Not too deep, but deep enough…getting the pressure just right.

One of the most important parts of a massage is getting the pressure just right for the client – so important that they will come back again and again and also tell ALL of their friends and family members about you.   But how do you get the pressure juuussst right for every client.

Well honesty you probably don’t but you can try.

The challenge is that everyone feels things differently and at different times.  What feels good to one person is of course too much or too little for others.  It can vary for the same person on different days too.  Someone can come in feeling more tired or stressed and may feel less or feel more!  The amount of pressure needed also varies by body part most of the time with backs in general needing more pressure and areas that may be more sensitive are the arms and legs.

So how do you get the pressure just right?massagepressure

You have to first ask clients questions about how much pressure they like – but that also can be tricky as people will often say things like “I can take a lot of pressure”.  They may have been going to someone who does energy work or really light work and think that is deep work.  You don’t really know where they are coming from when they say this and it also depends on just how deep your work is – how much pressure is deep to you.

Different areas of the body will need different pressure.  The pressure can also feel different on different days so you need to do this most every time until you can gauge it on a regular client.

Figure out the meaning of pressure to the client and explain your theories on pressure and how much pressure you think you use in a session.  That still might be confusing or just not right.

Just asking is the pressure OK usually does not really help get the pressure just right.

You have to ask them more specific things like:

  • Is this pressure deep enough?
  • Is this pressure too much?
  • Do you want more or less pressure?

Also if a person says something like Oh that is tender – you have to ask – do you want me to stop or lessen the pressure?

Pressure isn’t usually a yes or no situation until you get it just right!

I also have this theory that even if you ask about pressure that people still won’t tell you the truth.  They often assume that you should know best and that they should just take the amount of pressure that you dish out.   They do this because of transference – the power differential that occurs in a massage/client relationship. People can also usually tell that you can find those ‘spots’ with your hands that are the knots or tight muscles so they assume that you know what it feels like too and that you must know what you are doing and must know more than them.  It is part of wanting to be taken care of that everyone really has deep inside of themselves.  When people haven’t had some of their early needs for attention met, this can be more of the case.

There is also something that happens to many people when they are massaged.  They go into what I call a ‘trance’ state or go deep within to a place of peace and relaxation that they can hardly speak and don’t want to speak.  It might be related to the wanting to be taken care of or it is just how people feel.

Then you have to be able to clearly tell people what you believe massage should be like as far as pressure goes.  This is also related to client’s past experiences of massage and varying amounts of pressure.  I have been to therapists who were supposedly very experienced practitioners whose schedules were filled but their massage was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life – every moment my skin felt like it was being ripped off and it was so painful I could not speak to even say stop.  It was that extreme.   I have been to people who I honestly can not figure out what they are doing and feel like they are wasting my time with doing stretches or warming up the tissue so long it feels like the massage is going to be over soon.    What are your clients’ experiences and how can you explain what you do or would like to do and combine that with what they want and what they need in order for it to be an aaaammmmaaaaazzzzing massage?

Working to get the pressure just right needs to be more direct and be done without taking up too much time.  I think it is best done by just putting your hands on someone and beginning.   If you need time to warm up the tissues, tell them what you are doing.  “I am just feeling for areas where I will need to work”.

Start applying more pressure as you go and ask something like what does this feel like to you  and if you think you are doing a medium pressure ask for their feedback in terms of does this feel light, medium or deep to you so you can get an idea of what their levels of pressure are.  It can help you get on track.

You may also have to define what pain is – how much is too much?  If clients think that it is OK to be in pain the day after and that no pain is no gain and you have a different philosophy -you will just have to explain that.  Or can you do more pressure when you think it isn’t OK so that you will have a regular client?

What is more important – getting clients and giving them what they need/want or doing what you think you need to do despite what clients want?

I see so many massage therapists who also get caught up in thinking that they know what is best for clients and probably end up losing clients because of that.

Working together with a client is what giving a massage is really about.   Can you go with them when they want more pressure than you think?


The Caring Business – how to make money and still care

Massage Therapy - The Business of CaringOne common theme I see in the massage profession is that many massage therapists think it is much better to care and charge less or not promote themselves enough so they have enough clients than to make money.  Yup…me too.  Been there, done that and still struggle with issues around making money myself.  Who doesn’t?  One person on linkedin recently went as far as saying:

“Admonishment to all Massage Therapists: Massage Therapy isn’t just about ‘massage for dollars’; it’s more about the joy of practicing Your craft.  Cherish the performance as well as the rewards.”

Admonishment?  Yes I even went and looked it up to be sure:

1. To reprove gently but earnestly.
2. To counsel (another) against something to be avoided; caution.
3. To remind of something forgotten or disregarded, as an obligation or a responsibility.

So massage therapists are telling their peers to watch out if you are making money, that you are obligated to make less money, that you are to avoid making money!  I do see that they put in there- enjoy the rewards…but the whole statement made me think that money could not be part of the reward.  But is it a performance?  That is probably another blog post!


Money is the one thing that touches everyone’s life in some way, shape or form.  Money is where we project all of our issues about self worth, being worthy and being good enough.  When it comes down to basics – money really doesn’t mean anything.  It is a math problem of life to be figured out so you can eat, drink and be merry and pay the bills, take vacations and yes – even continue to stay in business and do more great massage!  Maybe even retire one day!

Noble Poverty

The first time I really started thinking about this was after reading a book called “Why Women Earn Less: How to Make What You’re Really Worth
” by Mikelann Valterra (which could really be called “Why Massage Therapists Earn Less).  She uses the term “Noble Poverty” :

“The continual practice of earning less than one needs based on the belief that there is virtue in not having money.”

It is when people think that by choosing to be a massage therapist makes them more ‘noble’ and that money is somehow evil.  It really comes from whatever beliefs you developed about your own self worth and money in your early childhood.  It is almost like you choose a profession where you can’t make as much money as you need so that you can be more ‘Noble’ than others it keeps you from making more money – a vicious circle of pain, underearning and life draining work.   But the reality is you can make as much or as little as you want in this profession – just like any other career choice really.

You can make money and still care!

