Massage therapy, when done well, is a multi-faceted treatment. Everyone is different. Some people prefer someone who is approachable and talkative. Others are looking for someone more businesslike. And, because our bodies are so very personal – having someone put their hands on it to treat it is so intimate – having the right type of therapist is crucial.
What makes a great massage therapist? There are so many intangibles, how could someone sort through all of them, particularly before having a massage or following one of their first sessions? How does one know what to look for?
Let me answer those questions from my point of view as a massage therapist. First, we are all different and have different needs, so naturally what works for me may or may not work for you. (that’s my disclaimer) When I look for a massage therapist, I am looking for someone who will be sensitive to my needs – physically, socially and emotionally.
From a physical standpoint, clearly a good therapist understands human anatomy and how it all works together. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of how much pressure a person needs and/or can tolerate. Many people come in looking for a treatment that they can “feel” and not only expect a little discomfort during treatment, but would not feel as though they had been treated if they did not “feel” the massage. Other people can barely stand to be touched because an area is so sensitive, so even though on one person a great deal of pressure and stretching might be typical, on another a much more gentle approach is required.
From a social standpoint, I am referring to the massage therapists’ manner – a therapist who is all business or seems more friendly, a clinician versus a new-age-hippie type, someone who is chatty versus quiet. All of these approaches to the table can be good and appropriate, but not to everyone. And because there are so many different kinds of people who have all different kinds of moods, a good therapist will be responsive to the clients needs without losing their own identity. So, if you are a quiet type and start out with a chatty therapist, a good (and sensitive) therapist will know to quiet down and respond in the way that is right for you.
And finally from an emotional standpoint, a conscientious therapist is constantly aware of their client’s state of mind. No one (in my experience) comes for a massage looking for judgment. Generally, they just need a little support with whatever is on their heart or mind on a given day, which is often just a matter of being present with them. And sometimes complete amnesia the next time they’re seen. Emotions happen, particularly when we are feeling physically drained or strained or vulnerable. No worthwhile massage therapist would ever try to capitalize on or make judgments on a client’s emotional state.
In any setting, from the clinical to the completely luxurious, the massage therapist’s role is a nurturing one. No therapist should make you feel uncomfortable, and it is always acceptable to end a session if you feel that their behavior is inappropriate – just as a therapist would end the session if a client/patient/guest were to speak or behave in an inappropriate manner.
Choosing a massage therapist is a very personal thing. And like all people, all therapists have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what works for you particularly in these three categories should help you find the one who’s right for you.
-by Gin Rhodes, LMT