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Massage Therapy – How Much Should You Talk To Your Clients?

Should you talk to your massage clients?

Should you talk to your clients during a massage therapy session? Should you let your clients talk while they are receiving their massage? I have often heard that therapists should discourage talking by their clients and that they should not talk much either.

Based on my experience of practicing Thai Massage for over 18 years, I am convinced that this advice is flawed for several reasons:

Not everyone processes information in the same way

  1. Some people have a more developed auditory sense and they feel most comfortable processing information through hearing and talking.
  2. Some people are more visually oriented. They will notice people’s hair color, eye color, dress, and they like to “see it before they believe it”
  3. Some people are kinesthetic. They like to feel things.

These characteristics are always mixed, i.e. nobody is 100% auditory for example. But one of the three is generally predominant. Let me tell you a story to illustrate the point.

Once I had a girlfriend, and when we had any point of contention I tried to explain my side of the story to her, and she used to get upset while I could not understand why. I just couldn’t get her to carry on a meaningful discussion with me to solve our issues.

How better communication saved my relationship

brainy lightbulbWhen I learned about the different ways people process information, a light bulb went on in my head. I am mostly auditory and therefore like to talk, teach, write and explain things. That makes sense to me.

But it didn’t make sense to her at all since she was mostly kinesthetic. She just wanted to be held and hugged, and she couldn’t care less about all my logic and arguments.

A couple huggingShe needed to feel that everything was alright, whereas I wanted to explain and discuss it. It was the high road to miscommunication and we generally both ended up frustrated.

When I told her what I had learned, we worked out a solution. She acknowledged my need to talk about issues and was more willing to listen. I reduced my explanations and hugged and held her more.

As a result, we were both happier and able to sort out our differences much more effectively.

Communication methods in massage therapy

What does all this have to do with professional massage therapy? A lot, as you will see.

Imagine a highly auditory client coming to you for a session. Naturally, he or she is interested in what you do, how it works, and why you do something.

trust dialIf you turn on your silent mode, your client will not feel very comfortable with you, will not trust you as much, and a good client/therapist relationship is less likely to develop.

This would obviously not be so good for your repeat business.

Clients who are more visually oriented like to be shown or demonstrated something, whereas kinesthetic clients prefer to just lie down and experience the session. If you try to talk a lot to kinesthetic clients, you will annoy them and they won’t feel a good connection with you.

How to find out what kind of person you are dealing with

Often you can pick up clues by the way how people talk and act and what words they use (“I see”, “I hear you”, “I get the feeling…”, etc.) But the easiest way  is to ask your client a question:

What's your answer

  • “Would you like me to explain what I am doing or would you rather just experience it?”
  • “Are you interested in the background of this therapy or shall we just get on with it?”
  • “Do you want me to show you a little how this works or would you prefer to just get started?”

You elicit a response that gives you the clues you need. If you arbitrarily decide that talking in a massage therapy session is not appropriate, you will override some client’s need to talk and your relationship will be somewhat similar to the one I initially had with my girlfriend, although on a more subtle level.

===> Don’t decide what is right for your clients. Let them make that decision.

Here is another issue:

You don’t know your client’s most important reason for getting massage

I have had many Thai Massage clients who clearly needed to talk about something that they could not express easily elsewhere. People tend to trust their therapists, doctors, and hairdressers with their stories.

I am a good listenerIf you now say that it is none of your business to be a counselor or psychologist, you are right.

But there is nothing wrong with being a good listener and showing empathy and a caring attitude.

So what if a client talks through most of the session! It is their money, and if it makes them happy, who are we to tell them that they are wrong? We earn the same money if they talk or not.

Communication case history

traumatized womanLet me tell you another story. Once I had a Thai Massage client who had been gang-raped and was understandably highly traumatized.

She had withdrawn from people and had a hard time trusting anyone. She had not had massage for a long time either.

When I began working with her, she poured out all her grief and talked throughout the entire session.

In the end, she was very happy that I listened supportively and she grew to trust me. I worked on her many times, and she kept talking throughout most of the sessions.

I don’t know how much she felt of the massage, but what I do know is that she loved the sessions. Her need to talk was more important to her than to experience the massage. She was one of my most loyal clients.

To talk or not to talk is an important skill of good therapists

My suggestion is to keep an open mind to your client’s needs. Don’t decide what is right for them and do not become attached to doing things your way. Some of your massage clients will talk a lot, and some will not utter a word. There is no right or wrong here.

As massage therapists we are better off going with the flow and our client’s natural propensity for processing information than establishing a rule that talking during massage sessions is inappropriate.

I am not suggesting that massage therapists should talk more during sessions, but I am proposing that a rule of talking as little as possible is not always the best choice, and can even be counterproductive.

Learning to pick up verbal and physical clues from clients, asking pertinent questions that give clients a choice, using our intuition instead of rules, and allowing them to choose the reason why they come to us for their massage sessions can go a long way towards establishing better rapport, trust and productive communication with our clients.

To learn or improve your Thai Massage skills with refined elements like good body mechanics, good communication skills, a developed intuition, and a great touch, check out our convenient online training:

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image of Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He is the author of 20 Thai Massage online training courses and has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years.

Related Reading:
What Is A Professional Massage Therapist?
Who Owns Massage?
Massage And  Healing

16 thoughts on “Massage Therapy – How Much Should You Talk To Your Clients?”

