Massage trades are so important to health and longevity in this industry. Hopefully, like me, you have a fellow massage therapist you can do massage trades with to contribute to each other’s self-care.
Finding and picking the right partner can be a challenge. Let me share a frightening story about my first experience trying to find a massage trade partner.
I was 19, had been working as a massage therapist for about two months, and was in serious need of bodywork. Since I had gone to school out of state, I didn’t have any classmates to contact, nor did I know any local therapists.
So, I did what I thought was my best option: I pulled out the phone book and started calling massage therapists, leaving messages on their answering machines. I’m sure I used my best professional voice, saying I was new and wanted to know if they would be willing to trade with me.
Looking back now, I can only imagine that the people who received those messages probably laughed at my naivety. It was obvious I didn’t understand the etiquette that goes along with trading massage services. I just figured that since I was a massage therapist and they were massage therapists, then we were on an equal plane.
I called about 15 people and only one woman returned my call. She said we should meet and get to know one another to see if we were a good fit for trading. That sounded like a smart idea, so I agreed to talk with her.
I met with her late the next evening at her office after she had finished working. Her rental space was very tiny, and it was in a somewhat scary part of town. As hard as I tried, I don’t think I was able to hide the shock on my face when I walked into her office and looked around. It was so dirty and cluttered! The carpets needed cleaning badly, the waiting room chairs were broken and stained, and there was garbage on the floor, spilling out of a trash can that needed emptying.
My blind trade was a very nice woman, who thought being “all natural” was the new, approved scent. She was wearing shorts and a tank top—all white—with a badly stained apron covered in massage oil. As part of the introduction, she also read my palm for me to see who I was in this life, “just in case,” she said with a wink.
It was all I could do to not just run out the door.
Needless to say, I thanked her for the opportunity to meet with her and I left, saying, “I’ll call you to schedule,” which I never did. I decided I would definitely change my approach to finding someone to trade with.
While there is no set protocol for setting up a trade, since that experience I have learned a few things about how to go about finding a quality massage trading partner.
The Massage Trades Interview Process
Finding the right person involves an interviewing process that might take a few tries until you find the best trade situation for you. Think of it as trying to find the right person for a job—the job of taking care of you with massage, professionally and with continuity, for a certain level of service.
Each of the following steps is part of the interviewing process:
1. What is Your Primary Need for Massage? First, decide what kind of bodywork you want to receive. That alone might help you narrow down who might be your next trade opportunity or at the very least, the massage therapist you pay to see.
Another reason to seek a specific technique is to test out the skill. If you are thinking of taking some training in that form of bodywork, receiving sessions of it is a good way to decide if what you want to learn is something you really want to pursue based on how it feels to you.
2. Ask for Name Suggestions. If you haven’t already heard names mentioned from your own clients, ask those around you for the name of a reputable massage therapist. This is the same thing the consumer does when starting to look for a therapist.
In today’s world, you can find and assess most massage businesses through social media or Google to see how this person or business is rated. You can also read through what therapists write about their own services and do some detective work that will hopefully help you narrow down your search.
Don’t let the absence of someone or their business on social media or Google stop you from finding out more about someone recommended to you. I have met many wonderful, seasoned therapists who don’t have to be present on social media to be found. Their clientele is built by word-of-mouth and they offer amazing treatments—not to mention the world of experience they share with you if they are willing to trade with you.
3. Schedule a Massage Trades with This Person. When you call a massage therapist, make sure to take the time to have your questions answered about the massage they offer. If it sounds like something that fits your needs, schedule a paid massage appointment with them.
I think it is important to pay for at least two or three massages with this person before requesting to trade with them. If each experience has a similar quality, you will have the information you need to move to the next phase of requesting the trade—or not. If some experiences are lacking, you have not committed yourself to a trade with someone you are not satisfied trading with. This allows you to continue interviewing other therapists for more optimal trade situations.
4. Bring Up the Offer of Massage Trades. Once you are comfortable with the level of service a therapist provides you, you can suggest trading massages.
I always let this person know they are not obligated to trade, nor will their response affect my returning to them as a client; it is just a suggestion. This is important to say for two reasons:
* You are currently a client to them. They may be afraid of losing you as a client if they tell you no. Reassuring them you will return either way helps them answer you honestly.
* They might already be in a trade situation and not need to trade any more time. This gives them the ability to decline without feeling like they are hurting your feelings.
5. Broach the Hard Conversation about Vaccination Status and Masks. It’s your choice to trade with someone who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and you have the right to ask about that. You should also feel comfortable wearing, and asking your trade partner to wear, a face-mask during the session if that makes you most comfortable. These are topics you should have during the interview.
Setting Boundaries for a Positive Massage Trades Experience
Once you’ve agreed to trade massage, I would set up the trade for just one single trade session and see how it goes.
Doing this in the beginning allows you or the other therapist an “out” if for any reason this turns out not to be a good trade experience. Have the discussion upfront that if at any time, for any reason, either of you can request to go back to a monetary exchange for services only. This is an often overlooked and very important boundary to set in the beginning.
Always Trade Within a Specific Time Frame
There is nothing worse than when you want another massage for your aching back, but you already owe your trade partner two sessions and they haven’t scheduled with you for their trade yet.
I would suggest the following parameter in the beginning: Make the commitment to trade equally within the same week or the same month.
If at any time, you are more than one massage trade ahead, go back to paying for the service until you are trading equally again.
Massage Trades with More Than One Person
I currently have two people I choose to trade with. Each has different skills that benefit my body. These two different treatment types fit my needs—one for muscles, the other for my nervous system. I see each therapist once a month so I am taking care of my body every two weeks, which is what I need to function optimally in this career.
I will give a word of caution about trading with too many people just because they asked you to trade. Pick and choose what works for you and trade out only as much as you need to, not necessarily how much others want you to do.
Find Your Partner
Self-care should be one of your top priorities in this field; I have seen burnout occur far more frequently with therapists who put their bodies’ needs last. Be proactive with your body and choose what’s best for you as you seek out a massage trade partner.
About the Author:
Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB (ppsseminars.com), has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 25 years. She is the owner of Massage Business Methods and the of Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminars CE courses and a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider. Her articles for this publication include “The MT’s Guide to an Independent Massage Career: An Exploration of The 3 Main Types of Practice.”