Qualities a Massage Therapist Needs
Massage therapists must be able to provide a service that is driven by the best interests of a client’s health and well-being. To be successful in the profession, a massage therapist must have integrity and competency, as well as good interpersonal and business skills. Over the years, the practice of massage therapy has transitioned to a standardized professional level with the development of guiding principles and licensing. The public expects ethical behaviors from a massage therapist similar to health care professionals.
Also, a massage therapist must be able to maintain confidentiality. As a massage therapist, you will be privy to a client’s personal issues. Not only is it good practice to maintain a client’s privacy, it is also the law.
It is important for a massage therapist to have a professional demeanor. Establishing boundaries and consistent practices during a massage therapy session creates trust in the business relationship. Out in public, professional demeanor is necessary since clients may or may not want others knowing about the service they are getting.
A massage therapist’s education never ends. There are always ways to improve your massage practice. New information comes in a constant stream from research. Information is readily available to the public on new techniques and perspectives. A massage professional is a life-long learner.
During a session, there are certain qualities a massage therapist needs to be successful. It is not enough to understand the techniques of massage, anatomy, and physiology. During a massage, a therapist must be able to identify what muscle or joint is being touched, as well as know if the muscle tissue is healthy or unhealthy. A therapist must be able to interpret the sensory information the hands receive from a client’s body to adjust treatment. Clients normally attend more than one session, so a massage therapist must be able to determine what needs addressing and where the next session should go.
Knowledge of the Body and Muscles
A massage therapist must know the surface anatomy of a body, the deep anatomy of muscles and joints, and tissue landmarks. In addition, a therapist must know what healthy tissue feels like, what a normal response is to massage in certain areas, and the tension or pain level of the area addressed. Therapists use palpitation to determine what manipulative interventions need to be done to provide the most benefit to the client.
First, a massage therapist must learn the correct anatomical terms for the body to locate target areas to work on. They have to know the size, shape, and other characteristics of these areas. They must be able to adapt to the fact that no two human bodies are the same and make adjustments. A massage therapy school should always have an intensive course of study in this subject area.
Muscle palpitation is the bulk of a therapist’s work. Muscles are covered with skin and fat, so a general knowledge of the surface and the deep muscles of the body is essential. Muscles are attached to bones, so a therapist needs to know where a particular muscle attaches on what part of a bone. Muscle-to-bone attachments provide a tissue landmark so that no matter what shape or size a client is, a therapist can locate the targeted muscle group easily and efficiently.
A massage therapist must know what body movement contracts or relaxes particular muscles in any given area. A massage therapist must also know what the adjacent muscles will do once a joint action is performed. This knowledge allows a massage therapist to instruct clients to perform a joint action to help locate the targeted muscle for therapy. Deep muscle massage involves additional techniques of breathing while the therapist slowly maneuvers into the ligaments. In addition to this, a massage therapist must be able to instruct clients on the rhythm of breathing.
A massage therapist needs to know about diseases as well. A massage therapist may encounter an enlargement or hardness that is an indicator of a problem. Clients, especially in clinical settings, may not be healthy. Massage therapists must be able to modify treatment to accommodate a client’s illness and use alternative ways to help a client back to healthiness.
A good massage therapist is friendly. Massage is very personal. Clients need to be in a relaxed state for you to give the best massage. Introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake and make them feel like they are in a safe, friendly place. Being friendly means waiting for the other person’s responses and allowing them personal space when approaching to give them time to adjust.
Tone of voice is also important. You are initiating a professional relationship, so speak calmly and slowly and allow some time for dialogue. Develop an easy manner in which to answer questions and repeat things. Your attention should always focus on the client and their needs. A client should not feel you are in a hurry to move on to the next client.
Friendly also includes the office atmosphere if you have an office. The waiting area and the massage room need to be clean and orderly. Answering the phone or setting appointments needs to be done with politeness and common courtesy. The decor should set a tone of calmness and openness. If a problem or a conflict happens, then it needs to be handled in a courteous, professional manner.
A good massage therapist is sensitive. The client brings into the massage therapy session their worries, woes, and wants. Clients need time to transition mentally and physically from their regular world to their session. A massage therapist needs to assess a client’s mood when first approached. They need to discuss what interventions are happening today and why. There should be a routine in place for undressing and positioning for the session. There should be various ways to maintain a client’s privacy needs. Trying different approaches and techniques during your time at a massage therapy school will help define for you what works and what does not work.
