Most massage therapists ask their clients to provide feedback during the massage so that massage techniques can be adjusted to the client’s specific preferences and needs. Generally, clients will agree before the session begins to provide feedback, but often refrain from actually commenting during the massage. As a result, massage recipients often leave feeling that a massage was just okay when it could have been great or that it was just not what they were looking for. As a massage therapist, I have had the occasional client who tells me after a session that they wish I had done something differently. I have also received massage and not spoken up when I could have to ask for an adjustment to the massage. So what is it that keeps us from speaking up during a massage? In this article we will explore two of the four of the most common obstacles that may keep us from providing feedback to our massage therapists.
1: The therapist knows what is best and I don’t want to question him/her.
When we receive a massage we place our trust and our bodies literally in the hands of our therapists. We trust in their expertise, knowledge and experience. If we didn’t, it would probably be very difficult to justify spending the money, taking the time, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and relax. In other words, trusting in the authority of the therapist is a natural and necessary part of receiving massage.
However, we do have to understand the limits of a therapist’s expertise. The massage therapist knows how to find tight or sore areas and knows a variety of techniques for relaxing those areas. What the therapist does not know is exactly what we are feeling on the table. He or she may be able to make very good educated guesses as to what we feel, but the fact remains that only we know exactly what we are feeling. Often during massage, techniques need to be adjusted to avoid pain, reduce residual soreness, or optimize the therapeutic effect. Therapists may be able to observe palpable differences that cue them to make these adjustments, but it is much clearer if they hear from the client what that person is feeling.
Too often I have heard clients tell me that they used to see a therapist who applied painful techniques. The client said that they generally felt better afterward and that they had come to expect that a good massage had to hurt to get results. In very specific cases, some discomfort may be necessary, but most of the time pain is an obstacle to therapeutic benefit. At the very least, you as the client have every right to ask questions about what you are feeling and to ask the therapist if adjustments can or should be made. When it comes to your body, you are the ultimate authority.
2: I don’t want to seem ungrateful or hurt the therapist’s feelings.
I have been fortunate enough to work with many wonderful and considerate people in my career. The majority of my clients have been people who were deeply grateful for my work. They know that I am doing my best and that I care about getting them the results they need. They are also the sweet, caring people who will go out of their way to try to spare my feelings, if I am not delivering the bodywork they need. While I appreciate that they want to safeguard my feelings, I must also admit some frustration.
Massage therapists are healthcare professionals. As such we try to put our clients’ needs before our personal feelings. It is true that we take pride in our work. However, we prefer to take pride in the honest results we are receiving. If we are not actually providing the relaxation, pain-relief, or care that our clients need, we want to know. That is the only way that we can improve as therapists or make adjustments. In the cases where a therapist finds out afterward that a client was not happy with their work, but did not tell them during the massage, that therapist is likely to feel self-doubt and regret afterward. He or she is left only to wonder if they could have given a better massage if they had received feedback.
2 more obstacles
In our next article, we’ll cover two more obstacles to effective in session communication: knowing what to say and when to say it. Clients who find their voice in a therapeutic massage session are most likely to have excellent results, and that is after all our goal!