therapeutic communication

Don’t ever underestimate the value of a good conversation.

As a therapist, therapeutic communication can be one of the most important tools in your massage therapy toolbox, yet there are many of us who either don’t use it or don’t use it well.


Therapeutic Communication As a Business Skill

We all know massage therapy is a profession that requires constant one-on-one contact, but sometimes we forget about that contact once our hands leave our client. When we think our work speaks for itself or that our clients can read minds, we must remember to remind ourselves that effectively communicating can be a critical skill in our business.

A client’s impression—whether good or bad—of you as the massage therapist is usually formed within the first few minutes of meeting you, and that can influence the outcome of your session and whether or not that client will come back to you. That first impression is the bread and butter of your business. By speaking to your guests, you can start to establish a solid foundation and rapport with them. You will be able to build trust and loyalty, before they disrobe on a table with a complete stranger, allowing them to relax even further before you start your work.

Here are some essential communication practices to help you do just that:


1. Break the Ice with a Question

Sometimes when you see a new client or someone who may never have had a massage, he can be quiet, shy or tightlipped. So, break the ice! You can create comfort in light conversation, easing him into it, by being the first to speak. Start off by asking an open-ended yet focused question, such as, “Have you ever had a massage before?”; “How often do you get massage?”; “What made you want/need a massage today?”; “What is your goal for the session?” or “What does that pain feel like?” Not only does he have to answer you, you will also learn so much that can help you begin to form a plan of treatment and a caring relationship.


2. Observe

Another key to communication is noticing how the client communicates back to you. So observe your client, not only her posture and gait, but her body language as well. If you are able to discern a client’s behavior you can find an alternate or better way to communicate with her, in a way that makes her comfortable with you.

You will have those clients who are open, animated, friendly and willing to tell you more than you need to know, but you will also have clients who are quite the opposite. Do your best to recognize the difference and match and mirror that. This may mean you will have to adjust how you usually communicate to adapt to their styles of communication. This puts each person at ease; it’s human nature to be comfortable in an environment that you’re used to, as massage therapists are in our own session rooms, and since we as therapists put our clients first, we should be the facilitators of that.


3. Listen

It may sound counterintuitive, but being an engaged listener is a huge part of communication. People often focus on what they should say, but effective communication is less about talking and more about listening. When you’re an engaged listener, you will better understand your client, and you’ll make your client feel heard and understood, which will speak volumes for the therapy you are about to provide.

Concentrate on the client and what he is saying. If you find it difficult to do this, try repeating his words in your head, which will help to reinforce his message. Avoid interrupting what he is saying to you; instead, let him finish, because we can’t concentrate on him if we are thinking of what we are going to say next. Sometimes as therapists we have such great information we are excited to share, but we need to hear out the client first, and then respond accordingly. Remember, telling only satisfies your desire to tell, not always the client’s need to know.


4. Assert Yourself

You are the professional—always remember that. Our clients come to us because we are able to help heal their pain. As professional and licensed massage therapists, it is our duty to do whatever we can to help our clients, even if this means giving them homework for at-home pain management and self-care, or any other recommendations we feel they need that are within our legal scope of practice. I’ve met plenty of therapists in my line of work who feel as if doing this is bothersome to clients; however, I’ve also met quite a few therapists who do recommend, and they are by far the more successful of the two groups.

A client will appreciate when you go that extra mile to take an extra two minutes to show her you care about what she is doing between sessions. Show her a stretch, give her a reason why she needs a therapeutic retail item, explain how heat and cold therapy at home will be beneficial for her. As long as what you are recommending is within your scope of practice, you prove to that client that you are a professional, and that you value yourself, the therapy and the knowledge you are providing.


5. Keep in Touch

Out of sight, out of mind can be all too true if we don’t try to keep in touch with our clients. Find a meaningful way to do this, whether it’s through a friendly birthday card or an email to remind clients it’s been two weeks since their last session. Make a call or send a text to check on how a client’s shoulder or lower back has been feeling since his last massage. By doing this, you remind your clients that you care, and it will keep you proactive in trying to fill up your schedule.

Decide what points of contact you want; for example, a call the next day to see how a new client is feeling after his first massage with you, a personalized birthday email celebrating him, complimentary aromatherapy with his next session, a friendly phone call checking to see how he is feeling if he hasn’t booked you within the timeframe you recommended. Having these set points will allow you to create a schedule of constant communication to help build your business, which will keep you busy and allow you to help as many people as you can.

Effective communication is the glue that helps you bind your connections with others and improve client retention. Try using these keys, see how your clients react, and make the most of the time you have with your clients—not just while they are on your table, but while they are standing in front of you. Strive for therapeutic communication.


About the Author

Nichole Velez, L.M.T., is training and development manager for Massage Heights.