in the previous example to keep your energy high. Some therapists will be tempted to switch to a routine automatic working mode.
For me that was never a good solution since it does not resonate with the reason why I am doing healing arts work. If the outer resources are not ideal, you can always switch to inner resources that nobody and no place can deprive you of. That’s why we call it Healing ARTS and not massage mechanics.
Challenges help the therapist grow
Most massage therapists who have been practicing for a number of years have a passion for it. Many develop into highly intuitive, creative and skilled healers. For those of you this article will not tell you anything you don’t know already.
But if you are fairly new to the healing arts, then my observations will tell you that there is more to being a massage therapist than knowing physical techniques.
It takes interpersonal skills, observational skills, conversational skills, intuitive skills and energetic skills to become a true healing arts practitioner. This article is intended to highlight some of the challenging aspects of this profession and offer suggestions on how to deal with them.
Challenges in life are those things that make us stronger and more skilled. They are the admission tickets to higher levels of the healing arts.
You can find a lot more information about Thai Massage and other healing arts including a free Thai Massage video course right here.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and creator of 20 Thai Massage online training programs. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org