To complement “Better Barter: How to Create Positive Trades” in MASSAGE Magazine‘s May 2016 issue.

real-world trading between massage professionals

In writing this article, I decided to do a little research to see what massage professionals thought about real-world trading with another massage professional. I asked a seminar group I was teaching and some colleagues what they really felt about trading for their own personal massage therapy.

The feedback I received about real-world trading was very interesting. Some of the comments I heard were:

  • “I like being able to train someone to give me the massage I want.”
  • “I hate feeling like I owe someone if they don’t want to trade with me as often as I trade with them.”
  • “I got tired of trying to get a good massage, so I just pay for my treatment now. It seemed like when I traded the quality of the treatment went down.”
  • “It is hard for me to not think of the trade as losing money.”
  • “I love to trade. I learn so much from different hands and different experiences I wouldn’t give myself unless I was trading.”

I am sure many of you can identify with one or all of the statements above, along with a few feelings of your own.

hands reaching out

Maintain Boundaries

Several of the therapists I have spoken with have talked about the change in care that seemed to occur the longer they traded with someone. The concern was that their trade talked too much or didn’t pay enough attention to what they asked for, which had an effect on the outcome of the massage.

One of the most problematic things that occurs with trading, or bartering, is becoming too comfortable with your trade partner. Unfortunately, your level of care can sometimes go down at an equal rate as your personal relationship goes up.

This scenario is an example of professional boundaries for a healthy client-therapist relationship not being carried through for the trade.

Boundaries are different for everyone and each person sets boundary lines at different distances. What is comfortable for one person is not at all comfortable for another. The one thing every person shares equally with boundaries is our boundary lines are governed by our feelings.

Good boundaries have healthy feelings that give us energy and support our mind and body.

Unstable boundaries have unhealthy feelings that may leave us feeling drained, and cause other feelings of discomfort. Using these feelings, you can realize when your trade is working or not working for you.

Blurred boundary lines account for some of the reasons why it’s more difficult to be as effective with your spouse, family member, or neighbor than a regular table-client.

Maintaining professional boundaries and a friendship with your trade can be tricky. It is not uncommon for this dual relationship to occur between you and your trade.

Respect for each other can be preserved by constantly re-evaluating yourself and keeping open communication with the other person regarding satisfaction with the massage treatment.


hands together

Equal Values

Another heavily discussed topic was the feeling of equality with the trades. This was not an expression of egos, but was a true concern with several of the professionals. There is no set rule for this, but there were several in agreement with this feeling.

If you charge $50 for a session and you trade with some who charges $45 or $55, then the trade feels like it has a similar value. If you trade with someone who charges $35 or $75, then the trade starts to get a less-than or greater-than feeling. Depending on which end of the scale you are, you may feel like you are giving away $15 worth of time and energy or not measuring up and owing more time.

When trading with another therapist, a good rule to follow is to trade for what would be a similar amount of money. Trading for equal monetary value helps it feel like the value is maintained within the trade.


Differing Experiences

Along with different rates, experience can complicate the trade. Let’s say you have been a therapist for 15 years and have put the time and money into educating your hands. You meet another therapist that you like and they want to trade with you. This person has been working for five years. This situation is going to present the following concerns:

  • Your trade has the potential of not being equal. Your experience and her/his experience will most likely not be matched. This creates a lesser value feeling for the therapist offering what is perceived as more experience.
  • If you are the senior therapist, you can possibly train this newer therapist to work on you the way you want to be worked on. Remember that you will be teaching someone the skills you paid for and that they will invariably start using the same skills on their own clients. You must ask yourself if you are comfortable with that exchange of information.
  • If you are concerned that it may impact your business or reflect upon you poorly, then you may want to reconsider.
  • If not, this is a great opportunity to share and pass on your knowledge with the understanding that you will be receiving less than for a period of time.

The more even the trade is in time and experience, the more likely the trade will feel equal and be a sustainable exchange.


two hands form heart

Trading Exhaustion

Your trade wants you to work on each other after hours and in the same evening in order to not lose any income and save time.

This is a solution that a few therapists had come up with. However, they all said it felt it pushed them past their healthy physical boundaries to do even “more” for a massage trade. It was also not a great feeling to be at the end of a day, exhausted, then to receive a massage and have to reciprocate in the same day.

This physical push creates feelings that the trade exhausts you. It isn’t the trade, but the extra time you make yourself work for your trade.

Every therapist has a limit to the number of massages they can do in a week and most set their financial budget on a certain number of massages performed weekly.

Trading is a wonderful way to receive bodywork. However, it should not stress you out to work with a trade. The experience should be fulfilling for both parties and if it is not, then re-evaluate your situation. It may be that some simple communication needs to occur to get the trade back on track. Possibly you need to find someone else to trade with.

Most of all, if you feel this way then you should trade so you can have a massage on your day off, when you can gain the most from the much-needed bodywork.


Better Real-World Trading

This information gave me insight into some feelings regarding massage trades. I was able to see myself in some of these situations, and it helped me to look at how and why I trade a little differently. My hope is that you can create a better trading experience for yourself with this insight.


Amy Bradley RadfordAbout the Author

Amy Bradley Radford, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 20 years. She is the owner and developer of Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminars CE courses ( She has also authored several books, including Finding Success for the Massage Therapist Who Wants to Succeed. She wrote “Better Barter: How to Create Positive Trades” for MASSAGE Magazine‘s May 2016 issue.