Itís Not All About the Session

Communicate before and after for best results

By Anne Williams
[Classroom to Client]

In the transition from massage school to a professional practice, few things are more rewarding than hands-on work with your first few clients. It’s what you worked for in your massage program, and the reason you sought out bodywork in the first place. But in the excitement of those first sessions, it is important to remember that how you communicate before and after the actual session can be as vital to the success of your practice as the quality of your touch.

Setting expectations

When a client arrives for a massage appointment, make every effort to make the person feel welcome. Shake the client’s hand and smile while making eye contact. Show the client to a seat in the reception area and perhaps offer a cup of herbal tea as he fills out any necessary paperwork. Orient the client to the treatment area, where the bathroom is located, and any amenities, like a steam room or sauna, the client might use on the next visit. 

Conduct the intake interview in a friendly manner, taking the opportunity to answer any questions and set expectations—both yours and the client’s. The interview is a complex and important process that should accomplish a number of tasks. 

Review policies and procedures. This includes information relating to informed consent, such as the scope of practice for massage and the limitations of massage, as well as cancellation and no-show policies. 

Rule out contraindications. Review the client’s completed health-history form. In some cases, you may need more information about a particular condition to rule out contraindications. When you feel you understand the client’s medical picture and that massage is not contraindicated, treatment planning begins. 

Understand client expectations. Ask the client to share his expectations for the session. Ask, “What results do you want to achieve?” or “When you leave here today, what do you want your body to feel like?” First-time clients may not know what to expect and may be anxious. A client who has received only one previous massage is likely to expect this massage to be exactly the same as the first. A repeat client may have specific techniques or areas of concern in mind.

Determine treatment goals. With the client’s input, determine specific treatment goals for the session. For example, the goals for a session might be to decrease bilateral neck tension, decrease upper-back tension, and decrease foot soreness. 

Plan the massage. Sometimes clients only want selected areas to be massaged, or they may want a full-body massage with extra focus in certain areas. Clarify the plan before the session starts. You might say something like, “I’m going to start on your back to focus on your upper-back and shoulder tension. These tense areas are probably contributing to your neck pain. Would you like me to work on the back of your legs? Yes? OK, then I will massage your legs before I turn you over and focus on your neck. Would you like me to massage your arms and the front of your legs? Great. How about your abdominal muscles? No? OK. I will finish with a good 20 minutes on your sore feet.” Then, follow through with the plan so the client feels that he got the massage he asked for. 

Transitioning out of the session

Your actions following the massage help ensure the client has had a good experience. 

Transition out of the massage. Sometimes therapists give clients suggestions for activities they can use at home, such as stretches or self-massage. If you intend to give home care, ask the client to dress and remain in the treatment room, where you can demonstrate the stretches or massage techniques. If not giving home care, ask the client to meet you at the reception desk after dressing. 

Collect the fee and book the next session. Back in the reception area, collect the fee for the massage and offer the client water. Ask if the client would like to book another session. This is a good opportunity to outline a treatment plan of future visits to address the client’s specific goals. Book the next session and give the client an appointment card with the date and time. 

Say goodbye. Say something like “Remember to keep track of how your body feels so we can discuss it when I see you at your next session.” Phrase this in “goodbye language” to avoid opening a new conversation. Shake the client’s hand warmly as you walk toward the door. This behavior helps the client transition out of the massage session and back into the real world, and also helps to maintain the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.

Interpersonal skills like professional communication enhance practical skills and actual massage techniques. Making clients feel comfortable will allow them to more quickly settle into the massage, understanding their goals for the session will help guide your work, and sending them out with a treatment plan booked will help grow your practice. While hands-on work might be more rewarding, don’t neglect everything else that goes into the massage experience. 

Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012) and Spa Bodywork: A Guide to Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006). She can be reached at 

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