Giving Your Massage Therapist Constructive Criticism

If you’ve ever gotten a massage, chances are that before the session began, your therapist encouraged you to speak up if you felt uncomfortable any time during the massage. Whether or not you actually did though, depends upon many different factors, mainly whether or not you actually did experience discomfort during the massage. “Discomfort” can mean a number of different things: you’re too hot or cold, the music is too loud or not loud enough, the massage therapist is working over an area you are not comfortable having work over – or working too deeply or not deeply enough, etc.

It’s tough to completely relax if you’re not enjoying the massage, or if something doesn’t feel right. To get the most out of your session, it is important that you develop a trusting relationship with your therapist, where you feel like you can communicate with her about your goals and expectations for the massage sessions.

There is something known as the power differential. This power differential exists in many professional relationships, where one person is the “expert” and so the other person believes that this person knows all. In the world of massage therapy, the client might assume that if that the therapist innately knows what the client needs, wants, or expects from the massage session. If the client is uncomfortable, he assumes that therapist knows how he feels and that the massage is supposed to feel that way. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Massage therapists are not mind readers, and they need your feedback so that they can get a feel for your massage preferences and adjust accordingly. 

It is important to understand that you are not going to hurt your massage therapist’s feelings if you communicate to her that something needs to be changed. In fact, your therapist wants you to speak up, because she wants you to get the most out of your session.

Here are some tips for clear communication with your therapist that will get you the best massage you’ve ever had!

 

Hand Massage

 

Before the Session

  • Tell your therapist about past experiences with massage. If another therapist did something during a previous massage that felt great and seemed to help, communicate that to your new therapist before your first session. Likewise, if something didn’t feel right during a previous session, communicate that, as well. Everybody has their own preferences and comfort level with massage therapy, and your massage therapist can’t know yours if you don’t express them.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations for the session. Make sure your therapist knows what you hope to gain from your session. Telling your therapist exactly what your goals for the session are will ensure that you get the massage you were hoping for, and that any issues can be properly addressed.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. I can’t tell you the number of times a client has said to me, “I need extra work over this area of my body, but I want a full body massage.” When I gave them the massage that they asked for, they weren’t satisfied with the amount of work over their problem area. It is important to recognize that there is only so much time during an hour massage, so if you want a significant amount of work done over an area, you may not be able to get a full body massage, or the time the massage therapist spends in another area may be seriously cut short. Another option would be to opt for a 90 minute massage instead. This will give the therapist more time to work over your problem area(s) and still get a full body massage in. It’s also important to recognize that one massage will probably not get rid of all of the issues in your body.
  • Speak up if you don’t understand your therapist’s treatment plan. Whenever I have a client complain about upper back pain, my first thought is always to do good work over his pectoral muscles. Of course, I always make sure to explain that tightness in the chest may cause a forward curvature of the thoracic spine, which would cause the muscles of the upper back into a painful overstretching. However, if you don’t understand your therapist’s treatment plan, be sure to ask. If you are unclear how something is meant to help your expressed issues, you’ll spend the entire session feeling stressed that your therapist didn’t listen to you, and in turn you won’t be able to fully relax and enjoy your massage.
  • Tell your therapist about any areas you are not comfortable having touched. Too often I hear someone say that they’ve been turned off from receiving massage because the massage therapist worked over their glutes, or too high up their thigh, or over their pectoral muscles. Massage therapists are trained to work over every inch of the body (except for inappropriate areas) to ensure that the client gets the most complete massage. However, some people are understandably not comfortable with having certain parts of the body touched, either because of a past emotional trauma or physical injury. Communicating this to your therapist will ensure that you don’t spend the massage feeling uncomfortable or violated.

 

During the Massage

  • Ask your therapist to adjust the pressure as needed. It is a common misconception that a massage needs to hurt in order to work. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a painful massage can be counterproductive. Pain is an indicator that damage is occurring, and this sensation causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released. Likewise, if you feel like your massage therapist is barely touching you and would like her to engage your muscles more, speak up about that too.
  • Speak up immediately if you feel uncomfortable. If something doesn’t feel right, let your massage therapist know. More than likely, your therapist isn’t trying to make you feel uncomfortable or hurt you and will change what she is doing to accommodate you. If she doesn’t, and you still feel uncomfortable, ask to end the session immediately.
  • Tell your therapist if you’d like her to spend more time over an area. It happens all the time. A client is on my table, and I am working over an area that they did not request focus work on. The client says, “Wow. I didn’t realize it was so tight there!” Sometimes, you get so focused on the areas of your body that are causing you a lot of pain, that you don’t realize that other areas are also painful. It is okay to speak up and say, “I didn’t realize that I had so much tension there. Can you spend a couple extra minutes working it out, please?”
  • Express your concern if you feel like your therapist isn’t listening to you. If you feel like you’ve clearly communicated your expectations, and still aren’t getting what you want, make sure you say as much. It could be that your therapist just didn’t understand what you were asking for, and needs clarification.

 

intake

 

After the Massage

  • Be honest with your massage therapist. If you didn’t enjoy the massage, make sure you tell your therapist. There is no need to feel like you are being cruel (so long as you are politely expressing your opinions), and giving your massage therapist constructive feedback will ensure that she can improve her technique and give you a better massage the next time around!
  • Tell your massage therapist if there was something you really enjoyed. Did it make you feel oddly relaxed when your massage therapist cradled your head in her hands as she worked over your neck? Tell her that! If you tell your massage therapist that something felt great, she’ll most likely repeat it in the next session.

 

It is important to remember that giving your therapist feedback doesn’t need to be intimidating. Everybody has their own preferences when it comes to receiving massage, and your therapist cannot know yours if you do not express them. Communicating with your therapist doesn’t require you to be rude or feel like you’re being unappreciative. Your relationship with your therapist should be a mutually respectful one, where you feel like you can express concerns and take an active part in your treatment plan.

 

Photos

Lubyanka. Massage-hand-1. 2010 Jul 18. Wikipedia.

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About Tonya Sapiel, LMT

My goal with The Wellness Seeker blog is to educate the general public on the benefits of massage therapy, why it is an important addition to their health care routine, and what they can do to help themselves in between their massage therapy sessions. I welcome feedback and questions. I also accept requests for post topics. For more information about me or my practice, please visit www.tonyasapiel.massagetherapy.com

2 responses to “Giving Your Massage Therapist Constructive Criticism

  1. Tonya, where are you working now? I’d love to schedule a massage!
    Lynn Gould

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    • Hi Lynn! Unfortunately I could no longer make my class schedule at UMaine work with my massage schedule, so I am no longer doing massage. I will, however continue to post to my blog weekly. If you’d like to book a massage, I highly recommend Bobby Davis at Lotus Salon and Spa. You can reach them at 207-307-7747.

      Like

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