A good place to start understanding your underearning issues or at least start becoming aware of them is by looking at what you think about people who do have money.  What do you think about people who are millionaires or have more money then they really need?   Do you think things like ‘ they must have had to sell their soul to get that money? or that people with money are somehow evil?   What do you think when you see people driving a Bentley?  I had a client who owed one for a few years but he sold it because he said people kept keying the car – dragging their key down the side of his car for no reason other than he owned a fancy expensive car that most people can only look at in magazines.

When you don’t make as much money as you need, you really are not doing anyone any ‘good’.  If you are not able to stay in business because you don’t market yourself enough or you are not willing to learn how or to pay someone to market your business – what ‘good’ is that?

I do know that part of the issue is that many people come into the massage profession just seeing dollar signs – I can make $65-$100 an hour????  Well you can’t.  That is what you can charge for a massage but you usually don’t make that much.  They somehow forget to tell you that you will have business expenses to pay as well as you have to get clients on the massage table which means you have to promote yourself to make that happen.   The schools often will not tell you that jobs in massage start at $12-$15 an hour which is hardly a living since full time work in massage is usually about 25 hours a week because of the physical demands.

Massage therapists cringe at the entry level pay in franchises like that and the low fees that they charge clients saying that it ‘devalues’ the profession.  It does I guess in a way do that but it really is just business basics.  The owners of most franchises are not massage therapists so they DO care about making money and it is their main focus!  They do like salaries of $100k or more and want to be able to sell the business for more than what they paid which is usually $150K-$300K or more!   How do you think they will make that kind of money?  By paying the therapists less and giving themselves more! They took the financial risk and are responsible for getting clients in the door and they need to get as many as they can.  It is just business.   It isn’t anything personal.  But stop taking the low paying jobs if you can’t make a living at that rate!  Take the job if it is a nice supplement to your other income or family!

Most massage therapists start their own business which makes them responsible for getting clients in the door.  It takes promoting yourself – telling people that you are out there!  Some people will call it sales but I just think of sales as high pressure tactics to get people on the massage table and coming back.  I won’t go that far really because high pressure sales tactics aren’t really need in my opinion.  You do need to ask though!  You need to ask people to refer to you.  You need to ask the people who come in to refer to you as you are building your business.  You have to ask them when do they want to come back…You just have to tell them and ask!    It is just marketing!   Sounds simple right?  Then why are so many massage therapists struggling?

Is it this idea that it is somehow better to not have clients and live without because doing massage is so absolutely fabulous and amazing that it will surely get you to heaven because you are so good to be doing this work!

And yes, this is one of my own personal demons too but I have been working on it for many many years.  It still will hit me like a ton of bricks when I find myself complaining that I don’t have enough clients.  The way I deal with it is by tracking my income and expenses to the point where it all just becomes a math problem to be solved.  If you don’t know where the money is coming or going – you may be in a money fog.  When you are more aware of the money coming and going, it no longer becomes about am I good enough to charge what I am worth, or good enough to charge people when they don’t show up or good enough to put myself out there (market myself!)

What you charge for is your time – Your time away from your family and your life.
You charge for your experience and your skills.   The Caring is Free!

Value of Massage


Why Women Earn Less: How to Make What You’re Really Worth – Mikelann Valterra   Getting to the core of your beliefs about money takes some work to examine your own beliefs and issues around money.  It is such an unconscious process!

Financial Recovery: Developing a Healthy Relationship with Money – Karen McCall (Mikelann’s Mentor!)  The Plan for recovery is in tracking your income/expenses and getting to the point of knowing that it is all just a math problem.




Create Powerful Policies

cancelation policies for massage therapistsMassage Cancellation and no show policies are perhaps the most important part of your massage business framework. Your business framework is what supports you in the process of doing business. These policies also bring up strong emotions and challenges in doing so.  How you set your cancellation and no show policies will affect the whole profession.  In essence you are teaching people how to treat you and the whole profession.

When you are first starting out and have the time available, you might think that is it OK to let people slide. Many also think ‘Oh, that must mean I am supposed to have time for myself”.  When you say things like that it may really be telling you that you need some time off yourself.  When you sacrifice your time for others and don’t respect your own time, people won’t respect your time or you either.  Only you can decide what is right for you.  You can set a policy that you can sleep with.  It will change over time as you get busier and also as you begin to understand the value of your time.  But I challenge you to take some time to really think about your cancellation and no show policies carefully.  The more you respect your time and teach people to respect your time, the better your chances of success.

Letting people go without paying or any penalty is telling them that your time is not important.  It is telling them that your work is not important.

If you are just starting out and don’t charge people anything at all just start thinking about how much you will lose in the long run.  If you plan on being in business 10, 15 or even 20 years that can add up.  If you had 4 cancellations a week for a year and charged $60 an hour that would be almost $15,000 a year.  Can you afford to lose that? It can  take its toll on your business.  Every time you get clearer around this boundary I believe you will see a change in your clients and in yourself.  Setting a fee for cancellations and no shows tells yourself that you respect your own time.  I see it as one of the highest forms of self care.  Massage therapists in general have a hard time charging for their time and services thinking that it is better to live without.  This idea of Noble Poverty has it’s roots in the way you were brought up.  Taking a look at your issues around money can help you to understand that money is just a math problem.  Learning to take the emotions out of money is an ongoing process since they are so ingrained in people.

Many will also use the standard claim – “Doing Massage isn’t about the money!”  Well I am here to tell you that it is and if you are saying it chances are you don’t have much money or don’t have what you need.  People will think that if they say it is about the money they are less giving or less caring.  You aren’t being paid to care.  You are being paid for your time – for your time you have to take away from your family or other things that you love.  And yes massage is one of those things that I am sure that you love but you only have so many hours in a day/week/year.  Your body will not hold up as long in this career.  Your time is usually limited to 25-30 of hands on time or even less.  You need money to pay the bills, save for retirement, pay for kid’s college, take nice vacations to rest – you deserve it all and that all takes money.

The Power Late Arrival Policy

The ideal late arrival policy says my time is valuable and I also respect my other clients time.  I know things happen – traffic, last minute phone calls, things at work/home, but people need to responsible for their own time.  The ideal late arrival policy states:

Your late arrival will require that I end the session at the scheduled time, meaning your session will unfortunately be shorter today.   I have reserved this time for you and only you and have other people scheduled after your time.

