Intake Procedures

Set Clients at Ease: Establish Bodywork Policies

By Angela England

When a massage therapist works with a new client, it is important to establish a professional working relationship, explain policies, and make him or her feel comfortable. A clear bodywork intake procedure can achieve all these goals.


A few months ago, I made an appointment for a massage with a new therapist I had never visited. She didn’t know I was a veteran massage therapist.

When she arrived at the salon, she disappeared quickly—I assumed to get the room ready. I had allowed an extra 10 minutes for any paperwork, but when she returned, she just escorted me to the dark massage room lit only by candles. Then she said, “Just get undressed, and I’ll be back in soon,” as she walked back out the door.

I was shocked! Not only did it make me feel a little uncomfortable in a what-do-I-do-now kind of way, but I was also disappointed not to be able to communicate what I was hoping to obtain from the bodywork session. My neck and shoulders always appreciate extra work. At the time, I was three months pregnant, and I wanted to make sure that my condition was communicated to the therapist, so she could avoid certain acupressure points.

Later, as I began talking to other massage therapists, I was fascinated to learn that many had not learned a strong intake procedure in school, nor did they understand the benefits of using it in their business practice.

Why Intake Procedures Are Important

Proper intake procedures can help bodyworkers in a wide variety of ways. A standardized intake will help keep a therapist safe from potentially unscrupulous clients by establishing clear boundaries. It will also help protect a therapist’s reputation, because each client is treated the same and hears the same guidelines when he or she comes in the door.

A properly worded, strong intake procedure will set nervous clients at ease and help bodyworkers establish an immediate, professional rapport. Most importantly, the intake procedure gives both therapist and client a starting place to engage in a dialogue about the upcoming treatment session. While crucial for new clients, intake procedures should be revisited with continuing clients. Updating the details helps keep therapists updated on clients’ ever-changing health.

Components of a Solid Intake Form

Let’s take a look at the intake form all clients should fill out before their first bodywork session. At the minimum, a quality intake form should include:

A Medical History and Questionnaire

Your form should cover allergies, any recent surgeries and injuries, areas of concern, blood-clotting issues, infectious diseases, medical conditions, medications, and contraindications.

Personal Client Information

Name, address, phone number, and e-mail are all tools therapists can use to keep in touch after the session ends. A birth date allows the therapist to send a coupon or personal note and is usually required when billing insurance.

Bodywork Session Goals

This topic is important for a massage therapist to cover, as it will help the therapist steer the bodywork session toward the client’s desires. It will also help the client explain what areas of the body are of greatest concern and make the client feel heard. When a new client feels he or she has some control over the direction of the bodywork session, there’s more chance for reassurance and less chance for nervousness.

Disclaimer for Therapist Policy Information

Usually at the bottom of the intake form, or located on a separate sheet of paper, is the disclaimer section. This should cover a few important details, including the bodyworker’s policies. A disclaimer explains that the therapist is not a doctor and will not diagnose illness or prescribe medicine. This is also a good place for a disclaimer regarding inappropriate sexual conduct and cancellation policies.

Verbalizing the Intake Information

Part of the intake procedure many bodyworkers forget to include is a verbal summary of the information above. The following verbal intake routine is just one example. Therapists should customize their own for each new client.

Discuss Any Medical Info

Did the client check yes to high blood pressure? Find out if it’s under control and what, if any, medications the client is taking for that condition.

Clarify Session Goals

Did the client specify a particular area of discomfort? Be sure to ask for a history of potential injuries, repetitive stresses, or other known causes and feel free to spend some time assessing range of motion. Find out if any related areas are also causing problems for your client. He or she will appreciate that you listened and sought clarification.

Restate the Legal Disclaimer

This is one of the most important parts of the intake procedure for the massage therapist. I’ve had more than one client confess to skipping the fine print at the bottom of the form, so restating the text will clarify expectations and scope of practice beforehand.

One therapist shared how she verbalizes the above in a friendly manner: “This part is just the legalese that says I’m not a doctor and won’t diagnose any illnesses; if you hit on me I’ll kick you out and you have to pay me anyway; I can’t prescribe any medications; and you answered the questions honestly to the best of your ability.”

Using a friendly tone allows the information to be presented without making the client uneasy. It is important to renew this information verbally with every massage client, regardless of age or gender. Finish by asking whether the client has any other questions, which can help the client not only feel heard, but offers the chance to clear up any questions or concerns.

Visit the Massage Room

When the client enters the massage room for the first time, it is important for the therapist to discuss the details. Start with the room well lit so the client will feel comfortable and get to know the lay of the land. Show the client how he or she will be draped and will stay covered during the entire session to reinforce the professional nature of the massage and to also set a client’s mind at ease. It is common for first-time clients to be slightly uneasy, so a therapist’s matter-of-fact explanation will help calm nervousness.

First Step

Following a strong intake procedure will give massage therapists an easy way to explain policies, allow customers a chance to verbalize their needs, and clarify expectations for both parties. This is an important first step toward creating a professional working relationship with a new client during what will, hopefully, be the first of many positive bodywork sessions together.

  Angela England has been a massage therapist for more than seven years, in addition to being a mother of three, freelance writer, childbirth educator, and doula. She can be reached at