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What Do Our Massage Clients Really Want?

The massage hammer story

image of massage hammer

Recently I published a video in my “ Tips And Tricks” Thai Massage education series. In this episode I showed the use of a mechanical massage tool, a ‘massage hammer’.

When I posted the video on youtube, someone left a comment saying that the use of this tool felt like “cheating” to him, since the client paid for the use of his hands. He said that he would use this tool on a client, but he could not charge him for this time.

Here is what I do in my Thai Massage practice. I have a couple of quite large, heavy and stiff male clients who need intense work on the back, glutes and hamstrings.

When I initially introduced this tool, they both liked it. It puts out heat via an infrared lamp which works very well to loosen up tight muscles, and the vibrations are quite effective.

image of back massage with massage hammer

One of these clients asks me to use the massage hammer during almost every session.

He says “Why don’t you put the heat on this spot”. I cannot generate this heat with my hands, but the tool can.

Of course I don’t use it for the entire session, just as a supplement for 10 or 15 minutes of a two hour session.

Clients don’t pay for our hands, but for results and a good experience

results in massage

This got me thinking about what clients really want from their massage therapists. In my experience they don’t pay for our hands, they pay for results.

It does not matter if those results come in the form of hands, elbows, knees, feet or a massage hammer.

The only thing which matters is if the client feels better after the session than before, if the issues have been addressed effectively, and if the client enjoyed the experience.

My youtube commentator who felt that this would be “cheating” only established a limitation in his own mind.

Actually just the opposite is true. My clients feel that I am the only therapist in town who provides such an additional service, who goes above and beyond your typical massage to get them the results they want and need.

The idea that this tool should only be used as a freebie after the ‘real’ session masks the fact that I had to purchase it and that I am able to use it quite skillfully.

Bottom line is: Clients do not pay for the use of specific body
parts – they are paying for results. If it feels good to them,
if it is effective, if it works, then it is appropriate.

After thinking about all this, I remembered several other incidents in my massage career where I learned that what clients really want is not necessarily what we as therapists think.

The reluctant energy worker

Once I had a client, a woman with serious lower back issues. This area felt stiff, frozen and lifeless. I did my usual Thai Massage therapy, working with my hands, trying to loosen it up.

However I felt that I did not make much progress. Then I intuitively felt that I should just place my hands on her lower back and run energy into it along with positive and healing intentions.

I did that for a minute or two, but then I started to feel guilty. Like my above youtube commentator, I thought that this woman was paying me to use my hands in typical Thai Massage fashion. So I stopped doing the energy transmission and kept on pressing and rubbing and rocking.

After the massage was over she told me that one part of the session was her favorite and had felt better than anything else. What do you think it was? You guessed it, it was the part where I just placed my hands on her back and ran healing energy into it.

My own mind had prevented me from doing what she had really wanted and needed. Her body was too locked up to respond to physical manipulations, but it responded well to an energetic approach.

I learned from this experience to keep an open mind, trust my intuition and not get locked into a preconceived notion what the client really wants.

The princess at the high end destination spa

Once I was working at a very high end and luxurious destination spa. One of the guests was a princess who was a real terror. She complained about every therapist, she did not like any of the sessions, and all the therapists were trying to hide from her. Finally I was asked to work on her since I had a different skill set.

I tried my usual Thai Massage therapy work, massaging, manipulating, rocking – she did not like it and started to complain. Then I intuitively felt like switching gears completely. I explained that her issue could not be addressed effectively with massage alone and needed a different approach.

Next I led her through an extended visualization session where she herself got to work on her issues. I have used this method on many clients when I felt it appropriate, and in this case it worked beautifully.

She had never experienced the power of her own mind before when directed by a skilled therapist. In the end she was happy with the session, no complaints at all, and I was glad I had found a way to help her with what she really wanted, not a treatment protocol, but results.

The massage client who had been gang raped

Once I had a regular client who had recently gone though the horrific experience of being gang raped. She had lost her trust in people, had nightmares and flash backs.