When clients arrive late, it can cause a real problem.  If you extend your session to go the full time, you may make the rest of your appointments late which won’t make anyone happy.  If you cut their time short and end at the scheduled time, you will need to explain your policies so that people will not be mad.  A mad client these days can lead to worse things like bad reviews and further problems.

You can take it on a case by case basis.  Sometimes you might not have a client right after or you may have breaks scheduled in between clients so that you can adapt for late arrivals.  If your schedule allows and you are trying to build a practice, working a little longer to the full time might help create a better relationship and a repeat client and all of the possible referrals they will potentially send your way.  (Remember a referral network is “Your people have people who have people”).

This is a basic boundary issue.   The thing with boundaries is that they will let you know what is going on by how you feel.

If you give them more time when you don’t have time or if you feel resentful that they are late and you think they are trying to take advantage of you, there are usually other things going on.  You may be needing more self care time to nurture yourself and get more Me time.

The Power No Show Policy

The top of the line no show policy is of course you miss the appointment, you pay for the Whole appointment!  Yes that means everything!

That is always easier said than done.  Making people pay for something that they did not receive can be challenging especially since they didn’t show up to charge them.  You can send them a bill or add it to their next appointment but the thing is that many will not come back in if they are made to pay.

The first thing is always to make sure they know the policy.  Regular clients and clients who value your time and massage work, will respect your policies and understand.  They will usually come with their no show payment in hand for the next appointment.  But how do you get people to that point of respecting you and actually paying.  Massage therapists are also hesitant to make people pay for a missed appointment.

Sometimes it means you start with where you are.   Try setting a now show fee like $25 or $35 or a portion of the full fee.   You may want to do that when starting out and training your clients.  As you get busier, it will be even more important to enforce because you will have people who are waiting to get in and you will be losing more money.

It is often a process of building up your self confidence and getting over your fear of rejection.  As you get more experience you will usually find that most are really willing to pay.  Those who don’t want to pay, just don’t understand and may not value your time.  You have to let them know what your policy is though in the first place.

Tell them the policy!

Clients are not mind readers.  They often just don’t know.  They might also have had other therapists who will let that slide because they are building their business or they don’t enforce those policies.  You can’t enforce what they don’t know!  It is usually in the they don’t know that they will be upset and mad!  The biggest mistake I see massage therapists making is that clients don’t know the policy in the first place and because everyone seems to have different policies you just have to clearly tell them so they understand yours.

  1. Put your policies on your website.
  2. Have people sign a copy of your policy when they come in.
  3. Put your policy on your phone message.  Say something like “Please be aware if you are calling to cancel that you will be charge xx.oo amount if you cancel in less than 24 hours  or if you are late, your appointment will end at the scheduled time.(or whatever you set up.)
  4. When new clients call to schedule an appointment, consider taking a credit card to secure their time and tell them of your policy right up front.  Tell them that you are reserving that time for them and them alone so that you will not take another client in that spot.  Some online scheduling systems will allow you to take credit cards to secure the appointment.

It things still go wrong and the client does not understand why they must pay or when they must pay, they might not be a good fit for your business.

Building your confidence in creating your policies and working to enforce them is best done with a support system in place.  Supervision can provide that exact place where you can present your policies and learn more about what it is that you really want while you build your confidence in creating and enforcing your policies.  Having a support system can can help you to create your policies and step by step learn to enforce them.

Share your no show and/or cancellation policy in the comments!

The answer to venting/complaining….Boom! Boundaries!

After many years of reading through post after post of rants/vents about clients from massage therapists in the many online discussion groups,  I have come to see that there is so much that massage therapists need help with.

When you feel frustrated or upset or just feel like you want to vent about it on Facebook (or where ever) with a client interaction it is really about boundaries.

  • Have clients who expect you to be there 24/7?
  • Have clients who come in late and expect to get their full session time?
  • Have clients who frustrate you when their constant trying to control the session?
  • Have a male client who is a regular and all of a sudden they ask you for that happy ending?
  • Have clients who stare at the ceiling and make you uncomfortable?
  • Have clients who wear jewelry or wear clothing (boxers, shorts, underwear) making it difficult to massage specific areas?
  • Have a job where you feel like you are being taken advantage of?
  • Feel like your clients are being inconsiderate and taking advantage of your time and energy?

Most everything that you feel frustration over is really just telling you that you boundaries have been challenged, crossed or even violated.

The thing is that most people don’t know what your boundaries are until you tell them.

If you want clients to take off their jewelry or boxers – you have to tell them.

If you are frustrated that clients seem to want massage immediately and think you don’t have a life – you just have to tell them what your hours are and then you need to keep them.

If they are late – you have to tell them what your late policy is.  You also have to decide if you want to work on them longer to get the full hour.  How much will it mean to your practice?  If you decide to work on them longer, you still need to tell them that you are doing that today only and that your usual policy is to end the session at the scheduled time no matter how late they are.

Facebook discussion groups have made it very clear with all of the venting/ranting about clients, that many massage therapists really need support in clarifying their boundaries and learning to communicate them to clients.  The many frustrations that you feel are usually about boundaries.

Boundaries are what tell you where you begin and end and where another begins and ends.  Each person has their own boundaries and are very unique to them.  Boundaries are created based on your values and beliefs.  There isn’t any right or wrong in boundaries.  There is what is right for you at that time. Because massage therapists are in helping relationships where there is a power differential, your boundaries will be a major part of running a successful business or having a successful career.  Relationships where there is a power differential, tends to create issues of transference where the client is recreating the dynamics of the child/parent, caretaker relationship in their lives.

Boundaries are flexible and can be adapted for each client but the bottom line is always – will my decision to do this (work longer on a late client, charge for a no-show or whatever) drain me more than it nurtures me?  Will my decision require that I do more in the way of self-care to strengthen my self-confidence and self-esteem?  There are the physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, intellectual boundaries, sexual boundaries, energetic boundaries that need to be cared for.