During the session, sensitivity is necessary as well. Kneading and rubbing muscles and joints can cause pain. Communication is the key to a good relationship between a client and a massage therapist. Sensitivity in a massage therapist hands lets them determine how much pressure or how fast or slow a procedure needs to go to produce the desired result. While massaging, a dialogue should be happening between the massage therapist and client about what the rub feels like or if it is helping. Clients will have a different amount of tension and pain in their bodies and different levels of pain tolerance. No massage session, even with the same client, will ever be the same. A technique that worked well one session may not work in the next. It is important that a massage therapist is sensitive to the client’s needs to know which technique or pace would provide the most benefit for the present session.
A good massage therapist is caring. A massage therapist can have the most perfect technique in the world, but if they care nothing about their client, they will fail. A massage therapist’s mood and manners can affect a client’s tension and pain level. Building a good business relationship requires a certain amount of trust. Trust comes from clients feeling a professional cares about them as a human being. Effective listening, emphatic conversations, sensitivity to clients’ needs, and providing a clean, safe, and calm place for the massage session are all signals that say a massage therapist cares about people. During the massage session, tailoring the techniques to that client’s needs also creates an atmosphere and impression of professional caring. Accepting a person’s body and mannerisms as is without judgment or comment also says the core value of your massage practice comes from the heart.
Be careful not to mix up caring with socializing. Socializing is not appropriate in a massage therapist setting. A massage therapist must set professional boundaries. Discussing intimate details with clients or giving advice outside of the context of massage therapy may give clients the impression of having a serious friendship or something more. Once a massage therapist crosses that boundary, it is very difficult to turn the relationship back into a professional one, and you might lose a client.
Performing a massage is physically demanding work. It is essential that a massage therapist cares for their own body. A good massage therapist uses their whole body to give a client a massage. The massage therapist hands are busy, but the positioning of their legs act as the base and source of power for massaging. If proper positioning techniques are not used, a massage therapist can become tired or cause repetitive motion injuries to their joints. Most problems arise when cumulative effects of awkward or improper techniques cause straining and overuse in a portion of the hand or trunk of the body. Remember a massage therapist normally does several massages in one workday. In the long term, it pays to develop proper positioning and technique from the start. It is not likely in massage therapy school you will develop the endurance for back-to-back massages. It is in a daily work routine that you will refine your massage techniques.
In many ways, a massage therapist’s physical activity is like a dancer or athlete. Many of the same guidelines apply on self-care. Be aware of your own comfort level and physical limitations. Monitor your energy levels. Warm up before your first session, take frequent breaks between sessions, and wind down at the end of the day. Eat nutritious meals and get enough rest. Intentionally and routinely, set up activities outside of your massage therapy practice that will replenish your energy, such as hobbies, social events, and spending time with friends. Take time off. A client is more likely to take your advice if they see you are practicing what you preach.
Knowledge of Proper Techniques
A massage therapist hands are the main tool of their trade. The hands in a session are in constant motion applying pressure, gripping, and stroking. Proper techniques with hands are essential. Recommendations made by practicing massage therapists are not overusing any one motion, resting after a compressive activity, and stretching frequently. Generally using two hands in an activity is better than one since two hands can share the workload and give a therapist greater control and power over the massage.
Aligning your body directly behind your hands and forearms gives you more power. Swaying and leaning your body has more power than standing still, and also more power than just using the smaller muscles in the arms. Movement and positioning techniques saves the hands for use in fine-tuning the massage. Skillfully positioning a body or body part helps maintain proper technique. Using cushions and bolsters also aid in alignment and proper techniques. A massage therapy school does not have a universal technique that works for everyone. Your body type and strength determines which set of techniques is proper for you.
There is a tendency in new massage therapists to tense up during a massage. To do the best massage it is important to relax. A therapist should steadily and slowly breathe while massaging, which conserves energy and helps a therapist remain relaxed. It also provides a natural rhythm and flow to the massage. Proper technique includes making intentional decisions on what will work for the client and what is most effective and has the least strain on you.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013