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How To Deal With Different Types Of Massage Clients

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Thai Massage Knee Technique

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.

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shama 100px2 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 shama@thaihealingmassage.com

Related Reading:
8 Ways To Find Opportunities In Thai Massage
Some Of My Favorite Thai Massage Techniques (Video)

26 thoughts on “How To Deal With Different Types Of Massage Clients”

  1. Great article, Shama. I know that the information will be very helpful to new therapists. I found it great for me too as it affirms that other practitioners of the healing arts come across many different attitudes in clients just like myself. I felt good knowing that I handle the many types of personalities the same as you would. Thanks again!

  2. Great article! Thanks, Shama!During the short time I`ve been practicing as massage therapist I`ve met those varios type of clients and complitely agree with you. Thanks again for everything, you send to me. Looking forward.

  3. Hi Temenujka, I am so glad you like the article. I really try to provide interesting information, and comments like yours inspire me to write more, so thank you !

  4. This is a hell of a good article and fun to read too. But I have a question: why is getting good energy back from the client important? You mention it twice (examples 1 & 8).

    And about ‘energy thieves’, rather than labelling a client an energy thief, have you ever stopped to think – what is it in you that (i) allows others drain you of your energy or (ii) allows you to think that others are draining you of your energy.

    Our massage client, is after all, nothing more than a reflection of ourslerves; of who we are and where we stand on our own path of development. If you feel you are not in resonance with a client, maybe this is a reflection of an inner conflict within yourself and your client is merely coming to you to tell you there is something deep within yourself which needs healing. As you say yourself, clients ‘are the admission tickets to higher levels of the healing arts’. To progress on this journey, we sometimes have to look very deeply into ourselves and this is the role of the ‘difficult’ client: they reveal where we need to look.

    When you are finally at peace within, then you find peace everywhere without. Only when you are not at peace do you find dissonance. This applies to clients too.

    Putting protective bubbles around yourself to protect yourself against certain clients (energy thieves)is indeed very good advice for the beginner Thai massage professional, but, in the end, protection is revealed as nothing more than a form of self-limitation. In healing, the heart wants to be open and unlimited in its giving, but in protection you use what you think will happen to you (which is your intellectual reasoning) to limit, or even worse, block, what your heart truly desires. Ironically, in healing, protection blocks healing!

    But all that aside, as I said, this is a fun and informative piece. We have all come across these client types – and more besides – and hopefully we have all learned from them. As you say: They are the admission tickets to higher levels of the healing arts. This is the essence of self-development and healing in Thai massage.

  5. Hi Robert,

    thank you for your really thoughtful and insightful comment. Your points are very valid. I would just add a couple: Your observations apply to therapists who have reached a higher level of self development. My article is meant to give some practical tips to therapists on all levels of expertise and personal growth.

    I intended to make the article a little bit fun to read and light-hearted. So don’t take the ‘energy thief’ too seriously. You could replace it with ‘people who show up with low energy on that day’.

    You mention that ‘if you find peace within yourself, you find it without, including in clients’. Sure, this is correct. In the same line of thought you could say that if you are on a higher level of consciousness and see the oneness in all of us, you should be able to marry anyone and get along with them and have a good relationship.

    Of course we both know that this does not work. There has to be a certain amount of compatibility between two people to make a marriage work. So there are other elements besides just spiritual considerations, like physical attraction, mutual interests, and even cultural backgrounds.

    It works the same way in massage therapy. We love to work with certain types of clients that are closer to our energetic configuration, and it is not as easy or fun for us to work with others.

    Any relationship works better if we get good energy back from our partners. An appreciative and grateful client is more fun to deal with than someone who just walks out on you without saying anything.

    Showing appreciation and gratitude feels great for both the giver and receiver, and it is an important relationship tool. If a therapist puts his or her heart and soul into a session, the money is not the only reward. It is also the good energy that flows back from the client in the form of heartfelt appreciation of your work. That would be my reply to your question in the first paragraph of your comment.

    You can look at my ‘protective energy bubble’ technique in a different way. It is not meant as a defensive system to block a client’s energy. It is a way to filter energy flow. We use filters everywhere in our lives. Just like we decide what foods are best for us, or we decide which TV station we choose to listen to, so we can decide which energies we allow to enter our field. For me it is a way to manage energy and not a way to block heart energy.

