How to Find the Right Massage Therapist for You

By Joe Neely, Massagetique Correspondent
Man having a back and shoulder massage
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Many years ago, a trusted friend and colleague hosted me for my first massage experience in his beautiful and calming bodywork space. This experienced and intuitive massage therapist took the time to help me understand what would happen during the session, how to handle disrobing and draping, and what to do afterward to get the most from this experience.

I enjoyed a wonderful and comfortable introduction to massage, and you deserve the same. The right person can help you communicate your needs, release tension and anxiety, and relax you into your treatment. I hope you’re as lucky as I was and find the right massage therapist for you!

References

Asking your friends about their massage experiences can provide much richer information than just Googling “massage therapist.” You can get started by browsing sites, but no one communicates the “feel” of a good massage like a trusted friend.

Think about it: you don’t just want a high-quality massage; you want one that matches your individual vibe, preferences, and goals. For example, a highly-recommended Rolfing practitioner could give one person exactly the hardcore postural alignment they crave. However, another client could leave their first session saying, “Ouch! Isn’t massage supposed to be relaxing?”

Always check with your doctor before starting massage therapy (or exploring a more intensive style). People with some conditions (such as deep-vein thrombosis) should avoid massage. Others may need to carefully select a particular massage type and practitioner with the guidance of a trusted family physician. Many doctors (and cancer centers) provide lists of recommended massage therapists. These practitioners may even have special training in using massage as a complimentary treatment to certain types of medical care.

Professionalism

Your gut may tell you right away if your massage therapist doesn’t have their act together. As you get to know them, pay attention to the way they handle scheduling, payment, and other details. If your practitioner takes the time to fully answer all of your questions, helps you understand what to expect from your first session, and seems genuinely interested in your care, they’re likely a solid, professional massage therapist.

Experience

In the massage therapy field, nothing trumps “hands-on” experience. Ask practitioners how many hours of massage they’ve put in to get their certification and how much massage they’ve done since entering the market. They should be proud to relate their experiences and any continuing education courses they’ve taken.

State-certified massage therapists must have 500-750 hours of education (it varies from state-to-state) from accredited massage schools. These practitioners may be required to get first aid/CPR training and take continuing education courses on a regular basis.

Certification

Knowing your state’s regulations, educational requirements, and licensing structures can dramatically increase your chances of a successful session. Be sure to ask your massage therapist about their level of experience and certification in the specific style of massage you prefer.

Beyond simple state licensing, some practitioners achieve a greater level of certification. For example, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) board-certified massage therapists have over 750 hours of education and 250 hours of practical experience, maintain CPR certification, and undergo a national background check.

Cleanliness

You should feel comfortable when you enter a massage therapy space. Of course, clients differ. Some prefer white-walled medical environments and others enjoy dreamy and exotic sights, smells, and textures. However, if your therapist doesn’t provide a space that meets your needs (and appears safe and sanitary), consider searching for another practitioner that better suits you.

If you want to ensure a potential therapist is right for you, visit them in their workspace. Soak in their environment, see if you like their attitude, and determine their level of professionalism. If everything feels right, go ahead and book your session!

Pre-Massage Consultation

The best massage therapists conduct thorough intake evaluations with new clients. They should ask you about your personal and family health history and what your personal and health goals might be for this session.

Your practitioner can help you understand what to expect from your first session and what progress to watch for over time. Together, you can set targets for a course of treatment and determine a safe and well-paced plan of action.

Communication

Before, during, and after your massage session, your therapist should listen carefully to your questions and concerns and respond appropriately to your needs. If you want to feel more comfortable and at home during your massage, feel free to request a change of music and scents (or bring your own music and essential oils).

Massage therapy involves a high level of trust. Your massage therapist should take care to help you understand all of your “draping” options (covering your body with sheets or towels, for example). The right massage therapist will work to understand your unique personal needs and make suggestions to improve your comfort level.

During your massage, be sure to tell your practitioner how much pressure you require. Every therapist has a different touch; each client has their own balance point between too much and too little discomfort. Just like a healthy stretch in yoga class, a little discomfort (but not pain) can bring many healing benefits. However, if your practitioner has a very different idea of what you can take than you do (as in the Rolfing example above), you may be in for a difficult experience. The right therapist for you will listen to your verbal and non-verbal signals and find the right balance for you.

Post-Massage Care

After your session, your massage therapist should give you proper time, space, and attention. If you’ve followed your gut and choose a practitioner with whom you feel a good connection, their intuition in these vulnerable moments can greatly increase the healing benefits you take home with you.

Depending on what you’ve shared with your practitioner before and during your massage, they may have a number of suggestions for self-care after your session. From hydration to meditation to salt baths, there are many ways to extend and increase your physical and emotional healing. The right massage therapist will suggest home care techniques and products (without a sales pitch) and leave you smiling. Hopefully you leave with a wonderful new feeling, eager to return!

References:

  1. After care/self care. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://lamkincottage.massagetherapy.com/after-care–self-care
  2. Bassanese, P. (2012) You know you are getting a good massage when… Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paola-bassanese/massage-you-know-you-are-getting-_b_1341090.html.
  3. Board certification. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.ncbtmb.com/board-certification
  4. Burgan, B. (n.d.) How can i find the right massage therapist? Retrieved from http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/massage-therapy/how-can-i-find-right-massage-therapist
  5. Riggs, A. (2011) Draping Dilemmas. Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired. Retrieved from https://www.abmp.com/textonlymags/article.php?article=137
  6. Education. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/education/index.html
  7. Employers. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.abmp.com/employers
  8. Massage therapy. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.angieslist.com/research/massage-therapy/
  9. Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.) Massage therapy: overview. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/massage-therapy/home/ovc-20170282
  10. State regulations. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/regulation/stateRegulations.html
  11. Varney, S. (2010) Rolfing back in vogue, but with shaky evidence. Morning edition. San Francisco, CA: KQED.

3 thoughts on “How to Find the Right Massage Therapist for You”

  1. I agree that certification is important when it comes to looking for a massage therapist. I would imagine that finding someone who is able to provide you with their certification and experience would be really beneficial. This would allow you to find someone who is an expert in their field who will give you a great massage.

  2. Asking about certification would be a great thing to do when looking to find a massage therapist. It would be even better to find a service who has an adequate amount of experience as well. Something else to consider would be to find a specialist who is close to home to make massage visits more convenient.

  3. I like your idea on how communication is important when looking for a massage therapist. it would seem that you would want to find someone who is able to understand what is wrong with you and communicate how they plan to fix it. I need some help adjusting my back after a recent injury so I’ll have to find a massage therapist that communicates well to go to.

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