The Art of Professional Communication

By Allissa Haines
[Essential Skills]

Key Point

• Even if you are a longtime massage therapist, you can benefit from a communications tune-up.

It’s a reality that when you get out of massage therapy school, you become a spokesperson for massage therapy. All kinds of massage therapy. And all types of massage therapists. This is true even if you don’t want to be a spokesperson and even if you don’t think you should be.

Every time you say, “I’m a massage therapist,” whatever follows represents the profession. This is a big responsibility. How you conduct yourself and talk about massage therapy with friends, family, referral partners, and health professionals matters. 

It’s also a reality that language and communication styles are always evolving. A “professional email” written in 2007 would sound uptight and stuffy nowadays. But a text message written last week by a 25-year-old massage therapist may be unintelligible to a colleague with no interest in texting. Communicating well is an art and a skill. Great communication will benefit your career, your business, and your general reputation. But if communication standards are constantly changing, how do we know what’s what? 

Even if you are a longtime massage therapist, we can all benefit from a communication tune-up. I have a few core tips we should all revisit to be sure we are representing ourselves and our profession well. 

Consider Your Boundaries

You decide when you will and won’t respond to phone calls, text messages, and emails. It’s perfectly acceptable to respond to business communications only during your business hours. If you choose this method, let clients know on your website and via your outgoing voicemail. 

If you accept text messages from clients, you may choose to have a standard reply you can quickly paste into a response that says, “Thanks for your message. I will respond during my next scheduled business hours; you can see my schedule online here” and include a link to your website.

Remember Your Manners

Apologies for sounding like your first-grade teacher, but manners matter! When you are communicating about massage, keep in mind that phone calls and emails to other MTs, health professionals, and clients are not the same as texts with your friends.

Location and privacy are important, so don’t take a business phone call in the middle of the grocery store where everyone in the bread aisle can hear about your client’s sciatica. 

Text message standards are more casual, but for emails, spell out full words. Avoid abbreviations and take the time to type out:

• “Thank you” instead of “TY”

• “For” and not “4” 

• Skip emojis 

• Use standard greetings and closings in all emails.

Avoid Making Claims

We all get asked, “Can massage help X?” X may equal a rotator cuff injury, insomnia, migraine, indigestion, or low-back pain during pregnancy.

“Maybe,” “sometimes,” and “in many cases” are great go-to answers. Try to answer in a way that welcomes more context to the conversation, which may sound like, “Massage can be helpful in managing pain when you are recovering from a rotator cuff injury, but it’s not a complete solution if there are tears or other problems in the joint. Have you seen your primary care provider or a PT about it? What did they say?”

Be honest and pragmatic when you set expectations about what massage can do so the client doesn’t feel swindled if you can’t help them and end up believing massage is useless altogether.

Don’t Pretend to Know What You Don’t Know

We gain respect from colleagues and clients when we are honest about our knowledge. Instead of nodding along when a client brings up a new-to-you health issue or medication, be clear that you are not familiar. That may sound like one of the following:

• “I see you are taking a medicine called ‘moxfluvarite.’ I’m not familiar with that; what are you taking it for?”

• “I have never treated a client with lupus. May I do a little research and then call you the day before your first appointment when I have some intake questions for you? I would like to make sure I know the right questions to ask so I can adjust the massage to be safe and effective.”

• “Take your time getting cozy on the table. I may take an extra minute; I’m going to look up this new medication before I wash my hands and come back in for the massage.”

Clients appreciate this kind of honesty, and it helps them trust that you have their best interest in mind. This caution demonstrates your ego won’t get in the way of providing the best care you can.

Stay in Your Scope

No matter who you talk to, make sure you stay within your scope. Instead of saying, “Yup, that sounds like a rotator cuff tear,” say, “If it’s bothering you, your primary care provider can probably get you to the right PT or orthopedist for a proper evaluation.”

Instead of saying, “This freckle is changing!” say, “Have you noticed this dark freckle? Do you have someone who is keeping an eye on it for changes or who has taken a picture of it for you so you can check it out? Maybe consider checking in with your doctor about how to monitor it.”

This is hard. It can be easy to accidentally give advice outside of your scope when you develop a rapport with clients and you feel comfortable around each other. You might slip and not realize it in the moment. It’s OK to backtrack and follow up with, “I realize now that I should not have suggested you could have a rotator cuff tear, I’m not qualified to assess that properly. Have you made plans to see your physician?” Clients and providers will always appreciate and respect your caution and humility. 

Keep at It

Learning and updating communication skills can feel overwhelming at first, but it gets easier with practice. Clear communication will help you build a fantastic reputation as a trustworthy massage provider. 

Allissa Haines is a practicing massage therapist and host of Business or Pressure on The ABMP Podcast Network. She builds websites and cultivates a community of massage therapists at