Confidence is an important and necessary skill to have in order to be a successful massage therapist. Our expression of confidence in our work helps us appear competent in the eyes of our clients.
Confidence in our practice will help us to effectively communicate with our clients and colleagues. Confidence is also useful for us to be able to implement and stick to our boundaries and policies.
As massage therapists, we learn to work with a variety of bodies.
We see our clients when they are in vulnerable positions; they lay unclothed on the table between two sheets.
In the session, we stand over them and petrissage, effleurage, compress and stretch their bodies and minds into relaxation.
This is a powerful expression of trust the client has in us and our work.
In turn, being able to demonstrate confidence is a key component to helping our clients develop trust in our work, which leads to clients re-scheduling and referring their friends and family.
This is how we grow a solid practice.
The Problem with Low Confidence
In massage school, we may find it is easy to work on classmates, friends and family. But out in the world, working with strangers can be difficult.
Our clients can sense when we aren’t confident in our work. They will notice and wonder if maybe we don’t like them, we don’t know how to do our work, or that we are nervous, which, in turn, can make them nervous.
Experiencing low confidence makes it difficult for us to get clients to re-book.
If we aren’t confident in ourselves, we may shy away from asking the client to reschedule.
Then we have lost our window of opportunity to turn a new client into one who sees us on a regular basis.
A lack of self-confidence is not usually related to lack of ability.
Instead it can be the result of focusing on the idea that we have to meet unrealistic expectations or standards set by others.
We can train ourselves to overcome these feelings of doubt with self-reflection. We can notice the times we accept self-criticism as truth.
Or notice the times we allow our negative emotions to override reality.
The upside is that confidence is fluid, with an ebb and flow. We have control over our levels of confidence.
It is normal to feel confident in some aspects in our lives and a lack of confidence in other areas.
An example of this is we feel confident in our ability to give a good massage and listen to our clients, but lack confidence when it comes to setting clear boundaries or sticking by our policies.
In this article I will share some of the tricks other massage therapists use to feel confident in their practices.
I reached out to see how other massage therapists overcome the times they lack confidence. The experiences of our colleagues can help us learn to overcome our shyness. We can learn from their experiences ways to overcome our self-criticism.
Several massage therapists mentioned having a script to help them find better focus.
Some massage therapists find it helpful to fake a feeling of confidence. One massage therapist wrote that she felt as though her uniform became a talisman of sorts for her work, and that helped her feel confident.
Michele Cahill, a massage therapist from Ohio, describes her first clinic experience. “I went from hyperventilating and almost quitting school during my first clinical. I had to leave the room four times just to breathe and collect my nerves.”
She was able to finish the work and said that focusing on her hands and work helped get her through the experience. She finds comfort in allowing her hands to do their work and paying attention to the quality of her touch.
Cahill is able to overcome her lack of confidence by focusing on her work and the joy it brings her to know she helps people.
So although she had a really tough time feeling confident, she was able to focus her attention on her work as a way to take her thoughts away from self-criticism and judgment. Over time, she feels more confident, but still struggles on occasion.
Seattle massage therapist Mark Retzlaff realized that his lack of confidence was “driven in large part by self-criticism.”
He told me he was able to increase his self-confidence with the realization “that the uneasy feelings I got were actually part of the process of learning, listening and adapting.”
Retzlaff added, “Things that helped were cognitive behavioral techniques I had received from mental health practitioners.
I had to continuously remind myself that clients were having their own experiences, and that my feelings of being shy were less important than the fact that I was showing up, providing quality service, and being reasonably well-received.”
Andrea Eaton-Whitley, a massage therapist in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, found her prior experiences in an improvisational theater class helped increase her level of confidence.
Eaton-Whitley also created a script that she uses to communicate with her clients. She has a script for the greeting; the intake; the work on the table, such as during the session asking the client to turn over or checking pressure; the post-discussion; and the rebooking process.
As Eaton-Whitley’s experience shows, you can create scripts for how you communicate with clients during a session.
A script can help you feel more confident, and give your work a sense of consistency and professionalism your clients will appreciate.
Practice saying your scripts at home with a mirror, or with family and friends.
“Fake it ’til you make it” is a common expression for a reason: It works! We can alter our body language to feel confident.
Practice this posture tip: Stand on your feet, squeeze your shoulder blades and externally rotate your shoulder joints. Imagine a line starts at the center of your pelvis and pulls up through the top of your head. Try this posture out when you meet a new client.
Another confidence-building skill is to recognize when a job is well-done.
Don’t be too shy to pat yourself on the back after a client leaves a glowing review.
Write down the good comments from clients, and practice reading them aloud during times you feel your confidence waning.
If you find it difficult to build confidence in the massage room, another option is to find a mentor.
An experienced mentor can help you work through and help you find ways to be more confident.
If you feel you have trouble building confidence, remember that it can be learned. Be patient and kind to yourself—and don’t forget to recognize when you have done something well.
About the Author:
Rajam Roose helps massage business owners understand how to use internet and social media marketing. She is the owner of Grow Your Massage Business. She also wrote “Communicate Confidently with Clients.”