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Massage therapy is still transitioning away from being an exclusive luxury service, to being accessible for everyone. When I started out in the industry in my school internship and my first franchise spa (2019), many of the clients (20-25% perhaps) said that it was their first professional massage session.
For that reason, I wanted to write this section for people who are newbies!
How do you select the right massage therapist for you?
Note: LMT is an acronym for Licensed Massage Therapist.
MANY VENUE TYPES
There are spas: corporate/chain/franchise, luxury day, med, resort, hotel, Asian, small.
Solo practitioners, collective spa/salon suites, massage schools.
Hospital/medical massage, chiropractor offices, physical therapist offices, acupuncture offices, wellness/holistic health centers.
Chair massage at cafes/grocery stores/car washes and mobile therapists.
How much does distance matter to you?
Often, clients feel so relaxed after a massage they want a short drive home so they can go to sleep ASAP.
Also, they like to avoid peak traffic times so the stress of driving doesn't cancel out the relaxation from the bodywork service.
However, if the massage was really technical and intense (ex. chiropractic office, orthopedic therapist, rolfing, Airrosti), it might not have been super relaxing so this is less of an issue.
Distance is a major selling point for mobile massage- the LMT goes to your home so you don't have to worry about driving and can relax or sleep immediately after the session.
In the United States, a tip of 15-20% is expected for bodywork/massage services. With some exceptions (unlicensed student interns, LMTs who charge a flat rate with no tips like me, probably medical massage).
The lowest prices for massage are at massage schools since the service providers are unlicensed student interns. Ex. 90 minute Swedish massage for $45 with no tipping allowed (by law- since they are unlicensed).
Next, no frills spas charge at least $50-60 for a 60 minute massage, before the tip. Be sure to read the fine print because sometimes a 60 minute massage is 60 minutes "hands on", or it includes the pre and post consultation so it is only 50 minutes "hands on".
At the high end of pricing, a 60 minute massage can cost $140 at a luxury spa, before the tip. Usually perks like a steam shower, robe/slippers, fruit-infused water, and more are included there.
Some clients only have time for appointments in the early morning, during their lunch break, evenings after work, or weekends.
A spa that is nearby or with below-market prices might be fully booked all the time. Pre-booking appointments for once a month or once every 2 weeks is great if you have a predictable schedule. But if you have a new pain in your shoulder or hip that needs work right away, you might end up driving further or paying more since you need a same-day appointment.
NUMBER OF LMTs
Some large spas or wellness centers have 30 treatment rooms so they have 30 massage therapists working at the same time. A small spa might have 1-3 treatment rooms. When there are lots of LMTs you can be referred around for different types of bodywork since they usually have unique specialties. However, a self-employed LMT with just one treatment room who has been practicing for 20 years might know tons of modalities by themself.
Some clients prefer their massage therapist to be or present as a certain gender. Massage is hands-on so people feel vulnerable sometimes being touched by a stranger, even though the stranger is a licensed professional. There is a large spectrum of body types/weights and fitness/strength levels. Ironically, many male clients would receive the heavy pressure they want more easily from a male therapist. There are a lot of variables though, including modality (Western versus Eastern massage techniques).
WEIGHT RATIO, STRENGTH, EASTERN MODALITIES
I recommend selecting a massage therapist who is the same weight as you, or more. For example, I weigh 138 lbs so my ideal clients weigh 138 lbs or less. This is more of a concern with Western table massage (Swedish and Deep Tissue table massage). If the massage therapist does heavy weight lifting they can handle giving deep pressure to people larger than them or who have dense muscles (athletes). Also, if you select Ashiatsu or Thai Massage, the therapist applies pressure using their feet or knees, so they can work deeply even if they have less mass (they are using more of their body weight). Cupping Therapy is also a good pick if the therapist is smaller than the client; it's a deep tissue technique using suction cups as tools.
YEARS OF MASSAGE EXPERIENCE
Usually, the more years of massage experience an LMT has, the more epic the massage will be. There are variables of course. If an LMT has worked in massage fulltime (30-35 hours per week), they have more hands on experience. But they also might be more burned out (overuse injuries are common). If an LMT has worked part-time in massage for 20 years, maybe they've given 1-96 massages a year. If they've only given a couple massages a year, they might be less experienced than someone with 2 years of fulltime experience. Also, if an LMT was a nurse, physical therapist, or other health/wellness pro before massage school, they will probably have more detailed anatomy knowledge than other recent graduates/licensees.
RATINGS, REVIEWS, TESTIMONIALS
Positive reviews are always a good sign.
SILENT OR CHATTY
To talk or not to talk? Some clients like chatting throughout their entire massage. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, some want complete silence in order to just go to sleep...or into that healing trance between awareness and sleep. Most therapists are flexible with conversation but some don't like it because they prefer focusing 100% on the massage.
CONTINUING EDUCATION, CERTIFICATIONS, SPECIALTIES, MODALITIES
Depending on your personal budget for massage/wellness, you can really jump into trying a bunch of different modalities and practitioners. Type "list of massage modalities" (or "bodywork" in place of massage) into an internet search engine, there are so many. Off the top of my head: Swedish, Deep Tissue, Gua Sha, Cupping, Hot Stones, Ashiatsu, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Lomi Lomi, Structural Integration, Myofascial Release, Neuromuscular, Orthopedic, Prenatal, Watsu, Craniosacral, Emotional Freedom Technique, Trager, Positional Release, Arvigo, Reflexology, and Reiki. Other specialties are anatomical- an entire class or certification can be about one muscle (a bunch of massage techniques for releasing that one muscle), or a group of muscles (ex. low back/hip balancing).
Once again depending on your personal budget, you might want an entire team of wellness professionals. Some people have a holistic doctor, a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, an assisted stretch pro, a massage therapist, a chiropractor, a fitness trainer, a hypnotherapist, and a reiki master. They might all work at the same wellness center, or separate practices.
MEMBERSHIPS, PACKAGES, SPECIALS
Massage providers have different business models. Some entice you to sign up for a monthly membership for member-only rates. Others offer packages of say 5 massages, for lower bulk pricing. Or seasonal specials like 20% off any gift cards purchased.
VIBE, INTUITION, THINGS IN COMMON
Some clients pick a favorite therapist just based on intuition. Maybe their massage style always puts them into a relaxed trance where the pressure is always just right. Perhaps their office and hours are convenient and they enjoy their conversations about life. Other clients try a new therapist almost every time they get a massage because they are curious about new styles and techniques.