Understanding boundaries for massage therapists is one of the easiest things you can do to build your massage practice is to keep getting clearer on what you want and learning to set boundaries around your values and needs.   In doing this you provide the highest form of self care and it tells you that you are valuable and worth it!   When you feel worthy and feel valuable, you will attract people who see you as just that.   They will be on time and pay you your rates without complaining.  They will call you to let you know when they can’t be there in enough time for you to schedule someone else or they will pay you full price for the missed session.

Boundaries are also the basis for the therapeutic relationship that occurs between the massage therapist and the client.  It is what will make your techniques more effective for the client and more meaningful to you.  Boundaries are there to protect the client and also the practitioner.

Massage therapists have a tendency to want to try to be nice to people and let things like this go.  Thinking that the client will leave if you are not nice is a part of your unloved self talking.  It may be true that they will leave but most likely they are not in your ‘Ideal Client’ vision.

Boundaries are what hold the space for clients to be able to do their healing work.  It is what allows them to know where they are at and that they feel safe.

There are often many challenges to boundaries when doing massage.

  • Clients may want to become friends.
  • Clients may want to ask you on a date.
  • Clients may ask for your advice on things not related to their massage.
  • They will ask you for favors.
  • They will bring you things and want to do favors for you.
  • They will transfer their feelings from early childhood onto you (in a way they will act like a child and unconsciously see you as a parent or authority figure.)
  • They will become attached to you and have strong feelings for you.
  • They will want you to set your schedule around theirs.
  • Clients will be late or not show up for their appointments.

While these may all seem like innocent things, they can greatly influence the results of your sessions and the success of your business.  When you create and enforce boundaries you are actually doing clients a service.  Many often will think that if they do something like setting the business hours to accommodate clients’ schedules that you will get more clients.  You may do just that but it is at a cost of your values, time and energy.

How to tell them what your boundaries are.

The clearer you stand in your role as a massage therapist, the better for the massage client.  Learning to do that is a process and involves taking a deeper look at yourself and your actions and the motivations beneath them.  What I have found is that there are many underlying emotions and beliefs that seem to show up more in people who choose to be in a helping profession such as massage. The dynamics of helping have a very deep unconscious side that usually involves low self esteem and an unconscious belief that you are unlovable, not good enough or some variation of those themes.

Often we don’t really know what our boundaries are and new situations everyday will let you know them.  It is also often a matter of finding out what you don’t want in your practice and learning to create what you want through boundaries.  In the beginning, you may not feel confident enough to tell people your policy about being late or charge them for not showing up.  It is often a process of building up your confidence enough until you can charge them the full rate for a missed appointment.

You start with telling them on your website with having your policies and procedures listed.  You follow that up with your cancellation and late policies on your voice message or on your online scheduling system.  You explain to them when they call saying they are late or whatever.   You gently explain your policies to them and make clear requests in their session.

The process of supervision – working with an experienced massage therapist to help you sort through and deal with situations as they arise in your practice can help you stay true to yourself and your massage business.  It can help you build self confidence and make better decisions every day that support you in your role as a massage therapist and business owner.  You can make your sessions more about the client and less about you as you learn more about yourself and get the support for making the decisions that best fit you!  Yes that is what Supervision is for!

The end of energy vampires in the massage profession.

I thought I had written something on this already but couldn’t find it so here I am again.

The word ‘energy vampire’ seems to come up every so often in discussions about massage sessions with clients.  It is often talked about in massage school too I imagine.  I did find an article on it at Massage and Bodywork too.

What is an energy vampire?  Is there even any such thing?

I personally do not think so.

We have vampires: not

What we do have is people…people with issues….people who just had a bad day at work, people who are narcissistic and controlling, people who didn’t get enough touch and nurturing in their early life so they are fearful and defensive.   What we do have is people who just want a massage and they don’t want us telling them what to do.  What we do have is people who are depressed, isolated, fearful and alone.

What we do have is people who are touch deprived and insecure.  What we do have is people who want to control their massage session and may take that to directing the massage session.  We have people who want to talk too much.  We have people that didn’t have the support that they needed to feel heard and to feel good enough.  We have people with attachment issues of all kinds.

People may have busy lives and need to constantly reschedule.   They are late.  They have drama filled lives and experiences that they bring with them to the table.

How people like these affect you or your massage work is up to you.

The End of Energy Vampires

A massage session IS all about them!  Why should it matter to you how they want to spend their time?

People don’t ‘steal’ your energy or put their ‘energy hooks’ into you.   You let them in.  You let them ‘steal’ your energy.  You let them carry on with their drama and incessant chatter that bothers you.   You let them come late without penalty.

It is about knowing your boundaries and knowing when it is starting to happen in a session.  Is someone’s incessant talking or directing you making you feel stressed?  Bring them back to their body by asking them something like ‘What do you feel here under my hands where I am working?”.

Then there is the white light theory or the grounding theory that is about protecting yourself from these so called people who take your energy. Sorry I don’t buy it…white light?  I don’t see it, feel it or care about it.  I heard about it so many times through the last 25 years and kept trying to ‘find it’ and frankly is is just one more thing that needs to be retired from massage school.

It is just much more straight forward than that.  Set your boundaries and stick to them and be professional about doing so.

Take care of yourself and your own needs so that the ‘needs’ of clients to be controlling, always late, demanding or whatever it is that is draining you or that you are saying is being an energy vampire don’t bother you!!!

If something a client is doing or saying on the table, it is also another great opportunity to turn things around and learn more about your own judgements about this behavior.

People’s behavior will only affect you if you let it.  That being said, it isn’t always easy of course and it does require some support and awareness of when this is happening in your practice and learning what to do about it.   One of the best ways to do that is in the process of supervision.  It is also just about taking care of yourself enough so that the things people do don’t affect you or trigger you.

I am not saying that there are not drama issues or attention issues that you may find challenging when dealing with clients.  It is also about taking responsibility.  It isn’t that the client is the problem and is draining.  It is more that I am too tired, I am not able to deal with the clients needs for attention, I am not able to deal with being controlled by clients.  It is setting boundaries around your time and your sessions and if that still doesn’t work,  letting that client go is also part of having good boundaries.


Or yes you can stop seeing them all together.  That is part of boundaries too.

