Confessions of a Massage Therapist
I was at a graduation party recently, where I ran into an old client of mine. She hadn’t been in for a session since she had moved across town over a year ago.
During our discussion, she admitted that she missed her massages with me, and confessed that she had made the decision to sign up for a yearlong membership at her neighborhood corporate massage franchise – and really regretted it!
She said her experiences there had been so disappointing so far, that she hadn’t returned in months, despite paying for it every month.
She told me that during her last treatment, the therapist had spent almost the entire session playing with her hair. No joke.
Now she was stuck in a contract, and realized she would have been better off driving the extra distance, to come where she knew she’d be taken care of.
I can sympathize with her disappointment. It’s always a toss-up, when going to a spa, not knowing who you will get as a therapist.
It could be the best massage you ever had. Or it could be the worst.
It could be mediocre – neither terrible, nor beneficial.
It can be downright disappointing. Or good, but not what you were hoping.
And when you are in real need, who wants to gamble?
I did give her some tips, so that she could get the most from the remainder of her contract, which is only halfway finished. I told her to try a couple of their therapists out, find one she likes and make sure to reschedule her next one with them. I suggested she offer the manager feedback about her experience. They would probably be more than willing to help her find a better fit.
In retrospect, I realized that if she had been more informed about what her choices were and what to look for, she may have avoided this hard lesson. It prompted me to want to discuss the difference between going to a corporate massage place (spa) vs. going to a massage therapist in private practice; among other user friendly suggestions, when choosing a massage place.
The convenience of going to a corporate spa is that:
a) they usually accept walk-ins, so you can go at a moment’s notice.
b) they sometimes have locations all over. For some, that might be a real perk.
c) they sometimes offer add-on services you can’t find in private practices.
d) they have additional services like scrubs, wraps, skin care, or salon services
Other than that, in general, I think that seeing a private practicing therapist has more advantages. I don’t think the conveniences corporate spas offer, outweigh the disadvantages. That is unless you are on vacation, want the fancy products and amenities spas offer, or are looking for a quick fix. But when it comes to “therapy,” that’s a different affair.
I will admit; I have a bit of bias for private practicing therapists. I am one. And I also prefer to go to them myself, because my experiences have been better. Not perfect, but overall better. I
I cannot speak for all solo therapist (or ones who work as contractors in professional offices), but I can speak for myself and the ones I have had the privilege of receiving great work from.
• Private practicing therapist, are small business owners, and are personally invested in their work and their business. Not only do they care about their reputation, but they are more invested in their clients. They aren’t working in a massage factory, where their customers are a number and “belong” to the spa.
• The level of care is higher
• You know that they have enough passion and skill for what they do, if they are willing to put the blood, sweat and tears that are required in building a business. Because they have skin in the game, they are more likely to over-deliver for their clients.
• They treat their clients more like friends, rather than a person in line. They ask more questions, take more time to listen to the goals of the client – providing customized treatments, rather than one size fits all routines. They are more attentive to the relationship.
• They get to know you and your body quite intimately (and I don’t mean in the sexual sense). I think most people don’t realize, in the beginning, just how well their therapists will get to know them. This relationship rarely unfolds to this degree, in a spa setting, especially when you have a different therapist every time, or only go once. This is one of the biggest benefits of going to one therapist.
• It isn’t just about rushing to give a general full body treatment – with as many upgrades as they can sell (did you know that most spas expect their employees to upsell – that’s part of their performance reviews – they must meet a standard quota). Therapist who are their own boss, tend to tailor their treatment plans based on the client, as opposed to the way the corporate procedure manual says it must be performed.
• Private practicing therapists are better at avoiding/preventing burnout. Many spas demand unsustainable workloads. 4-5 massages per day is full-time (and there is far more to a massage than the actual massage itself).
I have heard that some spas make their therapist perform 6-8 treatments, with one meal break. That is a recipe for disaster! It is physically and emotionally impossible to maintain these levels for very long. This is why many therapists have short lived careers in this field. Especially if the therapist doesn’t receive enough massage themselves or implements other self-care methods daily. Burnout!
Most employers in the spa industry do not pay their therapist what is deserved for the work performed. This leads to dissatisfaction on every level. If you don’t think this affects the level of quality you receive, than reconsider the implications. You want to work with someone who loves what they do. Trust me. It makes a world of difference.
A happier therapist makes for happier massage. It can be felt.
In conclusion, if you are not vacationing or looking for a quick fix… you may want to consider the bigger picture when looking into finding your massage spot.
1. Do you want your therapist to become familiar with your body? Your trouble spots, your past injuries and how they affect you today? Whether you have made progress? What still needs to be addressed?
2. Do you want to have to explain everything, every time you get a massage? Every new place you go, new intake forms must be filled out and the relationship building begins all over again.
3. Are you knowledgeable about the benefits of massage? Maybe you aren’t. It’s okay if you aren’t. Like anything else you purchase, you may want to be an educated consumer. Even with that being said, massage is something that must be experienced, before it can really be understood.
And so, if you really are curious…Try out the spa experience. And then go to experience massage by a private practicing therapist. And note the differences. Which do you prefer, and why?
As for finding a private practice. Here are my suggestions for getting started.
1. Know what your intentions are. Do you want purely relaxing, therapeutic work, or both? Do you like lighter or deeper pressure? Not sure?
2. Do you prefer being in a professional/medical setting or would you prefer a more home-like setting?
3. How much experience and advanced training would you like your therapist to have?
4. Interview a couple. See if you feel a connection and comfort level with one more than the other.
Try them out. Unfortunately price is not a good determining factor, so I wouldn’t recommend going with the cheapest. I would go with your gut first. And don’t sign up or any programs/memberships until you are certain you won’t regret it.