My friend Jason Peringer has been a massage therapist and business owner for more than fifteen years. This is his second post for us here. It is just as brilliant as the first.
In a previous post, I stated that as a massage therapist, the information you acquire from your client comes from the intake; both written and verbal. While that is indeed true, there are other, more subtle cues from a client that provide not only more information, but also feedback on you and your work. The client’s body language, facial expressions, and breathing all provide valuable, non-verbal information that can make the session more productive for both the client and the massage therapist.
Over the years of working in a seasonal resort community, I have had a great number of clients that I will work with for only one time. Many times, the vacationing client has never had a massage before. The benefit of working in such a practice is that you quickly learn to look for the little nuances in a person’s behavior that can speak volumes as to where they are, both mentally and physically. Aside from a person walking with an obvious physical impairment, you can look for how they carry themselves; arms tightly folded, shoulders slumped forward, or visibly distracted/upset. Many times the clients themselves are quite unaware to the image they are projecting with physical presence. So it inevitably falls to the therapist to interpret these clues that present themselves in order to make the session with the client a positive one.
The ability to listen to what a client’s body is telling you can only be taught to a certain degree; beyond that, it comes with experience. While many therapists are quite adept at locating tight muscles, areas of discomfort, and tension, the skill to understand what the body is saying is something else entirely. What might present itself as stress tension might actually just be an apprehensive client that is extremely nervous. If you are able to see a client’s facial expression, that can be one of the easiest indicator of some useful feedback. The client’s breathing is another strong indicator of what the client might be experiencing through the work. The massage therapist needs to not only recognize and identify these cues from the client during the session, but also address them appropriately. The most efficient way to address the issue is through communicating with the client; usually verbally.
During any given session, I guide the client through a cycle of breathing during a particular stoke or stretch; it is just the style of work I do. Every therapist should develop their own way to enable a client to get the most out of each session, whether you see the client once or once a week. I find the use of guided breathing to be most productive. Often clients hold their breath or do not breathe deep enough during a massage, for one reason or another. The therapist should work to change that pattern and help the client to relax into the work during the session.
So, after the session has concluded and the client emerges, there is the final bit of information; feedback. The client may have plenty to say verbally, but what does their non-verbal feedback tell you? Does their voice sound lower? Do their movements seem to be easier, more fluid? All of these are pieces of information that you should take note of for future sessions, with that particular client or others that follow. Learn from your clients, learn from your practice.
Jason Peringer combines a degree in Sports Medicine and a background in strength and conditioning with advanced training in Sports Massage, Reflexology, and Shiatsu to provide the best massage you can find on Martha’s Vineyard. He is the owner of the Center for Therapeutic Massage and THE go-to therapist for both residents and seasonal visitors to the island. He coaches high school track, makes a mean pancake, and rules twitter as @mvmassage.Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net