The thing that I really don’t like though is how massage therapists tend to blame it all on the client and call them ‘Energy Vampires’.   That just has to stop along with all the other things that I often see on Facebook with massage therapists complaining about clients.


When Massage Therapists sell products

Selling products to your massage clients is one way that  you can boost your income as a massage therapist.  The trouble is that there is so much more to selling products Selling Retail Productsthan meets the eye.   It seems many massage therapists don’t really understand the therapeutic relationship and the power differential that occurs during a massage session.  It brings up many possibilities of conflict of interest and many other challenges.

The therapeutic relationship is the relationship that occurs between client and therapist.   Clients receive massage in a very vulnerable state- half or completely undressed (yes of course draped).  They bring to the massage table their many fears and deep feelings.  Massage in itself creates the nurturing environment that they should have received early in their life but of course in many lives it was severely lacking.   The main component of the therapeutic relationship is to ensure that the massage session is totally about the client and not about the therapist.  That is not always as easily done as it really sounds.   It should be simple – do the massage.

What happens though is very complex.  From the very moment that a client decides that they want to get a massage, the transference process begins.  Clients are looking for a trusted professional that knows what they are doing so that they can help them with whatever issue- pain, stress or just to relax.  They immediately assume that the therapist may have the ‘power’ to fix what ails them.  They turn their power over to the therapist.  You will hear clients say things like – You know best!   or when asked about the pain level of the pressure, clients will say “I can take it”.

When clients assume massage therapists can fix them.  Clients may often feel powerless to help themselves.   This creates a power differential that can affect the client in many ways. The therapeutic relationship develops over time.  You maintain a safe place for clients and yourself by creating boundaries.  The boundaries are the framework for your business and for preserving the therapeutic relationship.  When boundaries become blurred and the framework shaky, it can interfere with the therapeutic process (the massage!).  It can leave clients feeling uncomfortable and less trustful.  It can also be draining to the therapist which can lead to further problems like burn out.

When you sell products, you have to ask ” Who is this for”?  Is it more to increase my income or is it truly for the client’s well being.   Many massage therapists will answer this question by saying that yes the product does indeed and we assume that it correct based on what we know.  Often this assumption is not correct.  When you decide what your clients need, it is often more about you than the client.   Yes you can have ideas based on your training and skills, but only the client can really know what they need.   The goal of the massage therapist is to be able to work together to achieve the clients needs.

So what happens then when you go to selling products to your client?   There are many issues that come up.  First with the power differential, clients may often feel compelled to buy the recommended products because they want to ‘please’ you.  Some of the things that can go wrong after the sale are things like the client might then want to have extra time on the table because they feel like they did you a favor by buying the product.    Also, what happens when the products don’t work or actually harm clients.  One case I saw was a massage therapist selling a Multi-Level Marketing Product to a client (a special tea) and the clients hair fell out.   You lose a client and face a possible law suit.   What if the vitamins or aromatherapy oil don’ work for the client.  All of these things then jeopardize the therapeutic relationship.

When you start selling products, you also create a dual relationship with the client.  You are now not only their massage therapist, but you are their product sales person.  Dual relationships increase the risk of doing business.   You may be seeking continued sales of your products.   Is that really about the client or in the client’s best interest?  Not always.

The challenge of the sole proprietor.

Selling products can be more challenging for the sole proprietor.   The issue is that you are selling directly to people who you massage.  The therapeutic relationship is with you directly as compared to a massage therapist working at a spa where they sell products.   The thing to consider is whether or not it is really worth it to sell products and also deal with the inventory and bookkeeping.  If you are just one person doing all the massage, how much can you really make?  If you see 20-25 clients a week and sell them a tube of Biofreeze – how much extra is that? ($4 approximately)

A better way to go might be to sell products through an affiliate program on your website.  That way you are not only selling to clients, but to anyone who visits your website.  You don’t have to carry inventory and you don’t really sell directly.   You do need to have a statement on your website that says how you do make money through your website but that can easily be done.  You can learn more on how to do that in my ebook Websites That Work for Massage Therapists

Multi-level marketing companies love massage therapists because they usually need to make extra money and many products are health related products.   Selling MLM products seems to make people do crazy things.  As a massage therapist, I have had so many tapes, brouchures, sample products sent to me without me asking about them or even knowing about them.  ( I once had someone send me a ball through the mail! link to my Facebook page with the evidence!)  If you want to participate, there are ways of doing it, without being obnoxious.

  • Sell only things that you use and trust
  • Sell only things that are in your scope of practice.  (Vitamins/Herbs are mostly out of scope of practice!)
  • Don’t do crazy things!   Just have the products on the shelf and if clients ask, tell them about it or use the products in the session and if they like it they will ask about it.

Product Sales at Multi- therapist offices/spas.

The sales process at multi-therapist businesses and places like spas where many massage therapists and others work, is usually less risky.   The massage therapist is usually not the person selling the product (or there may be a small financial incentive to sell products).  Massage therapists use the product during the session and then they buy them at the front desk on their way out.  No heavy sales pressure or tactics.

Selling Products Ethically.

Selling products is really up to you but you need to be aware of the many issues that may arise and understand how doing so may jeopardize the therapeutic relationship that you have with your clients.   You can do some things to reduce the risk and sell things more ethically.

  • Ask yourself  Why do I want to sell this product?  Is it really for the benefit of the client?
  • Is there a clear power differential between the client and myself right now? and Am I setting the client up to take advice because of  their present need, rather than the service I am providing?
  • Will there be a conflict of interest?

    A conflict of interest is a situation in which someone, in a position of trust, has a competing professional or personal interest. These competing interests make it difficult for him or her to objectively execute their primary duty or responsibility, which is to first and foremost serve the best interests of their clients. Conflict of Interest Written by Cidalia Paiva, PhD

  • Is it worth it to have money tied up in inventory, collect and pay sales tax and track sales?
  • Figure out if you can sell products legally as a massage therapist.
  • Find your scope of practice.  Most scope of practice laws just include doing massage and defining what massage is.  Check with your state board.Biofreeze
  • If you are a member of an association, check their code of ethics to make sure you are in compliance.
  • Make sure the product is effective and scientifically sound.  You don’t want to sound like a snake oil sales person.  See Snake Oil Medicine Show by Laura Allen
  • If you are going to sell essential oils, make sure you know what you are doing.  Just taking a weekend class in it, does not make you and expert.  Essential oils are not as simple as they appear and they can be harmful if used incorrectly.  See this article:  Essential Oils Simply Complex What We Must Know By Karrie Osborn,  Massage And Bodywork Magazine.
  • Sell products like ice packs or other things you actually use in a session.  Biofreeze is a good example.
  • Make sure your liability insurance will cover other product sales.

