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How To Give Your Massage Clients What They Really Want

what do massage clients really want

Massage hammer for Thai Massage story

image of massage hammer

Here at Thai Healing Massage Academy, we have a free educational video series for learning various aspects of Thai Massage called “Tips And Tricks“.

At one time we published a new video in this Thai Massage education series that shows the use of a mechanical massage tool, a ‘massage hammer‘.

When this video was posted 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 the therapist’s hands.

He said that he would consider using this tool on a client, but he could not charge him for this time.

Let’s analyze what clients are actually paying a massage therapist for.

When massage tools can save your hands and help your clients

Let me relate the experiences in my own Thai Massage practice to you.

Over time I have had quite a few large, heavy and stiff male clients who needed intense therapeutic work on their backs, glutes, and hamstrings.

It didn’t take me long to realize that in order to do effective deep work on them, I was putting a lot of stress on my body. One day I discovered the ‘massage hammer’ tool.

When I introduced this tool to my large clients, they 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.

back massage with massage hammer

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

He used to say: “Why don’t you put the heat on this spot”. He felt that this deep infrared heat penetration helped him.

As a therapist, I cannot generate this heat with my hands, but this tool can do that very effectively.

Of course, I don’t use this tool for the entire session, just as a supplement for 10 or 15 minutes in a two-hour Thai Massage session.

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

only results matter

This made me think about what my Thai Massage clients really want from their massage therapist.

In my experience, they don’t pay for my hands. They pay for results. They pay for skills. They pay for a good experience.

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

The only things that matter is if the clients feel better after the session than before, if their issues have been addressed effectively, and if they enjoyed the experience.

If you are interested to learn Thai Massage, Thai Healing Massage Academy can help you with an in-depth online training program that will turn you into a well-rounded, holistic, and highly competent practitioner.

‘Cheating’ or providing additional value

The 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 felt that I was the only therapist they knew who provided such an additional service, and who went above and beyond your typical massage to get them the results they wanted and needed.

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.

Using a massage tool is not a ‘lazy way’ of doing massage, but it is an additional skilled method of helping the client most effectively.

Clients do not pay for the use of our hands – they are paying for results. If it is good for them, if it is effective, if it works, then it is appropriate.

I can think of three cases in my massage career where I learned that what clients really want is not necessarily what we as therapists think.

1. 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.

healing-hands

However, I felt that I did not make much progress.

Then I intuitively felt that I should place my hands on her lower back and run energy into it 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 therapy fashion.

So I stopped doing the energy transmission and kept on pressing and rubbing and rocking.

After the Thai 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 of what the client really wants.

2. The princess at the high end destination spa

spa arrangment

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 avoid working on 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 changing my method completely. I explained that her issue could not be addressed effectively with massage alone and needed a different approach.

Then 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 it felt 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. She had no complaints, and I was glad that I had discovered a way to help her with what she really wanted – not a specific treatment protocol, but results.

3. The Thai Massage client who had been gang-raped

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

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.

Sticking to the rules versus doing what’s needed

follow rules vs do what's needed

I could have insisted on ‘the rules’ and told her that talking this much reduces the benefit of the work.

But the point is that she did not care about the benefits of the massage.

She needed someone to talk to and was grateful and relieved that I facilitated this for her.

I am sure she liked my Thai Massage work as well, but this was clearly not her priority.

She wanted a different result from what she officially paid me for. She needed to release her anxiety, stress, and fear by getting it off her chest, by being heard and 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, in some cases we can expand the definition of our massage practice to accommodate clients who need something ‘out of the box’.

Conclusions from these cases

  • 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 needed and best for our clients
  • We need to understand that clients don’t pay for our hands or techniques – they pay for results

Visit Thai Healing Massage Academy’s online training library with 20 Thai Massage courses for all your training needs and all levels of skills.

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image of the author, Shama Kern

The author, Shama Kern, has been specializing in Thai Massage education for two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.

13 thoughts on “How To Give Your Massage Clients What They 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply

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