When I worked on her, she talked almost incessantly throughout the entire session. She told me the entire incident in detail, and her life story on top of it.

It soon became obvious to me that she did not really care as much about the massage. What she really wanted was a person whom she could trust, who would listen to her without judging her, and whom she could tell anything that was on her mind.

I never had to say much besides just acknowledging her and dropping a few positive words here and there.

She was a regular client of mine for a long time, and she kept up this pattern. I could have stuck to my rules and told her that talking this much would reduce the benefit of the session. But the point is that she did not care about the benefits of the massage.

She needed someone to talk to, and she was so grateful and relieved that I facilitated this for her. I am sure she liked my massage as well, but this was clearly not her priority.

She wanted a different result from what she officially paid me for. She needed to work off her anxiety and stress and fear by getting it off her chest, by being heard, and being acknowledged.

Should I have told her to go see a psychologist instead? No, she felt comfortable with me, and she got the result that she wanted. All I had to do is let go of my preconceived notion of how a ‘real’ massage session should be.

There are many ways to help people. With some flexibility and good intuition we can expand the definition of our massage practice in some cases to accommodate clients who need something ‘out of the box’.

All those experiences told me that:

  • We as therapists don’t always know what our clients really want
  • Our clients don’t always know what they really need
  • It is useful to have some additional skills in addition to a typical Thai massage education
  • We need to keep an open mind and heart to feel what is really best and needed for our clients
  • We need to understand that clients don’t pay for our hands or techniques, they pay for results

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image of the author, Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, has been specializing in Thai Massage education for 16 years. He is the the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.


Related posts:
12 Reasons Why People Get Massage
How to Kick Your Massage Sessions Into High Gear
Putting Client’s Wants And Needs First

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13 thoughts on “What Do Our Massage Clients Really Want?”

  1. Nice article Shama. I have experienced some clients coming for treatment totally skeptical, some even asked many questions (anatomy, physiology). They want to hear same answers that physiotherapists or doctors told them. After few days, they came again. Because of good result, they do not ask any more, they just want to continue and be better. I do not know why they need this kind of evidence. Some already tried many things, maybe they are little bit fed up when they come. Maybe they have tried some guys who is so called “Chinese or Thai” massage and they think I am the the same guy like that. On the other hands there is just guys who want relaxation massage, they do not want to be bothered with any questions about their health.Some just need attention or communication. Sometimes is like psychological seance. I had also some clients who was offended in the beginning, or shocked. If I said traditional Chinese or Thai massage is done with the clothes on. One client even started to scream at me that I am cheater, that there is only oil massage. 🙂 I had to show her slowly when her face was quite red, why they do it, and how it feels. In the end she loves it. Or there was a sport guy, who just had Swedish sport massage. I suddenly started to do Chinese sport massage and he was firstly surprised what is that strange massage I just did. I the end he was relaxing and liked it a lot. It is only few clients, but maybe good to share, it was also some time ago. 🙂 Excuse my english

    • Thanks Martin for the many good examples of different scenarios that can happen in our work. Especially Asian massage often does not fit into the mode of thinking of some people. That’s why I always did an orientation talk before the session with new clients.

  2. I agree Shama, we have to not get locked in to routines and be ready to do something different if needs be. I had a client who came in one day with a fever and a lot of hot emotion issues. I could not do massage and put her immune system under more stress so I made a past of sandlewood and milk and gently smeared some on her forehead, heart area, palms and feet. I did some gentle work on hands and feet around the area highlighted, centre of each hand and foot and listened. By the end of our time together she was much cooler, felt lighter and more able to allow and accept the relationship issues she had come in with. Healing is not always about the body, there are many levels to our being.

