Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Goldilocks and the Three MTs

Finding the right massage therapist (MT) can really be a challenge. I know as that's what I've been up to lately and it's taken a bit of effort even for me. I was dealing with shoulder pain and needed more than just relaxation but also didn't want it to become worse as the result of too aggressive treatment. I wanted someone to give me the massage my clients receive; pain free, customized AND with relaxation. Finding the right MT is similar to finding most health care professionals. We want someone in a nearby location we connect to and who has the skill, education and experience to deliver.

Like Goldilocks, it took three tries before finding what I needed in a MT. The first one did not listen well and was too hard. She was all about her advanced training theory in a particular modality (please, we all have advanced training) with the philosophy it has to hurt before it gets better (not true). Needless to say, I won't go back to her again.

The next MT gave a relaxing session but was too soft. She didn't seem to know what I meant when asked to focus on my area of pain (although she'd nodded in agreement). She had a routine and was stuck to it. I may go back to her again at some point, but only if a relaxation massage is in order.

Finally, the third MT was juuuuuust right. She listened carefully to what I told her and used a gradual approach with increasing pressure based on my body's reactions and to verbal feedback. When I needed more pressure I asked for it and she obliged. This MT actually had the same advanced training as the first one I'd seen but a whole different philosophy on approach. I've seen her twice now; after giving her additional feedback regarding the first session she has adjusted accordingly. She's a keeper.

So, here's what I learned from my recent experience that might help you in finding the right MT:

1.     Ask someone you know for a referral. Word of mouth from someone you trust counts for a lot in finding a new MT. This can save you time and expense in narrowing your search.
2.      If you don't have a referral and are starting from scratch, go to the two largest MT professional association provider lists: AMTA and ABMP. They'll give you local therapist’s contact info and list their skills and experience.
3.     Check out their websites to see how you relate to them and find out if they're within your budget.
4.     Call the MT or send them an e-mail asking questions related to your purpose in seeking the massage. Keep the dialog going until you feel you're in good hands. The most important questions I asked after explaining my situation were:
                           "What is your approach to addressing shoulder pain?"
                           "Do you think it has to hurt first to get better?"

              5.   Your appointment:

                       How much availability does this MT have?
                             Does their schedule work for you?
                       Did you complete an intake form?
                       Did you create a treatment plan together?
                       Was it based on your health history/session goals?

                  6.   The treatment session:

                             The MT should ask about your comfort at the start.
                                   Ex: support for your back, feet, neck; room temp.
                             Does draping agree with your degree of modesty?
                             They should check in about pressure during the session.
                             Give feedback.
                                   Ex: "back off a little" or "deeper please."
                             The MT should adjust pressure based on your feedback.
                             Ask questions or remain quiet; you set the pace.

After the session, did you feel attended to or disappointed? You'll know if the MT is someone you can work with after the first visit. In my experience, it’s a combination of the massage therapist   appropriately addressing the pain issue, communication, and adjusting to feedback. As with any client/practitioner relationship, your experience is unique to you. Every MT is different based on their education, technique and experience. Keep trying until you find your best fit. Good luck!


  1. Great advice! I also like to ask them to tell about a time they were unable to help someone with my issue. The one's who have no failures are a red flag to me. First, every MT has had at least one client they've been unable to help - especially when we were just starting out. Second, even the experts tell about their inabilities to help some people. Third, no one MT is the right fit for everyone. Any MT who can't admit that they're a mere mortal is not the right MT for me!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion and the comments. You're right on too as we can not be all to all (and new MTs benefit from hearing the reality).

  2. Great discussion!

    I definitely agree.
    Variety is very much the norm still with MT.
    It can be a good thing if we are able to fit folks where they get the most benefit.

    I might add that we can consider the therapist can play an important role in the "finding".
    In being honest and referring out when that seems needed, we help people that need MT stay with it and not give up after that first, not-quite-right experience.

  3. You're right Mike. That's much easier to do when you've been practising for awhile and have a solid clientele.

  4. This was really good. I wish I had read this before I wrote my recent post about massage. The suggestions for interacting with the MT were great.

  5. Great article - have you experienced Raindrop Technique? Once I had a session, my entire business was transformed and the thought of having of regular massage is not what my body wants anymore. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Hi Diana, I haven't yet, but can't wait now! Thanks for commenting.

  7. It is really hard finding a therapist when you are a therapist. I used to love all massages I received until I studied it, then it became a question of finding someone that could either treat me the way I would treat or had a completely different approach that I could learn from.

    1. You're right, that seems to be what happens. Thanks for your comments.

    2. Do we all massage the way we want massaged?

  8. Terrific piece. It is so heartening to read your perspective about massage, contributing your ideas to massage community. We at National Holistic Institute (nhi.edu) are thoroughtly invested in doing our part, too (www.nhimassageblog.com). It’s just amazing to see firsthand how our community continues to thrive. Please keep up the terrific, heartful work

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  14. Well said. This is something I will be sharing with people I know who have a bad experience with their very first massage and are hesistant to get another because they think every massage is the same.

  15. It is true what you have experienced, I have had similar experiences as well. Last time I cam across a website which promotes Massage Therapists. I have chosen a Male Therapist for a deep tissue massage and the other time Female Therapist (trainee) for relaxing massage. She was passionate about it so I got that positive feeling from her too. With massage, I like to see who the Therapist is and I choose someone I like at least from the first sight, whereas if I go to SPA there may be no choice - you get firs available Therapist. Good luck.

  16. True.Finding a right massage therapist is very difficult.Thanks for sharing your experience.

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