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Communication with Your Massage Therapist

Communication with Your Massage Therapist

Communication With Your Massage Therapist

Communication is defined as the science or practice of transmitting information. [1] But just as important as transmitting information is receiving and processing it. When working with people such as a massage therapist or natural health professional, clear communication, both verbal and non-verbal is key to getting the experience you are seeking.


Communication doesn’t start when you get on the table. Before you even meet the therapist you have an opportunity to implement clear communication skills.

~Check on price and the amount of time you get for that price. It might be advantageous to see if you have the option of going longer at the time of the massage. And are you really getting an hour, or is one of the 50-minute hour situations?

~Find out the cancellation and no-show policy and adhere to it if you must cancel. Many spas will take a credit card to hold your appointment and will charge you if you don’t show. Please respect their time.

~ Tell the therapist why you are coming to see them and the results that you expect. This can save you disappointment, time and money, as they might not even specialize in what you are looking for.

~Once the appointment has been made, make sure you have their address and correct directions/parking instructions. Ask for their cell phone number and get specific instructions to their office if you need them. And please be respectful and write it down, don’t assume you will remember. If they are coming to you, give them your address and any unusual parking information like street cleaning on certain days, etc. or if there are a lot of stairs. Those tables get really heavy and awkward up a large staircase.

Once you meet the therapist, clear communication of your expectations and needs is crucial.

shutterstock_102508097 handshake web~Most therapists want to know how you found them and appreciate it if you volunteer that information.

.~Fill out the intake form completely and bring to their attention anything particularly unusual or that needs explanation.

~Mention any illnesses, injuries, previous surgeries, bumps, bruises, cuts or herpes outbreaks. (This last item might be embarrassing, but is important nonetheless as the therapist is vulnerable to contracting it by touching any sores.)

~Tell them how you like your pressure, if there is anything that needs to be avoided or if you would like them to focus on a particular area or issue.

If you are a first-timer, you’ll want to find out how this therapist works. For example, do you disrobe completely or do they prefer underwear to be left on. It’s okay to be nervous your first time and to even share this feeling with the therapist. Your therapist can typically sense your discomfort, and will do their best to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.

shutterstock_84003463 Young woman getting massage in bamboo spa-web~If you’re not familiar with massage have them explain some of the benefits and tell them specifically what you expect. For example, “I have really bad headaches, I’m looking for some relief.” Or “I really just want to relax and unwind.”

~If the therapist asks you, “How are you feeling?” Be as specific as possible with your answers so the therapist can address what ails you. Answers like “Fine.” or “I feel bad.” do little to enlighten the therapist to your specific needs.

~If you have had massage before, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell the new therapist what you liked and didn’t like about the last therapist. I have had therapists shove their oily fingers in my ears. I don’t like that. Who would? I tell every new therapist NOT to do that to me.

~And if you like to have your massage in silence, saying that up front is a good idea. Don’t assume the therapist will pick up on it once the massage has started. However if they chatter on through the entire massage and don’t get the hints that you want silence, you might want to find a new one.

~Make it clear if you need to have anything adjusted once the massage has begun such as the temperature, the music, and the pressure. They should change whatever is not working for you. It’s your time and the treatment should be personalized for you.

~Many spas automatically use hot towels. If this is something you prefer to not have, ask if this is part of their treatment and tell the therapist you would like to skip it.

~Tell the therapist if you’d like a whole body massage or if you just want certain areas concentrated upon. Sometimes if you mention certain tension spots, the practitioner may get carried away and run out of time for the rest of your body. You might be okay with that or want work elsewhere. Clarify so they know.

After the massage:

~Ask questions if you have them.

~It is important to drink water and do light stretching.

~Reschedule another appointment. Some therapists like myself get very booked and you may have to wait several weeks for an appointment if you don’t re-book immediately.

~Remember that permanent changes rarely occur with the first session, so you may need more work.

~If you have had deep work, you may be sore and ice might be appropriate.

~If you want to become a regular client, ask if you can have a standing appointment or if there is a price break for buying more than one. Many therapists will give you discounts for purchasing a series, such as 10% off or buy five get the sixth free.

In order to receive the most benefit from massage, you need to feel comfortable and relaxed. A big part of this is developing a sense of trust and understanding between you and your therapist. In such a personal relationship as massage, we can see how interpersonal communication can make or break this experience. Be open and concise, truly listen, choose your words carefully and remember more information is better than none.

[1] The Oxford Essential Dictionary. 1998 Oxford University Press, pg. 114.

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About The Author

Dr. Kathy Gruver

Dr. Kathy Gruver is the host of the national TV show based on her first book, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet and has earned her PhD in Natural Health. Kathy was featured on Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act in 2011 speaking about natural health and has just authored her second book entitled Body/Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker. She has studied mind/body medicine at the famed Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School and pursued further education at The National Institutes of Health. Gruver has been featured as an expert in countless publications and has written dozens of health and wellness articles. She has appeared as a guest expert on over 70 radio shows and has done over 50 educational lectures around the country. She has also served as an expert witness for massage negligence and ethics cases. A recent winner of NAWBO’s Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards, Kathy maintains a massage and natural health practice in Santa Barbara, CA, also offering phone and email health consultations. She has also produced an instructional massage DVD, Therapeutic Massage at Home; Learn to Rub People the RIGHT Way and is a practitioner with over 20 years of experience. Her book, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet was selected as a finalist for the IndyExcellence Awards and was recently turned into a national talk show. More information can be found at

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