Pro Tips for Every New Massage Therapist

Our guest author today is Allissa Haines. She runs a massage practice and collaborative wellness center in Massachusetts. She partners with Michael Reynolds to create business and marketing resources for massage therapists like you at MassageBusinessBlueprint.com. Check out the Massage Business Blueprint podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or at the website.

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There are a million different kinds of massage therapists. We work in spas and hospitals and do home visits. We wear jeans and scrubs and button-down shirts. We work with athletes, new moms, construction workers, babies, people with cancer, people with anxiety, and people who just think massage therapy feels great. But every single one of these massage therapists has one thing in common: they were all beginners once. And being a beginner can be scary as heck. Even if you're also feeling well-trained and excited!

If you're a student and preparing to start your new career in massage therapy, congrats! Allow me to offer you a little graduation gift: some solid advice that every massage new therapist should know before striking out on their own.

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Act like a pro. With everyone.

As you finish up school, treat every practice client and every treatment like a real-life professional situation. Even when you practice and work on friends and family, be a pro about it. This is important for three reasons: it’s good practice for you to get your routines and scripts smooth, it helps your friends and family see and respect you as a professional, and consistent professional behavior is the foundation for a great reputation.

Being super professional with your practice clients not only impresses them in the short term, but also impacts how they’ll think of you after you graduate. But what does it mean to show professionalism? What does this actually look like in practice?

  • Show up on time.
  • Have all your equipment and paperwork ready to go.
  • Practice proper hygiene.
  • Drape conservatively.
  • Maintain appropriate boundaries while in the role of massage therapist. (Even when your friend wants to gossip or your mom makes a joke about cellulite.)
  • Stay within your scope of practice and don’t make any wild claims about what massage can do.
  • Maintain client confidentiality.

Does this mean that you can’t be yourself? Of course not! You don’t have to wear a suit or talk like a robot to be professional. The idea is not to be somebody else. The goal is to be the most respectful, clean, and reliable version of you. Be your best business self, even when your client is Grandma or Aunt Kim or your bestie from middle school.

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Know the most common massage complaints

Do you know the number one complaint people make about their massage therapist? “She talked too much.”

When you start up and you’re excited to be meeting people and working, it’s easy to slip into ‘chatty’ mode with clients. Resist! Resist the temptation to give longer answers and be super friendly during a massage, even if your clients are chatty themselves. You’ll likely get the same batch of questions with each new client:

  • Where did you go to school?
  • How long have you been doing this?
  • What did you do before this?

Be mindful that some people will ask questions because they are a little nervous or because they don’t know it’s okay to not talk.

Fight the urge to initiate any unnecessary conversation and give the shortest possible answers when answering a direct question. It’s even okay to say, “It’s so tempting to use this time to chat, but you’ll get a better massage if I don’t talk and we focus on you!”

The second most common complaint? “She didn’t get to the areas that needed work.”

It’s amazing how many experienced massage therapists end up with a poor reputation simply because they give the massage they want, rather than the one the client has asked for. Luckily, this is an easy situation to avoid.

Be sure to listen very carefully to what the client asks for before their massage, and then repeat it back to them with your plan for the massage to get their approval.

Here’s an example: In your verbal intake before the massage, a client rubs their right shoulder and says, “My shoulder is sore and I’m just all-around tired.”

To be sure you are address what they need, you’ll want to clarify the details and present your plan. It may sound like, “Ok, we can address your whole body and spend some extra time on your shoulder as well. It’s your right shoulder? Can you show me where exactly you’re feeling pain?”

Whenever appropriate, address that primary issue first and check in with the client before you move on. Ask, “How is this shoulder feeling? Is there anything you would like me to go back to?”

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Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know

You’re a massage therapist. Not a pharmacist, physical therapist, or herbalist. You’re a massage therapist. You can’t possibly know all the things right out of school. (Or ever.) You will never know all the answers to all the things right off the top of your head.

So when you are reading an intake form and it lists a medication or health issue you’ve never heard of, get more information. Admit openly, “I’ve never worked with a client with joint hypermobility issues. What factors do I need to be extra mindful of?”

Once you’ve talked it through with the client, let them know you’re going to take a minute to look it up before you begin the treatment as they are getting on the table. Most clients won’t mind spending an extra few minutes getting cozy on the table before their massage, especially when you are using that time to craft a safe and effective session just for them.

If your client asks you for a technique you don’t know how to do (or aren’t sure is safe), let them know you’ll find out more and get back to them before their next appointment – and follow through. Showing commitment to improvement means your clients can look forward to a better massage each and every time they see you.

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Choose the right products.

I tried so many different massage creams and lotions and oils my first few years as a massage therapist. I slipped and slid with greasy formulations. I itched from additives and scents and over-laundered stained linens. I worried about clients with nut allergies and read labels like a new scholar.

Then I found jojoba.

I can use jojoba for light massage on very fragile skin and also for deep work that requires grip and traction. A very small amount goes a long way, so I use much less than with other products.

Jojoba is safe for clients with allergies and safe for me. I realized early on that my body is soaking up my product for more than 20 hours a week. I wanted to feel good about what is and isn’t in the product and jojoba fits that criteria.

It’s a resilient product that can tolerate heating, cooling, and reheating. Jojoba won’t oxidize or go rancid and doesn’t require refrigeration. And it won’t stain your 100% cotton sheets, so you’ll save a ton on linens long-term.

It’s hard to find a product that is just right for every massage client and every treatment, but I think jojoba comes close.

And on the rare occasion when Jojoba isn’t the best solution and a client absolutely needs a cream or lotion, I turn to PurePro, (whose owner told me about Jojoba when I was first learning about all this!).

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Your reaction matters more than the glitch.

Draping issues will happen. Fix it quickly and move along. You will trip and make a loud noise during a deep relaxation treatment. If the client obviously notices quietly say, “Sorry about that,” and move on.

You will double book or accidentally no-show for an appointment because your calendar freaked out. Apologize, schedule a makeup treatment at no charge and move on.

Dumb things will inevitably occur in your business. You will make mistakes. If you are graceful in handling glitches, if they are rare glitches, and you make a real effort to prevent them moving forward, people will forgive you and respect you.

You got this.

Massage therapy can be an amazing career. Take all your education, your enthusiasm, and your passion for learning, and dive in. Everyone is nervous at first, but know that you're not the first beginner on the planet. Take a deep breath and know that you have what it takes. Welcome to the world of massage!

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