Since we’ve talked about the how-tos of getting a massage and had a Q and A on all things massage, I thought we’d round out this 3 part series with my thoughts on how to pick a massage therapist. Before I became an LMT, I thought the only way was to go to the closest spa and hope you like the therapist that entered the room. Now that I’ve gone to school it’s pretty clear that there are things to look for and expect during a session. Finding the right fit might take awhile and you could see a few therapists before finding just the right one. A referral from a friend is a great place to start or you can do a quick search online. Below are some guidelines for both choosing a therapist and continuing to see a therapist.
1. Credentials & Insurance
The first thing you want to check is to see if the therapist is licensed and insured. In the state of Pennsylvania to offer massage and bodywork a practitioner must be licensed. There are definitely other professions (chiropractors, physical therapists, doctors) who can provide manual therapies as well, but if someone is manipulating your soft tissue with their hands or an instrument, they must have a license to practice. Getting a license isn’t just a formality – you have to graduate from an accredited school, complete a set number of supervised clinic hours and pass a state licensing test. Once licensed, to maintain that status a therapist must pass continuing education classes – a good therapist will be excited to talk about their latest class and share their new techniques with you. Massage licensing is relatively new to Pennsylvania and the U.S. in comparison to other countries so make sure to check out if your therapist has taken the appropriate steps.
When you become a Licensed Massage Therapist, you’re able to get liability insurance. This is a safety net that would help if there are any lawsuits filed as a result of a massage session. If your therapist doesn’t have insurance, you’d want to find out why and I’d recommend seeing someone else. You wouldn’t let someone build you a house who didn’t have insurance, so why let someone work on your 100% irreplaceable body without insurance?
If your therapist has the credentials and insurance to back up their experience, he/she won’t mind sharing that information with you, but if you feel nervous about asking them, go here if you live in Pennsylvania to check on their status.
2. Comfort & Safety
So you’ve checked his/her credentials and they’re good to go. The next thing to look at is comfort and safety. Do you feel comfortable being in the same room as your therapist? Do you feel safe undressing to your comfort level? Do you feel safe with the location of the office?
If you answered no to those questions then this isn’t the right therapist for you. There is nothing wrong with ending the session early or leaving a session if you are feeling uncomfortable in any way. I can’t stress this enough!
This topic is so very important! Cleanliness in massage therapy means the therapist, the room, the sheets and even the lubricant. If you have concerns just ask – a good therapist won’t be offended and should answer all of your questions.
- Does your therapist look well groomed and showered?
- Are their hands clean and well manicured? (If a therapist has a cut on their hand, they should wear a non-latex glove.)
- Is the room well maintained? Does it look clean?
- Do the sheets look clean? Does the therapist bleach their sheets? <– You can definitely ask this question and the answer should be yes!
- Is the lotion/cream/oil from a communal jar? This is a common thing I see! Your therapist should NOT use the same jar of lubricant for multiple clients. That means that the therapist touches one client, gets lotion from an open jar and then uses that same jar for another client without changing the lotion. I’d say this is akin to double dipping at a party, maybe worse! The therapist should clean and disinfect whatever vessel the lotion is in between clients.
Effectiveness might seem like a given, but I know there are a lot of people out there, as I am guilty of it as well, who continue to do the same things despite not seeing any change – seeing the same massage therapist is definitely one of those things. When a therapist talks about effectiveness in corrective massage we are looking to help clients with their goals. Understandably so, the goals have to be within the scope of practice of a massage therapist. My general rule of thumb is that the client should feel better after 1 session and see significant results in 4-6 sessions – that’s to say that he/she came to me for a specific reason such as “my lats are constantly knotted up”. Without a traumatic event, our bodies generally don’t create muscular pain problems in one day, so it’s not reasonable to assume the problem will go away in one massage session either. That being said, you should still feel better after a session than before, but it might take time/sessions for your muscles to maintain the changes from massage. Bottom line: if you’re feeling better right after or a day or so after, then the massage was effective. If you’re not feeling better and your therapist didn’t explain that might be the case then take your business elsewhere.
Open communication between therapist and client is important. Before the session the therapist should tell you what to expect, especially if it is your first time seeing him/her. During the session a therapist might remain quiet, but as the client you’re always allowed to ask questions or make comments about how you’re feeling. Sometimes I will explain things to the client during the session to put the massage techniques I’m using into context – especially if I’m working on their quad when the client talked about low back pain! If there’s more to cover I’ll discuss it after the session in as much detail as needed. Clients should always be made to feel at ease in asking questions and making comments.