What are the elements of a good massage sessions? Good technique is certainly an important part of it. But consider these two scenarios:
Which scenario for a massage session would you prefer?
1. You sign up for a massage session, lie down, the therapist does an expert job, and that’s it.
2. The therapist does an expert job AND takes a real interest in you, asks you
- if there is any specific area that you feel needs attention
- mentions when she finds restrictions
- stays on the area until it feels better
- asks you to give feedback regarding the intensity of the session
- inquires about your life style habits to find out what might cause the problem
- gives you helpful advice about maintaining your health and how to continue your treatment
- later follows up with a thank you email or post card… you get the idea.
The skills that turn massage techniques into a healing art
A good session involves much more than technical skills. Massage is a highly personal interchange of energy. Clients have to entrust their bodies into the hands of another person, and therapists have to set up a flow of both physical and mental energy that aids this trust and the healing process of both body and mind of the client.
Good massage technique and good communication and psychological skills are two quite different skill sets.
If someone argues at this point “I studied massage therapy, not psychology, energy transfer and communication skills“, you are relegating yourself to the world of mediocre massage therapy, crushing competition and low income struggle. Excellence requires going the extra mile.
Massage therapy is much more rewarding if you are an artist not only with your hands, but also with your words, mind and energy.
A massage license is just the start. Success comes from becoming an engaging, friendly, knowledgeable, positive, uplifting, inspiring person who radiates calm, confidence, empathy and understanding.
Massage skills that have nothing to do with techniques
How do all those lofty concepts translate into a practical reality that we can learn and implement? Lets talk about some practical steps.
I try to make my clients feel they are not just the ‘victims’ of my expertise, but participants in the session. I want them to feel empowered and not just like passive receivers.
This is especially important for new clients. I want them to walk out of the session thinking “Wow, this massage therapist really knew what he was doing, he was a really nice guy, gave me some very useful advice, and knew exactly what to work on.”
How can you do that? I know that some new clients just lie there and go through the session. They might not say anything even if the massage is on the painful side. They will just leave and not come back. The secret is to make them feel empowered.
Here are some ideas that I have used successfully
1. Mr. client, this is your massage session. If there is anything you want me to work on specifically, please tell me and I will focus on that.
2. Ms. client, if anything in the session feels really good and you want me to stay on it longer, please let me know.
3. Mr. client, I want to make sure that the session is in your comfort range. Do you prefer light, medium or strong work?
4. Ms. client, when I work on a specific area and you feel an unusual emotion, memory, or a past event, please allow this to surface and let me know. This can give us important clues. (I have found out extremely useful information with this question.)
5. Mr. client, in order to gauge the intensity of the session, I use a scale from one to ten. ‘One’ means you feel almost nothing, and ‘ten’ is your absolute pain threshold. ‘Five’ is a comfortable medium, just right. As soon as it gets to an ‘eight’ please let me know right away and I will back off. (This is especially useful for Thai Massage which uses potentially strong stretches,)
6. Ms. client, If something feels painful, is it a good pain or a bad pain? Good pain feels like it is releasing tension and then the pain gets less. Bad pain is sharp, feels destructive to your body, and does not diminish.
Good pain can be a beneficial element of a massage session. It is the body’s way of saying ‘hey, this area has an issue and needs attention’. Bad pain is something that we don’t want at all. So please let me know if there is pain and what type of pain it is.
7. Mr. client, does this pressure feel good, bad, or neutral? (The answer to this question often tells me how much an area is desensitized, deprived of energy or full of stuck emotion or trauma.)
8. Don’t use the word ‘pain’ too much. It is better to ask if there is any ‘discomfort’. This sounds a lot less dangerous than ‘pain’.
Let us focus in more on questions 5 and 7. When I work on a client, and I can tell, or the client tells me that an area is sensitive or painful, I ask how it registers on a scale from one to ten.
Let’s say it is an eight. I work on it for a while until I feel that it is getting better. Then I ask the client again how it feels from one to ten. This time the answer might be a five. I continue working until it goes down to a two or three.
What does the one-to-ten method accomplish?
- It tells me if what I do is actually working, and how long I need to work on it.
- It gives the client a measurable way to determine the effectiveness of my work. I reinforce this by telling the client that we started out with an eight, and now we got it down to a two. Can you see how this is much more precise and useful than the client ‘just feeling better’?
- It enables the client to instantly and precisely communicate their comfort level to me via those numbers. This is a lot more useful than the client telling me that it is ‘a little on the intense side’. It feels empowering to clients to be encouraged to tell me that I can either go deeper or need to back off by using precise numbers rather than vague statements.
- It is an important psychological empowerment tool for clients. It enables them to steer the session, control pain levels, measure success, and be a participant in the healing process rather than the ‘victim’ of the therapist.
What does the “good, bad, or neutral” question accomplish?
- It gives me a reading of the energy or well-being level of an area
- It functions similarly to the one-to-ten question. If an area feels bad initially, I work it for a while and then repeat the question. If the feeling changes to neutral or good, it gives both me and the client a clear indication of progress.
- It is another way to empower the client to participate in the massage therapy session and measure results rather than just ‘feeling better’.
These are some ideas to work the psychological side of a massage session. I do not suggest that you use all those questions every time on each client, but they are useful tools that you should have in your arsenal on top of your actual massage skills.
If you want to see those methods in action and learn more about the communication and psychology aspect of massage, I have produced a video training course titled “Communication Secrets For Massage Therapy“. It is part of our Complete Thai Massage video training course, or it is available separately on this page.