  1. Nice Shama- thank you. In particular, I find your 3 questions to be helpful. I add that If they have questions along the way, they are encouraged to ask…. and in some manner I inform them that I will not likely initiate conversation unless it is needed. But I’m available to them if they wish to initiate. It seems to work well. Many emotions do flow, and it is important our clients feel safe and free to convey whatever they need as they ARE the healing process.

    In Metta
    Lise

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lise. I like your last sentence. I agree with you that clients should always feel free to express themselves verbally if they want to. I would never suggest to a client not to talk as this potentially shuts down an energy channel which is part of the healing process.

  3. Thank you Shama for addressing this topic. I have clients who talk the whole session and I have clients who never say a word and then I have clients who are in between, sometimes commenting on a technique or an area that is more tender than they realized. Now I understand why some people never say a word and others talk nonstop, I must have known this before but it is helpful to be reminded that there is no right or wrong way and I am there for them, with an open mind and a healing, helping sense of touch.
    All my best,
    Paula

  4. Paula, thanks for your comment. For me it was also a revelation when I learned about this, and suddenly it all made sense to me. Now I not only understand why clients act a certain way, but I can support my clients in a way that works best for them. I can be proactive instead of reactive. I know what to do instead of wondering what’s the best thing to do.

    It helps to not only understand the science of the body, but also a little of the science of the mind. Massage works on the physical body, but also on the emotions and the mind. It helps me a lot to have skills in more than just the physical area. It results in a better experience for my clients.

  5. Hi shama.

    I absolutely agree with what you say about this. When I first started doing Thai massage, I found it distracting if clients wanted to talk and I found it more difficult to tune in to their body needs, but I can now go with whatever they need to do for them to get the best out of the massage for them. However, I do also find occasionally that clients may feel that they need to entertain us. I have one client in particular whose main coping mechanism is to be funny and entertain. She is usually in pain as a result of long-standing injuries (which the Thai relieves to some extent) and sometimes I have felt that she has needed ‘permission’ to relax and not feel obliged to entertain.

    Thank you again for your thought-provoking and insightful thoughts.

    Metta

    • Thanks for your contribution Sue. I agree with what you say. We have to go with the flow in our sessions and see what works for the clients when it comes to talking. And yes, sometimes there are clients who benefit from a gentle reminder that they get more out of the session if they stop talking and just relax.

  6. Hi Shama,
    Tuning into someone’s communication needs is a skill I would definitely like to work on. I often find myself wondering if I’m asking too many questions of a client, or in other circumstances, if I’m not engaging them in enough conversation.
    I’d often like the chatty cathys to talk less, and the shy ones to talk more. I want to support people who venture outside of their comfort zones – where healing can take place.
    It never occurred to me to ask a client one of your three questions to determine their communication style. Thanks for the post 🙂
    Do you think it’s our job to solely support a client in whatever they have come for, or do you think we can also have a role in introducing them to a new approach? That’s vague, sorry. I want to think I support clients where they are, while adding a touch of encouragement toward growth, but it’s tough to strike this balance. I`m wondering if my angle on treatment (offering an opportunity to grow rather than maintain their current circumstance) is perhaps something I should tone down a bit.
    Thanks.

    • Jen, if clients are open to it and if I feel that they would really benefit from a new approach, I definitely introduce ‘out of the box’ concepts. My take is that clients do not always know what they really need when they come to me. This goes both for the actual massage session and for other aspects.

      I have often found that a particular client really needed additional or unusual means in order to benefit most from the session. This can take the form of different treatment choices, to yoga homework assignments, to nutritional advice to visualization techniques to attitudinal adjustments towards dis-ease.

      I have used all those approaches successfully when I felt them to be appropriate. If you are interested, I have produced one entire video module about client communication. It is called “Therapy Communication Secrets”, and you can find it on this page:
      https://thaihealingmassage.com/info/thai-massage-therapy-courses/

  7. Thank you for your article. I like the way the 3 questions are phrased.

    Being a relatively new practitioner, I ask for a lot of feedback from the client, because I want to make sure I am doing a technique correctly. Sometimes I get the feeling that the client is annoyed for asking too many questions, or they think I don’t know what I am doing.

  8. Yes Great Article Shama!
    I agree with you! I let my clients talk if they want and If they dont that’s cool to. Sometimes our clients are bottled up and don’t open easily to people. But as they get comfortable with us then their walls come down and they express themselves . I think its part of our therapy plan. I believe that’s why we retain clients. We just treat them like family and let them be them 🙂

  9. Hi Shama, Once again you bring up a topic I totally needed guidance on! I have been doing the opposite by saying at the beginning of a session, “I’m not a chatty masseuse. This is a time to enjoy the quit and tune into what you are feeling. I do ask them to let me know if the press is too much or too little. However after reading this article I will instead follow your suggestion. I have a couple of clients who talk throughout and honestly as a new therapist it is distracting. But if I listen more and comment less perhaps I will get better at it :). Thank you so much! You have. O idea how much you help! I can’t wait to jump into your online courses! ??

    • I am glad that this article struck a chord in you! Sometimes a different perspective from someone else can be very useful since we all have the tendency to see things only in certain ways at the expense of other possibilities! 🙂

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