Three skills to be a great massage therapist

When you thought about getting into massage, was it your goal to be a mediocre massage therapist? After a massage is over, do you look forward to hearing your client say “Eh, it was all right”?

I don’t think so. I think you got into massage because you want to make a difference for people. You want to help them relieve their pain and stress, to walk out the door with a smile, feeling great, and looking forward to their next massage with you.

I think you want to be a great massage therapist. Not for national acclaim or the Nobel Prize for massage (there is one, right?) but to really help the people who come to you. The three skills discussed below are all talents that you can develop and improve on. They are not things that you had to be born with.

There are many contributing factors into becoming a great massage therapist. Obviously you need the basics of a solid foundation in anatomy, massage techniques, customer service, ethics, and other related topics. Learn all you can from other therapists, instructors, and mentors. Make use of the resources available from your massage association. Keep learning, either something new that interests you or to reinforce what was once new. Stay curious. One of the things I love about massage is there are so many different techniques and methods, and that new research is always happening.

So along with the strong fundamentals, work on developing these three attributes and watch the satisfaction of your clients soar.

Be Observant
Give your client your focused undivided attention from the moment they walk in the door until the time they leave. Watch how they stand, walk, sit, and move. Do they have pain when taking off their jacket or reaching for something? Are certain movements causing them pain? Do they look stressed, or tired, or worn down? What does their posture tell you?

By making a comment about an observation you made without them telling you, you will make an excellent impression, particularly with a new client. They will understand that you know how the body works and that you have seen others with the issue that they have – and will know how to help them also. It will give them hope that they will find the relief they desire. They will notice that you care about them, which can be a big factor in our busy impersonal and computerized world. It will instantly give them a reason to trust you. That will allow them to relax during their massage and open up to tell you more about why they came to see you.

Many of my clients have neck and upper back pain from a combination of driving, sitting at a desk, computer work, and spending time on their phone or tablet or laptop. When I ask if they get headaches also, many are surprised and wonder how I knew that. After giving a quick explanation of how headaches can be caused by neck muscle tension, their trust in me takes a big step up.

Ask Questions
Not the nosy kind, or insulting kind (“Why would you wear those shoes with that dress?”) but the concerned and caring kind to get necessary information. Your client came to you for a reason. Make sure you know what it is. How can you provide great service if you don’t know what service they really need?

For example, if they come in and say they have leg pain, you don’t really know enough to help yet. Do they have pain in both legs, just in one, or more in one than the other? What part of the leg hurts? It could be their hip, thigh, knee, calf, shin, or ankle. If you work on their calf but the problem is their hip, they won’t be happy when they leave. Do they have sharp pain or a dull ache? Is the pain constant or just when they do certain movements? Did they do something to it (were they dancing like no one was watching) or do they have a condition from an injury or illness they are dealing with?

Since you have a strong foundation in anatomy (keep learning if you don’t yet), you will have a more informed idea of how best to help them. Since the body has such amazing connections, you may find the source of their problem may be outside of the area where they are feeling the pain. You may not be able to completely solve the problem but you can provide relief as they manage their pain.

Even if it is a regular client that you have treated many times, something may be different today. Maybe they have been travelling, added some new exercise, did more yard work, or just slept funny. Keeping your regular clients happy and coming back will keep you happy as well.

You may also learn that the client has a contraindication and that they should not be getting a massage. The more information you have, the better decision you can make. A great massage therapist will make a determined effort to do no harm and will refer clients to somebody else if needed.

Listen
It does no good to ask questions if you don’t listen to the answers. Give your client your full and complete attention. They are the reason you are in business. Be prepared for them as much as you can when they arrive. Put away the phone and any other distractions. Think about how much you look forward to your massage – they have been looking forward to this time and want it to be great.

In our busy and automated world many do not get listened to (press 1 to be told “Your call is important to us”). Having somebody truly listen is satisfying and memorable, and it can be a reason for you to stand out. People won’t open up and provide more detailed information if they are not being listened to. If they know you are listening to them with their best interests in mind, you will have a loyal client who won’t think of going anywhere else.

Demonstrate to your client that you will keep everything confidential. Explain it if you need to, but simply do not talk about other clients with them. These three things tell your client that you are trustworthy. They are demonstrating their trust by putting themselves into your hands. If they can trust you, they can relax and their massage will be much more effective. The people in your life that you trust are observant of you, ask questions, and actually listen to you. Return their trust and they will be delighted to tell people what a great massage therapist you are.

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