If you really need the extra money, you might just want to consider a part time job or creating a whole separate website on some topic that you really know and love that can make you extra income.  That is what I do with my many websites and I learned how to do that through using Site Build it! (SBI!)  Everyone also seems to want to use the explanation that doctors do it and so do many other health care providers.  That doesn’t necessarily make it ethical or legal.  The AMA does not support physicians selling products as outlined in Opinion 8.063 – Sale of Health-Related Products from Physicians’ Offices

You can also add extra massage related services to increase your income.  Learn Hot Stone Massage or learn more clinical massage techniques that really will set you aside from everyone else so you can charge more.  You can also add other spa services like a Sauna or Float Tank to your list of services.  Anything you can add that does not make you do more massage is also good.  You can start teaching couples massage classes too!

For more info:

Profit with Products (PDF) – Cherie Sohnen-Moe author of Business Mastery and the Ethics of Touch



Marketing for Male Massage Therapists

Marketing for male massage therapists is one of those interesting topics to be written by a female – me!  But I have seen too many men shoot themselves in the foot.   Men don’t want to get massaged by men.  Women don’t want to get massaged by men.  So who is left for men in the profession to massage?

Well I actually think we need more men in the profession who are willing to take a risk in their marketing of massage.

First off I have heard so many men ask “Do you want a female massage therapist” when someone calls for a massage appointment (right foot wounded!).  If a male or female is calling and they are feeling uncomfortable the best thing is to address the issue right up front.  Ask the person questions about why they are seeking massage.  Get them talking about the pain they are in or the stress they are in and talk to them about it.  Talk to them about what you know about the condition and talk about the solutions.   Let them know you are an authority on the issue.   Tell them you have an opening -whenever it is- and just be straight forward about it.  Being hesitant makes the potential client hesitant.

So men seeking massage may be fearful about getting a massage from a man for many reasons.  They don’t want people to think that they are gay.  Gay men might go for other reasons thinking it will be more of a sensual experience.   Women may be fearful about getting massage from men because of past abuse issues or issues with their own fathers or male role models.  Being touched by men will bring up many deep psychological issues for men so it is important that you work out your own issues or be working on them so you can keep your boundaries clear.  It is in that itself that I think male massage therapists have a case for promoting themselves – to help men heal their issues around touch and around their own sexuality.  Getting regular massage and building a relationship with a nurturing male can help sooth the inner fears of both men and women.

The reason why all centers around the therapeutic relationship and how many people when they receive massage often have conscious and unconscious patterns that resemble early relationships with caregivers/parents.   Touch in infancy is how we learn about who we are and where we begin and others end. It is how we get a sense of ourselves.

Eyal Lederman in his book The Science & Practice of Manual Therapy: Physiology, Neurology and Psychology,
has a great section on the psychological and psychophysiological processes in manual therapy.  He uses the latest research to explain how massage can help people in learning to self-regulate in the emotional and psychophysiological dimensions.   Touch is an instinctive need as demonstrated by Harlow and his research on monkeys.  In humans it is found to be the same.  We use touch or contact with something to sooth.  We have all seen the many studies at the Touch Research Institute on touch in premature infants and how they grow faster and are healthier overall. We also have a lot of research that shows that massage is best for treating anxiety and depression.   Lederman also says:

Even in more complex psychological conditions where women had experiences of ‘negative touch’ through sexual or physical abuse, and would therefore find any touch difficult, positive touch in the form of massage therapy has been shown to reduce aversion to touch and decrease anxiety and depression. (See the study : Effects of Sexual Abuse lessened by Massage Therapy.  See also article on Massage Therapy Canada)

Pamala Fitch, a massage therapist in Canada, says this about what happens between clients and massage therapists (from an article called “ Nurturance, Intimacy and Attachment“:

During a massage therapy session, a client is encouraged to lie still while her soft tissue is moved, kneaded and stroked. She is also encouraged to breathe and let go, allowing her muscles and connective tissue to soften at the behest of the therapist’s ministrations. This letting go and letting another “do” to one is an essential element of massage therapy and may, at times, be reminiscent of parental care for an infant.

As infants we develop our abilities to sooth ourselves (or not!) in the face of fear and stress.  The way we learn is through becoming securely attached to our caregivers.  When infants do not learn to securely attach, they have little trust in getting their needs met and feeling safe.  As an adult people with insecure attachments will need more help in learning to soothe themselves.   This can be learned within the safe container of a massage room and getting massage from massage therapists that they learn to trust over time and getting massage sessions that are nurturing from the opposite or same sex.

Fitch goes on to say in her article that:

This experience of deep release in the presence of a trusted therapist has the potential for great healing. Some clients have suggested that these releases can be deeply intimate, powerful and life changing….

Massage therapy is always more than just a physical manipulation because it invokes implicit memory.

Working with clients in this way will require that you always have the client’s best interest in mind.  This whole process can happen without any acknowledgment of it even going on.  It requires that male massage therapists (and any female massage therapists too!) understand their role in the helping process and set clear boundaries in all aspects of the massage relationship.  This will include even taking payments, cancellation policies and such.  Even though they may seem so frivolous in some ways -it is these exact boundaries that can allow a person to feel safe and know where you are at.

When a therapist reflects outwardly what she feel inwardly, her behaviour may be described as congruent. If the congruent behaviour reflects honesty, integrity, respect and compassion, then the therapist will not harm her clients and her clients will sense that she is safe and can be trusted.

