For many massage therapists, trading massage sessions for other services can be enjoyable and effective. However, trade relationships can present unique challenges.

Here I’ll explore some of the concerns that frequently arise in trade relationships, and ways to address them.

  1. “I have trouble with professional boundaries when trading.”

When your therapist is also your friend, that dual relationship can make it difficult to maintain professional boundaries.

Familiarity can create different dynamics in the relationship, which can change the quality of your massage.

Many of us have participated in and experienced this change.

Typically, this change is not always for the better.

The most difficult aspect of trading is learning how to maintain a quality service exchange with your trade partner, while not allowing your friendship to affect the outcome of the exchange.

  1. “This trade seems unequal.”

A sense of inequality can occur in situations, such as when your trade partner frequently cancels your appointment or you are giving more treatments—or better-quality services—than you services you receive.

The mindset of the trade relationship is difficult to embrace for some people.

If you are trading with another massage therapist, for example, even though you receive a massage for giving a massage, there is not a receipt or redistribution of money to express the value of the exchange of the massage.

To keep a nonmonetary exchange of services feeling valuable, the approach that seems to work best is to trade straight across, dollar for dollar. A trade situation that is equal in its value is important for the trade to work correctly.

Find someone to trade with who charges what you do per hour.

If you charge more for a session than the person you trade with, a portion of the massage you give them really is free.

  1. “I feel like I’m losing money from trading.”

While you do not have to pay actual money for a trade, there are some people who feel like they lose income or control of their finances when trading.

This can be true if you trade too much.

Trading only works if you limit the number of hours per week you allocate to accommodate trades.

Use wisdom with how much you trade.

While you could trade for almost any type of service, from automobile repairs to marketing advice, sometimes you can trade yourself right out of having any actual income.

You may also find yourself trading for services you normally wouldn’t spend money on, which doesn’t help your income flow.

I only trade for massage therapy.

I have found this to be the healthiest solution for myself, to maintain a certain level of income while being comfortable with my trade situation.

Over-trading leaves me feeling like I am always in debt to someone, which is not a healthy feeling for me.

  1. “My trade partner does not treat me like a regular client.”

Many trade situations end because one or more professional boundaries get hazy or crossed.

For example, when the trade changes from feeling like a client-therapist relationship to feeling like you are having lunch with a friend.

When you trade with a colleague, it is important to continue to view him as a client.

It is easy to lose boundaries with someone who becomes a client-friend, and you must be vigilant in your efforts to keep healthy boundaries.

Some things to remember or that may need to be re-established with someone you currently trade with are:

  • Always treat your trade partner as if he is a regular, paying client. Assess, treat and record the same as you would with anyone else.
  • Make sure you are grounded and present with this person, providing the best possible care and service.
  • Be on time and stay on time for scheduled trade appointments. If either of you cancels appointments frequently, re-evaluate the trading terms.
  • Remember that it is his time at your table—not your time to catch up and talk about yourself. You could suggest to your trading partner that when he is on your table it is all about him and his needs. Likewise, when you are on his table for your treatment, it is about you and your needs.
  • If you both decide that you want to talk more, find another table—like a restaurant table or coffee table—to talk across. You will create a much healthier relationship by honoring boundaries in this way.
  • Over-talking is the biggest boundary that is crossed between professionals, and can create the most feelings of unsatisfactory treatment and misused time for both parties.

A good trade should have equal and similar approaches to professionalism, even if your techniques are completely different from those of your trade partner.

What is not different is that you and your trade partner should treat each other with the same professionalism you do a regular, paying client.

If your trade partner treats you differently because there is no actual exchange of money, then you need to either talk to this person about this problem or end the trade agreement.

  1. “I find myself wanting to avoid my trade partner.”

In an effort to not hurt someone’s feelings, a therapist may choose to stay in a trade situation she is not comfortable with.

However, uncomfortable feelings are a sign of crossed boundaries.

This feeling could also be a sign that the trade relationship is not healthy for you and it is time for a change.

There are no easy ways to change or end a trade relationship, but by approaching the situation with honesty, you can find a solution.

Your trade partner will want to know why you no longer want to trade in the manner you have been, and the conversation might be uncomfortable.

However, your feelings are important and you need to honor yourself.

Here are three possible ways to change or end a massage trade arrangement:

  1. Be honest. Gently explain to your trade partner how you feel about the arrangement, and request some changes. The opportunity for change could be good for both of you.

Your trade partner may be feeling the same way, and this conversation could create an opportunity for growth and a continued relationship.

  1. If you want to transition out of a trade situation but want to continue to receive work from this person, you can request to return to a pay-per-session relationship.

This can reset some healthy boundaries and help you maintain your relationship with this person, while possibly regaining a certain level of service.

This can also provide the opportunity to gently end your relationship, as it enables you the choice of frequency at her table.

  1. Tell your trade partner you no longer want to trade. It is best to keep things simple, using heartfelt communication.

You may be open about your feelings, but realize that few relationships survive that kind of openness, especially when it is perceived as possible rejection. Sometimes a healthy solution involves ending a relationship.

In all circumstances, maintain professionalism and refrain from speaking negatively about a past trade experience.

Positive Outcome

Remember that a trade should always leave you feeling respected, balanced and equal in the services you offer each other.

Above all, be selective about who you trade with to ensure a healthy, professional relationship and positive trading outcome.

About the Author:

Amy Bradley Radford, LMT, BCTMB, has been a massage therapist and educator for more than 22 years. She is the owner and developer of Pain Patterns and Solutions Seminars CE courses. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved CE provider, and she has authored several books, including Finding Success for the Massage Therapist Who Wants to Succeed. She wrote “Build Trust With Your Massage Therapy Intake Form” for