Confessions of a Massage Therapist
One of the most recurring negative experiences I hear about from people, about massages they have received in the past, is that of too much pressure.
I’ve heard it in conversations, and from clients on my table. People telling me their massage stories (and their medical ones too). During my initial intake with new clients, I ask them on their form, if they have had professional massage before? Whether their experiences were positive – yes / no / both?
The stories are nearly all the same – “oh my gosh, the therapist went to town on me, and I was sooo sore the next day!”
I started asking people if the therapist had opened the conversation up to feedback? “Did they ask you to let them know if the pressure was too much? Did they check in to make sure the pressure was how you like it?” This is where the answers become varied.
What frightens me is that sometimes the response is that the person DID speak up, and the therapist DIDN’T listen.
My hope is that; these kinds of aggravating experiences, don’t ruin the person from getting massages in the future. Because experiences like these are not the norm.
I, myself have experienced several therapists who have gone too deep, too fast, without warming up my tissues first. And didn’t notice when my body was resisting their touch. It wasn’t that they went to deep, that bothered me. It was the not noticing that I was squirming and pulling away, going unnoticed, that concerns me.
I once had a therapist have passive aggressive behavior towards me. I told her, I wasn’t a fan of the technique – skin rolling, because for me it was painful. She continued skin roll the remainder of my back, without stopping, did another technique, and then came back and skin rolled me again. That was the end of trust and safety, and the end of our therapeutic relationship.
Another time, I was getting a chair massage at a natural food store, and the woman, totally shook me up. Literally shook me up. It wasn’t relaxing, it was violent and I felt violated. Almost like I had been mugged on the streets. I would have liked to have been warned how her work was ‘different’ from most chair therapists, and is of the invigorating sort. Besides that, I had asked for her to work on my forearms and she barely touched them. She also started doing an energetic reading on me, without asking me first. Without my permission she went on and on scanning me. It was a bad enough experience, that I called the manager and complained. She was kind enough to give me a refund.
But the learning lesson for me, has been in speaking up, and not allowing things that felt uncomfortable to go on. I thought it was strange that, I, as a professional in the bodywork field, had a difficult time expressing myself. I suspected that I wasn’t alone and some of my clients could be experiencing the same difficulty.
It really made me take a deeper look at how I can prevent this from ever happening in my services, by inviting my clients to, and emphasizing the importance of, open communication. It evolved the way I introduce myself during an initial session. And emphasized how important it is to consistently check in with the person on my table,throughout each session. I am always watching for signals that the person is resisting my touch.
I understand that, to have maximum results, requires us to form a partnership. Having a partnership, allows me to better meet them where they are.
This is ‘Massage 101’ stuff. The basics. The foundation of massage therapy.
It isn’t about how deep the therapist gets. It’s really about the speed at which they get there. That’s the difference between hurts so good and hurt so bad. And the difference between temporary results, and long lasting ones.
A couple of reasons why communication break downs may happen:
a) a therapist didn’t have proper training, or doesn’t understand the importance of developing open communication, trust, and safety.
b) a therapist hasn’t been receiving enough bodywork themselves, or doing self-care regularly; and has lost sensitivity from being so tight and locked up
c) the therapist didn’t ask before beginning the session, or listen for important details given by the client, and their agenda/routine overrode the client’s want/needs (they were on auto-pilot)
d) the client, for whatever reason, made the choice to not be honest about how they really felt.
It is wonderful to have a therapist who has a conscious touch, is client centered, and is results oriented. What is even better, is when the client stays involved in the process, and together they produce extraordinary outcomes. That is the beauty of the relationship you can build with a bodyworker, when they are a good match for you.
It is essential, that we feel safe in the company of the practitioners we work with. Enough so, that both parties allow themselves to be open and honest, despite feeling vulnerable.
Having practitioners who are masterful and fluent in the languages of the body is where it’s at. Where their touch is present, precise, and patient. It is a gift to have someone who knows how to find the sweet spots, especially the ones you didn’t even know you had. Someone who listens closely, responds accordingly, makes a positive impact, and who honors being a sacred witness to your healing.
Receiving bodywork is a collaborative relationship. In order to optimize your experience, it is crucial that you openly express your experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant with your practitioner. Open communication allows your therapist to adjust and tailor their technique. It allows them to devise a customized treatment plan that addresses your needs, and makes a world of difference in the outcome you create, working together.
Together, may you embody health and wholeness.