    Thanks again for your comments. I am always glad if people add value to my articles with their insights. And you added lots of insights!

  6. It was very timely for me to read this as our spa did a survey today and although we mostly got great responses so far I did note some that are not positive and I do take them personally. I am a big talker and its hard sometimes for me to just be present with certain people who for whatever reason make me uncomfortable. It is a good reminder that a) we are all human and b) not every one is our ideal client. Thanks a million for your thoughtful article! We are all works in progress.

    • Thanks for your comment Robin. Yes, we are all human and we are not all perfect matches for each other, and that just goes for the massage therapy business as well. We simply have to learn to live with that without taking it too personally:) Glad my article helped you feel better!

  7. Thanks, Shama, I’ve just a had a session with a talkative type and I really was at a loss how to react because he couldn’t relax properly and I could not concentrate and get into a meditative mood. When I mildly reprimanded him he replied that he can behave only in two ways- either talk or sleep, the latter he had offered at the beginning of the session. As I wanted him to stay awake he kept on talking all the time. Now I know how to deal with him – let him talk.

  8. That’s well written,I have experienced all those types of clients and I have been trying to warn some of the new people in the industry about these different types of clients,and I have tried to advise them on the same.
    shama there also those who are persuasive…they don’t know you and you don’t know them but they come with an idea in there heads and they want to tell you to do it to them or even teach you how to do it during the session. They remember a therapist who did something to them that they enjoyed at one time and they want to compare them to you…i don’t know what category they are in but I call them persuasive or even clients with I know more attitude.
    I have learned alot from my clients but the best thing to do is to have principles and not to fall into a ditch when I know that am falling into it..

  9. And shama,there also some clients who are tricky,they tend to divert you from your work,they seriously claim that I feel pain here or there but at the end of it all I think you have to reason,use you anatomy very well and know that you can’t fix some things and I think we are not supposed to trust that clients can’t lie to us but they do lie to us our therapists sometimes to see what we are capable of or to find reasons to pin us especially when your good at what your doing..i am always alert because most of the clients think with their bodies not there brains ad they lie down on our beds..

  10. Thank you Shama, great article and tips, I know that Saithong will meet a few of these types here in Ladysmith, hope you are enjoying Vietnam, Coco

  11. Hi Shama,
    i really liked that article! While I am primarily a psychotherapist,(only in learning stage for Thai massage) I have always believed in the body-mind connection and taken to learning various body therapies (yoga, dance, thai massage) precisely as I feel they are needed just as much (if not more) in healing.. pain, fears, often remaining in the cellular memory and can be removed through such practises.

    It just struck me how even in therapy there are various kinds/shades of clients similar to the kind you described – ranging from eager ones to those ‘forced’ to come due to others in the system , to energy drainers to fix-me types!!
    You are right in bringing this up as points especially for beginners – who may end up ‘draining’ themselves or burning out if not aware of ‘energy’ and play of energy in any interactions (whether they be 2 people talking or dancing or a massage therapist and his/her client…

    One thing we learned as therapists that probably could apply well to body workers too is to LOOK AFTER YOURSELF 🙂 All the best in this beautiful healing passion of yours.
    much love and light

  12. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s so fortifying to know we aren’t alone in our experiences as Massage Therapists!

  13. Thank you for this article, I needed to read this! I feel I’m almost in a constant battle with myself because I seem to get easily irritated with many of the client types you describe above! I LOVE being an holistic therapist, but I’ve always struggled with people! I don’t know if I’m an un-diagnosed autistic adult! I do know I am a very strong empath and very spiritual, so this may also have a lot to do with it. Outside of work, I choose to isolate myself from people and just be with my cats-yes I’m a crazy cat lady!! as that’s where and how I’m at happiest. But I feel and have been told all my life that I have a natural healing ability, as do we all, but I feel it’s my life’s purpose on Earth, so I have to regularly try hard to be more tolerant of people that are not like me i.e-most of the types above! But it’s really hard. I love client type A too and am trying to learn how to attract more of that type, as the majority of my clients fall in to all the other types, to the point where 2 1/2 years in to being a self employed holistic therapist I’m feeling drained, irritated and disheartened. It really helps to read that other therapists feel the same on meeting some of the client types above-I thought it was just me!

    • I am glad to hear that this listing of client types might help you relate to them a little more easily, or with less irritation. Recognizing the various types is better than not knowing what makes you feel uneasy with some people.

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