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Thai Massage Culture Clash Demystified

What’s normal for you in your massage practice in the western world might be turned upside down when it comes to Thai Massage in Thailand. Different rules apply, different attitudes exists, and the “cultural lens” is totally different. 

This is the first video in the Thai Massage Culture Clash series. It’s fascinating!

It’s not just the techniques which are different in Thai Massage. It’s the cultural environment, the attitude of the therapists, and a totally different perspective. It can be fun, refreshing, easy going – but it is different. 

Thai Massage intake forms get lost in the translation

Sometimes there are certain things which make perfect sense in one environment, but if you try to transplant them into another environment, suddenly they don’t make sense anymore. One of those things is something which at first glance seems rather uncontroversial: Massage intake forms.

But then… why are they hardly ever used in Thailand? Let’s look at this question through the lens of the Thai cultural environment. I will take you on a virtual  trip through the Thai Massage system in Thailand. It’s interesting and entertaining, and it’s not meant to be deadly serious. If you can take a little humor – read on.

What are massage intake forms good for?

Intake forms are often used in the western world to get a better understanding of the client’s condition. I get it. There might be potential liability issues and you want to protect yourself.

Or you need records for insurance purposes. Or you need something to jog your memory. Or you just want to make sure that you don’t miss any information that you should be aware of. Fine. Makes sense.

Some intake forms are way over the top, if you ask me!

But I have tell you, for me, as someone who lives in Thailand, some of those forms are a little scary. I have seen 5 page long intake forms with personal information, massage related questions, medical history, liability release forms, informed consent, wavers, acknowledgements, heavy legal language, etc.

Clearly some lawyer drew that thing up to scare the living daylights out of me. I thought I was going to get a wonderful massage in a peaceful holistic environment, but now I have to sign a form that I won’t sue my therapist if she accidentally kills me with her massage.

Sometimes I wonder if they couldn’t make those intake forms a little more friendly and use language that I can actually understand without needing a legal expert to translate it for me. 

Why intake forms don’t work well in Thailand

Here in Thailand it’s all very different. Intake forms are hardly ever used. Let me tell you why.  There are several reasons.

  • Thai Massage is traditionally done on the village level in very simple settings, with very simple people, and there is nothing written down at all. No intake forms, no receipts, no certificates, no signatures, no lawyers  – it’s just people helping people.

    In this scenario an intake form would be totally inconceivable. The therapist just talks to the client. They probably know each other anyway, and that’s good enough.

  • Thai Massage is very popular in tourist areas. About 30 million tourists visit Thailand every year, and most of them or at least a very high percentage try Thai Massage for fun and curiosity and because it’s so cheap. 

    Intake forms wouldn’t work since those clients are very transitory. They come for a session and then you never see them again. There is a never ending stream of tourists and the client turnover is close to 100 percent. So there is no real client-therapist relationship established, and nobody is interested in keeping records.

  • The language barrier. All those millions of tourists speak dozens of languages, and in most cases English is not their first language. Imagine a Chinese tourist going to a Thai Massage shop. Neither the tourist nor the therapist speak much English, if any.

    The intake form would have to be in the Thai language so that the therapist can read it. And most Thai Massage therapists in Thailand speak very limited or no English, and definitely no Chinese. So you see that intake forms would not work at all. It would be a total communication fiasco.

  • The “other side” of Thai Massage. A lot of the Thai Massage in Thailand is not done for serious therapeutic reasons. Millions of men, both Thai and tourists, get Thai Massage for fun, and often even of the less than professional variety with a happy end. Obviously they are not interested in intake forms and leaving paper trails of their extracurricular activities.
  • Different strokes for different folks. Let’s imagine that somehow, magically, the language barrier could be overcome, and the therapist would actually get an intake form with a western medical history, let’s say.

    Here’s the issue. Traditional Thai Massage is not based on western science, anatomy and physiology, but on working with the energy sen line concept.

    So our Thai therapist has no training in western medical pathology, and therefore most of that information wouldn’t make any sense to her. Most Thai Massage therapists in Thailand are simple people with no higher education. They might be excellent at Thai Massage, but not at interpreting pathology reports.

Two cases where intake forms are used in Thailand

There are two scenarios where you CAN find intake forms for Thai Massage in Thailand. One is in high end spas with professionally trained staff who CAN evaluate clients and then direct them to the appropriate therapist. They actually conduct interviews and fill out intake forms.

The second situation is Traditional Thai medical clinics. They have trained traditional doctors who can diagnose your condition. Part of the prescribed treatment will often be Thai Massage therapy.

So in those two situations written evaluation forms or intake forms are used. But in the vast majority of Thai Massage work, intake forms are never used for the reasons that I explained.

Thai Massage culture clash exposed

Now you can see the culture clash, right? The intake form can make perfect sense in the western world, but it might not make any sense some place else.

In other countries there are different ways to deal with this, and in the case of Thailand, you mostly don’t have to deal with it at all. You just lie down and get a massage without any formalities.

If you have an issue which you feel the therapist should be aware of, then just let her know. That’s how it works here in Thailand today, and how it has been working for hundreds of years. 

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Shama headshot with frame 400pxThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years.

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