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.
Not everyone processes information in the same way
- Some people have a more developed auditory sense and they feel most comfortable processing information through hearing and talking.
- 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”
- 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
When 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.
She 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.
If 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. Not 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:
- “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 ex-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 hair dressers with their stories.
If 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
Let 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.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been living in Thailand for well over a decade and has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years.