Thai Massage is more than a collection of techniques
What might the elements of good Thai Massage therapy be? A good range of techniques, knowledge of the theory, knowing the names of the sen lines and what they do, an understanding of the anatomy, some knowledge of the pathology of the client’s issue, good ergonomics, a good quality of touch…?
That’s all fine and well, however the list is missing one important element, and that’s YOU, the Thai Massage therapist. And I don’t mean what you can do and what you have learned, but who you are as a human being and how you relate to your clients.
A tale of two therapists
Let’s say there are two equally skilled therapists. One is the clinical type, the white coated professional type who keeps his or her distance from the client, who makes sure not to get entangled in any emotional or personal issue, who sticks strictly to the professional routine and who avoids talking more than absolutely necessary.
For this therapist the client appears to be a collection of anatomical parts. Symptoms are only seen on a physical level, and talk of energy is rejected as unscientific and unproven.
The second type of therapist
Then there is another type of therapist. He or she is a warm-hearted person who radiates good energy, who is kind, interested in the client and willing to listen. This therapist is an excellent communicator, is willing and able to go with the flow to accommodate each individual client’s physical and some emotional needs.
Such persons instill trust and easily establish a good connection with their clients. Actually client’s spontaneously like them because they represent an energy which in itself is an important element in the process of healing and well being.
This therapist sees clients as an interconnected holistic organism and knows how to move energy instead of just manipulating anatomical parts.
Who of these two types is likely to have an edge?
Chances are that the second type of therapist is more successful in getting repeat or referral business, is better at finding the underlying causes of problems, is able to work on a more profound level, and has a higher rate of client satisfaction.
Granted, I presented the two types of therapists as a black and white example for demonstration’s sake. In reality there is of course a wide grey area where the two types blend or overlap.
As a westerner who lives in Thailand, I can detect those two types easily since I have one foot in both worlds.
The Eastern model of massage
The first type of therapist is more likely to be found in the western world where the clinical and anatomical model is primarily taught.
In Thailand most therapists neither know about the clinical and anatomical aspects of Thai Massage nor do they care. All that matters to them is that their clients feel better, like the massage, and have a good connection to the therapist.
The human element is naturally more important in Thailand. There is a lot more social interaction happening in Thai Massage shops compared to western massage establishments. Often the therapists actively try to strike up a conversation with their clients during the session.
Thai Massage in Thailand is often as much a social event as it is a health treatment.
Another factor is that Thai Massage is often done in much more public settings compared to massage in the western world. Nobody finds it strange to lie down for a Thai Massage on a mat in the middle of a busy market with hundreds of people milling around you.
Shades of grey in between eastern and western massage
Of course this is not a black and white issue. There are many highly aware and intuitive therapists in the western world, and there are Thai Massage therapists in Thailand with zero social skills.
And both in Thailand and in the western world there are a good many clients who just come to a massage session, and they couldn’t care less about energy or the therapist’s likability. They pay the fee, lie down, and that’s it.
Finding your edge with the human element
However my point is that the human element plays a much bigger role in massage therapy than we might think.
This is not a clear cut, black and white scenario. However, if you want to have an edge as a therapist, if you want to develop a devoted clientele, if you want to remain in love with your work for a long time, and if you want to increase your chances of being effective, then it is probably a good idea to pay some more attention to the human and social elements in massage therapy.
Knowing the technical skills of Thai Massage is just one aspect of your business. Your human skills and your social interaction can make the difference between a mediocre practice and a successful business.
My own story
On a personal note, I met my Thai wife in a massage shop 15 years ago where she worked as a therapist. To this day she has clients from all over the world who love her massage skills just as much as her social skills and her ability to make clients feel welcomed and appreciated. Case in point from my own family!
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.