It is behaving congruently that creates trust!  The way to build trust starts with your website.  Huh?  I bet you didn’t expect that!  But, Yes building trust with potential clients begins with your website.   That requires that you start writing articles or stories on various topics around massage- what it does, how it works, you philosophy on massage and healing. You can start with the physical effects to keep it safer. Write about how massage helps pain and various injuries like muscle strains, knots, carpal tunnel and all of the things you have worked with or are interested in working with.  Write about fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety.  Write about 20-30 articles or more.  The most important thing though is not to get hung up on the idea that you can’t write.  Heck I can’t write!  I just write down everything I would be saying to a client and to you here.   It is more about finding your own unique voice and putting your words down on paper -well uhm the computer.   Write about how touch can be healing for issues around men.  Read as much as you can on the topic before writing.  I have resources throughout this article and at the end.  Just read and try to put it all together into your own words.  Tell stories from what you have seen happen in your practice with clients – of course not using names due to privacy issues.  You can even get clients to write testimonials for you and they can write their own story.   Starting this from your website will make it easy.   People will get a sense of who you are and will think that you know what you are talking about.  One of the biggest questions people have in their head when looking for a massage therapist is will this person be able to help me with whatever condition or issue I have that I really need a solution for.

So guys I think have an amazing opportunity to present people with this opportunity to heal old relationships with father figures.  While I don’t think you would actually want to say that outright to people because it can also conjure up so many other things, providing a safe place for people to start getting in touch with themselves can happen on the massage table.

One way to actually approach this all is from a strictly therapeutic/medial approach.  Learning medical massage or any of the orthopedic methods or other things that focus on the obvious physical aspect of our work can be a good way to lead into getting regular clients.   Promoting yourself in this way can get people on your table to give them a chance to experience the male massage therapists touch and energy.  While it starts as mainly a method of healing physical injuries such as strains and sprains and things like which start out having an end in mind – pain relief and return to normal activity, clients will often find themselves not wanting to end treatment.  While I am sure that won’t happen with everyone, just taking one person at a time is one of those giant leaps for the massage profession!

I also have been to many spas where men are working as massage therapists.  This is also a good way to get people more aware of the issues.  Most front desk people are hopefully trained in how to deal with this and just give the first available appointments even if it is with a male.  The key really is in getting the front desk people to know how to overcome objections of women or men who are not wanting to get a massage by a man.  (Of course, I don’t want someone who was just raped or beat up by a man to have to get a massage from a male if they don’t want to.) I have had many nurturing massages by men at spas!

I also think that part of being successful as a male massage therapist is also about your own beliefs of what is possible for men in this profession.  I have so many questions through my website on massage careers just asking “Will I be able to make it as a male massage therapist?”  The simple answer is yes if you think you will.

What do you think guys?  Am I crazy?  What challenges do you have as a male?

Touch and Emotion in Manual Therapy

The Psychology of the Body (LWW Massage Therapy and Bodywork Educational Series)

The Ethics of Touch: The Hands-on Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Professional, Safe and Enduring Practice

Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions – Corey and Corey.  Geared toward psychologists but very insightful for massage therapists

Becoming a Helper Corey and Corey.  Geared toward psychologists but very insightful for massage therapists

A short article on male massage therapists by Ryan Hoyme – aka  I asked Ryan to write this early on in the creation of my site.

Resources on other male massage therapists in the profession on my site

The Therapeutic Relationship in the Massage Profession

The therapeutic relationship that occurs between a massage therapist and a massage client is one of the keys to being a successful massage therapist.  The therapeutic relationship is what allows healing to happen for both the massage client and the massage therapist.

The therapeutic relationship is talked about by many authors in the massage profession.

Cidalia Paiva, PhD in her book “Keeping the Professional Promise” says this:

In the therapeutic relationship we are not simply serving the interests of persons: we are specifically serving the health care interests of vulnerable persons….

She goes on to say: The therapeutic relationship’s primary function is to facilitate the health and well-being of our patients, ensuring that we bring our full presence and commitment to this experience.  In order to be fully present in the therapeutic relationship, it is critical for the therapist to be self aware and personally responsible…. Therapeutic progress can be blocked when therapists use their patients, perhaps unconsciously, to fulfill their own needs: to caretake others, to boost weak self esteem and to feel capable and/or powerful.

Nina McIntosh in her book “The Educated Heart” says that “boundaries are like protective circles surrounding the professional relationship.  Rather than being barriers that separate us from our clients, boundaries safe guard both practitioner and client.”  The therapeutic relationship is focused on the well being of the massage client.

The dynamics of the client-practitioner relationship are complex and often subtle.  Our clients automatically give us more power than they would for instance if they met us on the street.  They are often looking for us to alleviate their physical, or emotional distress or discomfort which puts them in a vulnerable and dependent position…Our task is to meet our clients’ vulnerabilities with respect and kindness and we do that by maintaining secure boundaries.

Cherie Sohnen-Moe in her book “The Ethics of Touch”  claims that ” practitioners must have a thorough understanding of the meaning of the therapeutic relationship; power differential, transference ;  countertransference; projection; repression; and denial.”

Much of what is written for the massage profession does not do justice to the extent of the therapeutic relationship and how it can actually influence the success or failure of a massage business.  It is also one of the hardest things to learn about just from a book or from massage school.   Supervision is really the best forum for discussing the client-therapist interactions that you have with YOUR clients.

The therapeutic relationship begins the moment a potential client begins thinking that they want to find a massage therapist.  The potential client is already thinking about seeking assistance for whatever issues they may be having – stress, physical pain or relaxation.  They actually may or may not even know about you.  They might just be looking online or just thinking about it at their desk or sitting on the sidelines of their soccer game.  The act of seeking help often brings up past relationship dynamics with others of power in their lives such as parents, caretakers, teachers and religious educators.  To put it simply and directly – people will often unconsciously think of you as their parent (person of power) and the dynamics of the relationship between client – massage therapist will be challenged by them (transference).  Unresolved needs and feelings and issues are ‘transferred’ onto the person of power – in this case the massage therapist.  The massage therapist will also have their own issues arise during the course of a massage which requires attention (countertransference).  In real life regular friendships and romantic relationships also start in transference.

Transference is normal and will happen whether you are aware of it or not or whether you want it or not.  It isn’t a bad thing like many massage therapists may start to think because of the small amount of time that is given to the topic in massage school.  Massage clients also have special vulnerabilities because of the fact that they also end up on the massage table in some state of undress and are not feeling well or are injured.  There are many signs of transference but often you will not really know if it is a case of transference.  Creating boundaries for yourself as a massage therapist is what allows someone who is in a state of transference to have a chance to see their own issues and is a major part of the healing process.