    I had another client who came in for a massage who had been vomiting all the way to the session. She lived quite a long way away, so we could not put it off for another day.
    I felt she had some embarrassment about taking her clothes off, so I did some gentle work on hands feet and head so that she could remain clothed and just relax. She felt much better at the end of the massage.
    I have also had clients who were not happy with my work because I did not work deep enough. I feel now that a tool like the “Hammer” would be great for those who like heavy deep work. I am a relatively small woman, and some people are just too big for me to work on. Thai massage has opened up better ways to deal with this size difference and I can see that the “hammer” could be just the thing.

    There are all kinds of therapists and all kinds of clients.
    We tend to draw in what is best for mutual benefit if this is what our intention is. If you believe that what you are doing will not help then that is probably what you will create.
    Thanks for the opportunity to think about this interesting issue of working with clients. Have a good day,
    regards Lynney

    • Thanks Lynney, I appreciate your input. It is really fascinating to read about the experiences of other therapists. It is like an expansion and continuation of my article.

  3. Thank you for the article. You are right, we should have individual approach to every client. I can also recollect cases when my clients needed to confide in somebody. After the session they felt relieved and satisfied. Really they don’t pay for our hands, but they pay for the benefits they get, and psychological benefits are very important. Shama, you mentioned some visualization techniques, which you use during your sessions. Could you please give more details about that.
    Many thanks,Lidia

    • When I feel that the massage work alone is not effective enough, and the client is willing to cooperate, I use a number of visualization techniques like these:
      1. I ask them to breathe into the muscle or joint
      2. I ask them to breathe healing and loving energy into the area
      3. I ask them to put their attention on this area and imagine it expanding and contracting along with their breath, like a balloon
      4. I ask them to mentally talk to their affected muscle or joint and tell it how much they appreciate it and how they commit to taking care of it and supporting it
      5. I ask them to mentally tell this muscle to relax
      6. I ask them to breathe relaxation into the muscle

      These are just a few examples. Really only your imagination is your limit with this approach. I do all this while I am working on them. I don’t do it with just anybody, only when I feel that they could really benefit from it.

      Normally I do it with people who are in kind of a bad shape and really need results, people who are totally unaware of strong stress and holding patterns, people who are really locked up.

      I know from experience that I can get much more out of my massage therapy when I combine it with such visualization methods. But it has to be a client who is somewhat open minded.

  4. Shama, thank you for the article. I, too, have had experiences like yours that made me a different therapist. When meeting a client for the first time, I try to find out by asking what their expectations are from the session and from massage in general. I ask about any previous experience with massage: what they liked and what they didn’t like.
    Could you elaborate on your orientation talk, especially how you differeniate between Thai style massage and typical Western style?

    • This would be a long story for a post. Since this is a very good question and an important topic, I have actually created an entire video that shows me interacting with a client, asking questions, explaining what I do etc. It is called “Communication Secrets for Massage”. It is available as a separate video, and it is also included in my “Complete Thai Massage” course.

  5. Thank you, Shama. I will check it out! Talking to clients is sometimes difficult for me–I’m shy and would rather show them by doing and helping them get results.

    • This is fine, however if the client is an auditory type and processes information via hearing and talking, then they appreciate the verbal communication. You seem to be more the visual type which is expressed by your statement “would rather show them”. Your mode of expression works fine for other visual types, but auditory types will feel that there is something lacking.

      This is another skill of therapists – how to communicate effectively with clients. It can result in much higher client retention and better trust levels. So it is a worthwhile skill to develop.

  6. Hello Shama,
    Another great article! And I really enjoyed reading all the comments, as well. As a Yoga and Thai Massage teacher, I’m always fascinated by the difference in viewpoint and attitude between teachers & students on the one hand, and practicing massage therapists & yoga instructors on the other hand. It’s so important to know who you are being with/talking to… All the details, philosophy, theory etc. that we find so important while studying about and learning to do something are of very little importance to most clients that come to you for bodywork or yoga. They are mainly interested in results that make them feel better, and much less in how “authentic, traditional, knowledgeable, etc.” you may be as a practitioner. Your article illustrates this very well.


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