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Shhh…massage in progress

Chatting to some massage therapists at a recent conference the subject of talking during a massage came up and I realised that this was a subject that extended far beyond what I would have anticipated and created more heated debate than I would have imagined.

There are clients who thank you for your complete and utter silence during a massage and others that thank you for the conversation. Some clients complain about therapists that won’t shut up, and others complain about therapists that haven’t mastered the art of conversation and reply with mono-syllabic grunts. 

So what should you do? Talk or be completely quiet during a massage? My answer is a definitive…… ummm it depends.

Everyone is different, it’s what makes the world go round. They are all wonderful in their own way but we’ve identified some of the extremes and how it can impact a massage.

Quietphobes feel awkward and uncomfortable being in another person’s company and not talking, they feel the need to fill every silence.  Gently suggest they should empty their mind and focus on their body and their breathing to gain the maximum benefits of the treatment. Let them know that you need to focus in order to give the best possible treatment. Reduce their stress from the silence by giving an intermittent commentary on what you are doing, rather than opening up a conversation and play relaxing music in your massage room so the silence isn’t all encompassing.

Havachats are simply very personable and love a chat and finding out about people. Remind them that this is their time to relax (particularly useful if they are asking questions about you/your life/your family that you don’t really want to share). Employ some of the same tactics that you would for Quietphobes and limit questions to things related to the treatment.

If you’re a therapist who believes that a client can only truly relax or benefit from a treatment if they do not talk, you may need to make them aware of that ahead of time so they don’t feel that you’re “shutting them down” every time they attempt conversation.

Strong Silent Types prefer complete or near-complete silence during their sessions. In that case, gentle direction is probably all the talking that you should do.

Oversharers progressively get more personal the longer you’re with them. They feel comfortable enough to talk about personal relationships and emotional difficulties.  This is totally understandable. We all need to vent sometimes. But you should never “take sides” or commiserate with a client like a personal friend. Stick to neutral but supportive responses so nothing can come back and bite you on the proverbial ass!

But what about when the bond between therapist and client is strong and that “chat” morphs into a full blown counselling session? Remember you are a massage therapist, not a “Therapist”.There can be serious legal consequences for those that cross that line.

You may develop a strong rapport with your client, but that doesn’t mean you have the training or skill to talk them through their stresses and emotional difficulties. It’s common for people to book a massage when they are under serious stress. But the scope of massage therapy is only to address the physical component of healing and stress relief. Leave the mental and psychological components to trained mental health professionals.

So that’s the clients, but what about the therapist?

If you’re a therapist who tends to be a bit of a Quietphobe or Havachat yourself, remember that in chatting with clients while they are on the table, the therapeutic goals may be more difficult to meet, as it is easier to be distracted from what you are trying to accomplish in the treatment. You may lose track of time, forget to perform all the techniques you had originally planned, or any other number of things. This, of course, makes the session less effective in the long run for the client, and you may not necessarily be providing them the full service that they are paying for. So the main thing to keep in mind is that you, as a therapist, have to be responsible for keeping yourself on track, even if your client wishes to chat.

So, yes, go ahead and chat! Or don’t! But understand that a massage treatment is a professional exchange. The over-riding rule for therapists must be to take the lead from the client (within reason and professional boundaries). And clients, you have the absolute freedom to express to your therapist your preferences for the session, and they should be willing to accommodate you (within reason and professional boundaries).

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