As a massage therapist, you will also have your own issues that come up when working so closely with people.  Countertransferrence is when your own unmet needs, feelings and issues come into the client/therapist relationship.  It is basically unconsciously thinking that the client resembles a parent figure and we look to them to get our needs for recognition, appreciation and to be heard.  Since it is an unconscious process most of the time, it is important to work with a Supervisor to get your needs met outside of the client/massage therapist relationship.

The more you know your own values, needs and feelings and the clearer your boundaries are for yourself – the greater the chances of you attracting your “Ideal Massage Client” to your massage business.  Some examples of simple boundaries you can create are those around things like cancellation policies and fees, hours of operation, creating dual relationships with clients (becoming friends with them or even dating clients), giving advice and sharing personal information.  The clearer your boundaries , the easier you will be able to make decisions that will support your massage business.  The more you let your boundaries slip like allowing clients to get away with not paying for missed appointments the higher your risk of Burnout and also failing in your career/business.

That last sentence above took me about 15 years to really understand and the process of creating and defining my boundaries took another 5 years or so and is actually an ongoing process.   The more that I could stand strong in my vision of working with mainly my “Ideal Clients”, the more clients I got that respected my time and were willing to pay higher rates for my services.   The clearer my values and boundaries, the more successful I became as a massage therapist.

Massage Client Relationships

Understanding massage client relationships will help you in building your massage business just as much as any marketing plan or website.  In learning about client relationships and learning to develop them you will be learning about yourself and your own needs -personal and business needs.  As you become more aware of your needs you will be able to focus on finding your ideal massage client.   Your ideal massage client will match your values and services and will be looking for you.  When you work more on people who fit the image of your ideal massage client, you will feel energized and your work will most likely be at it’s best.  When you work on less than your ideal massage client you will often feel drained and resentful and you won’t be doing your best work.  When you are doing your best work, people will gladly refer their friends and co-workers too you without any other incentive.

Once you have a vision of your ideal massage client which will be based on your own personal and professional values you will then be able to make clear business decisions that will support you in creating a long term massage client and massage business.   You will set your policies and procedures up in a way that supports you and your values.   When you start compromising those values you increase the risk of burnout.

Developing relationships with your clients means that you understand your role as a massage therapist and are able to set boundaries to support yourself.  Boundaries are often thought of as being something that keeps people or things out of your life.  Boundaries are actually what help you in valuing yourself and developing your self esteem.  It is a process though and doesn’t happen overnight.  It will be ongoing throughout your career.  You can get support for yourself through working with a supervisor or creating your own peer group.

Learning to listen to clients is really one of the hardest things to do.  Most massage therapists also are challenged by their helping complex and find themselves wanting to be giving advice to clients.   Becoming more aware of how helping is actually hurting more and learning to just listen can help clients in their healing process.  It is a part of setting boundaries to protect and preserve the therapeutic relationship that occurs between a massage therapist and the massage client.

Some of the challenges will be things like:

  • becoming friends with clients
  • charging what you need to make a good living
  • setting cancellation fees that support you in making a living
  • setting your hours and services
  • dating clients
  • caring more about clients that you forget to take care of yourself

You will also be faced with many different types of ethical dilemmas that you will need to sort out one by one.  Ethical dilemmas occur when people challenge your boundaries as in should you come in at a special time for a client in pain.  Each situation will be different and can have a different answer.

Because massage clients come to massage therapists in a vulnerable state being in pain or under stress and also because they are in some state of undress under sheets lying on your massage table it creates a special dynamic called the therapeutic relationship.   To really simplify the concept – it is when clients basically unconsciously or consciously think that you resemble a parent or early caretaker and act in ways that are based on that.   It arises because people feel an imbalance of power and look up to you as a massage therapist to help them.  It creates a sort of victim mentality and can interfere with healing or getting better.  The way to healing is actually by creating boundaries that can help clients learn about themselves.

Learning about the process of transference and counter-transference will be an ongoing part of your massage business.  It is helpful to get support in the form of supervision to help you in your career choices.

Educating Massage Clients

Educating Massage Clients is one of the best ways to create awareness and acceptance about massage.  The recent Al Gore scandal with a massage therapist in Oregon and the women on “The View” making comments about the situation really shows what massage therapists really need to be doing – educating clients.

Sidebar on The View incident:

Al Gore accused of bad behavior with a massage therapist
(to see some of the news stories I posted them on my other website)

The View makes comments– Youtube. “massage always has the potential to go wrong”.   “Nothing good happens after the first hour in a massage.”

AMTA Responds

Facebook fan page created and petition started.


I think the problem though is in the word educating.  Education is not talking at people telling them about massage, about what you can do and why they should get a massage.  The root word of Education is educare, which means to “draw out.” To educate, therefore, means to draw out something that fundamentally is already there. In the process of education, you actually become aware of yourself.   In most of our standard examples of education like in public schools and in massage school it becomes just a memorizing of information and a regurgitation of that information.  It isn’t education.

To educate clients and potential clients it is more about building a relationship with them.  It is about setting aside your own agendas to even get a massage appointment and showing a real interest in them.  It begins with asking people questions to find out their needs.  Then if you find that their needs match what you have to offer you can then easily talk about what massage can do for them.

I have heard a few massage therapists say things like ” I have sent many letters over the years to doctors and others trying to educate them and it didn’t work.”   While I don’t know for sure what was in the letters I would guess that it wasn’t educating and it was more about them. It might have been more along the lines of presenting information that the recipient wasn’t interested in.

To educate others you need to forget what you know about massage – all the big terms, the name of the muscles and things like that.  The ‘Curse of Knowledge” from Chip and Dan Heaths Book “Made to Stick” says:

Once we know something it is hard to imagine what it is like to not know it.  Our knowledge has cursed us.  And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t really create our listeners state of mind.

After reading the response by the AMTA I started thinking that it wasn’t educating the people on The View.

What would you say to the people on The View if you were there on the panel at the time of the discussion?