What to Look For in a Massage Therapist

We put this guideline together just before a move we made, hoping it would help the clients we were leaving to find another practitioner to work with. We put it together because in our, at that time, 14 years of experience, we have found that the standard of training for MT’s have drastically decreased with the move of massage of education our of massage schools and in to tech schools that are offering massage courses because it’s the ‘in thing’ and will make them a quick buck. These schools know nothing about massage, only about getting lots of people to enroll into their programs. We’ve also found that people go into this field for all kinds of reasons, some of them quite surprising. It used to be that it was a desire or your life that took you in this direction. Now it can be nothing more than a need for extra cash. The incentive is quite different, as well as the intent behind the work, the recommendations for further work, etc.

Unfortunately there is no simple way to finding the right practitioner. There are licensed and unlicensed practitioners, practitioners who belong to various organization, who have various letters after their names (LMT. CMT, LCMT, NCMBT. We are all the things that these letters represent – state licensed, certified and Nationally Certified but we feel this all means next to nothing. Just because a practitioner advertises in the Yellow Pages doesn’t mean they’re very good, or even professional. Even asking a friend for a referral may not get you what you need. We’ve found that a good MT is a treasure, so we hope these guidelines will be helpful in your search.

Keep in mind that your comfort level and instincts about a practitioner will help guide your decision. At the same time your practitioner should be:

  • honest and respectful
  • knowledgeable of their field of practice
  • working in a comfortable, clean, professional environment

Every individual has different needs and that’s no different with massage – what is good for one may not be your idea of good. Also if someone you know describes their MT’s work that doesn’t necessarily mean that is how that MT works with everyone. In fact, we believe that a good practitioner should have enough training and experience to vary their work according to the needs of the client. On the other hand, if your needs are for specific work (such as sciatica or TMJ) and you find someone who does that specific work, you know you’re on the right track. So although it is helpful to ask friends for referrals you will not know for sure that it’s the right match until you have both ‘interviewed’ the MT on the phone and experienced their work.

Once you have a name and phone number call them. First, they should be responsive to your call, returning your call if they do not answer immediately the same day or at least within 24 hours. If this does not happen it may be a sign that they do not respond to situations in a professional manner and that Massage is more of a hobby than a profession. It is a good idea to let them know why you are calling – if you are seeking Relaxation Massage, or suffer from lower-back pain, etc. and ask them to describe their work. If they are stumbling over their response it may mean they haven’t had to answer that question often enough. You should get a sense of confidence from them without any promises of possible outcomes (such as, “Sure, I can cure you of those headaches”)

Phone Questions:
There are not specifically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. What you do want to get a sense of is who you’re talking to, what their level of professionalism is, what to expect if you decide to schedule and to see if it feels right for you. Here’s some possible ground to cover:

How long have you been a massage practitioner?

As a guideline, we’d say four years or more is a good response. It takes a while for someone, once they’ve graduated from a massage program, to develope their sense of touch and get away from following a routine. What this means is that in addition to the massage feeling good, they will also be able to actually feel tightness and knots in your muscle, as well as know how deeply or lightly to apply pressure and will be able to monitor what is working for your body and what is not. Many practitioners include their one year of study in this response so any thing under 4 years means that they just haven’t had their hands on enough people to do those basics, let alone support you in your quest for a healthy body/lifestyle.

Do you have a full or part-time practice?

Someone who is working part-time simply does not have the hours of experience a person working full-time does. Also, unless they have many years of experience you may be getting a session from someone who is only doing massage to supplement their income, rather than because it is the profession of their choice. Or, they’re simply not good enough to build a clientele so they can quit their ‘real job’. Now, there are some good practitioners out there working part-time – these are just some things to be aware of.

Do you work out of your home, an office, a spa, health club?

If s/he is working out of their home, ask if they have a dedicated office. You may not want to get a massage in their bedroom! If your practitioner is working for someone else, they are often not setting their own schedule and may be rushed. Ask about this.

  • Do you do a 50-minute session or a full hour?
  • Do you take extra time for the first session?
  • Is the check-in time included in the time of the session?
  • What’s their cancellation or late policy?

When you meet:

  • Are you greeted in a friendly, respectful and professional manner? Assess things such as eye contact, hand shake, communication skills. Use your intuition and common sense.
  • Look for a clean room dedicated to massage and ready for your session, notice if it feels clinical, messy, cold.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable and safe and that this is a person you both trust and respect – you may end up sharing a lot of personal information with this person and/or looking for advice.
  • If you want specific things (bringing your own music, beginning the session with your feet, extra time on your face, etc. are they willing to accommodate you?
  • If you  need work they do not or can not provide are they able, and willing, to refer you to someone else? Are they referring to someone they have personal experience with or just someone who they’ve heard about? Some practitioners are reluctant to refer their clients to someone else, even if their client is not responding well to their work – they don’t want to lose the business.

What to look out for:

  • Unreturned phone calls
  • Unprofessional boundaries in speech or body language. Their should be a sense of care, compassion, even bonding, but no flirtatiousness from the MT
  • Unprofessional draping techniques. Your private areas should be covered at all times (unless of course you have asked for and consented to a specialized form of work such as Breast Massage or you are in Hawaii on the beach or in some other setting wherein you choose to be naked. However, even if this is the case, you should be treated professionally at all times).
  • Communication that is one-sided. Before s/he begins working on you they need to know your particular health history as it relates to your massage. Ask questions to get a better sense of your practitioner.
  • Someone hedging their explanations or using jargon you don’t understand. If this happens ask for clarification
  • Someone who won’t spend the time to talk with you or someone who talks endlessly. Feel free to tell them you need some talk time or some quiet time. Believe it or not, there are clients who need to talk and those who need the quiet – a practitioner may simply have misinterpreted your needs.
  • Someone who charges for intake session and doesn’t give you a massage.