Choosing Our Words Wisely

By Laura Allen
[Heart of Bodywork]

You put your hands on someone and think, “Those are the tightest traps I’ve ever felt,” or “It’s a wonder they can move their neck,” or “What a knot!” We may think it, but we should avoid saying it. We don’t want the client to feel worse than they already do. In the words of one client, “I didn’t appreciate it when a massage therapist told me that I have the tightest shoulders they’ve ever seen. That’s a title I didn’t want to have.”
Your client has taken a positive step by coming for a massage, so praise them for that decision. Compliment them on their self-care: “I’m sorry you’ve been having this pain, but we’ll see if we can get some relief for you today. It’s great that you’re coming in for massage!” You want to say encouraging words that let the client know they can get better, not give them the idea that they are stuck in their uncomfortable condition.
It’s easy for clients to think we’re criticizing them, or putting the responsibility on them for the condition their body is in. Instead of commenting that they have the tightest shoulders you’ve ever seen—and asking how they got into that mess, which sounds like a judgment—state something like “This shoulder needs more flexibility. Let’s see if we can do something to help relieve that tightness.”
Speak in a sympathetic, caring tone. Suggest and persuade, rather than order, your client to “let that shoulder relax.” Instead, ask something like “I wonder how good it would feel if you let that shoulder relax?”
Also, avoid making promises you may not be able to keep. While we want to be positive and upbeat about the work we do, we should never promise that we can “fix” anyone—especially in one massage.
Clients sometimes come to us with problems they’ve had for years—literally. Avoid giving your clients the impression that you’re a miracle worker, and that they’ll be as good as new in an hour. That may come back to haunt you if, for any reason, they don’t improve—which sometimes happens in spite of our best effort. Instead, have a gentle discussion. Explain to your client that they didn’t get into their condition in one day and, most likely, the condition won’t go away after just one massage. Hopefully, though, they will get some relief.
Remember that, at all times, there is a power differential at play in the massage room. The client thinks we’re a knowledgeable authority, and our words—good or bad—carry weight with them. Choosing your words wisely can make a big difference in how much benefit the client gets from their therapeutic sessions with you.

Laura Allen has been a licensed massage therapist since 1999 and a provider of continuing education classes since 2000. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including the fourth edition of The Educated Heart, which Nina McIntosh entrusted to her before her passing. Allen resides in Western North Carolina with her two rescue dogs, Fido and Queenie.