Communicate like a Pro
It is a harsh and weird reality that when you get out of massage therapy school, you become a spokesperson for massage therapy. All kinds of massage therapy. And all types of massage therapists. This is true even if you don’t want to be such a spokesperson. And even if you don’t think you should be.
Every time you say, “I’m a massage therapist” whatever follows represents the profession.
Clearly, this is a big responsibility. How you conduct yourself and talk about massage therapy with friends, family, referral partners, and health professionals matters. So here are some tips for getting good at communication around our profession.
Remember your manners
When you are communicating about massage, keep in mind that phone calls and emails to other MTs and health and wellness professionals (and clients and referral partners) are not the same as texts with your friends.
Location and privacy are important, so don’t take a business phone call in the middle of the grocery store where the whole bread aisle will hear about your client’s sciatica. Use full words spelled out completely. Avoid abbreviations, take the time to type out “Thank you” instead of “TY”. Use “for” properly and not “4”. Skip the emojis and use standard greetings and closings in all your emails.
Many of us were never taught a professional email structure <slowly raising my hand at the back of the classroom> so we’ve got a short guide to catch you up here.
Resist the “Massage can fix anything!” excitement
Your new career is exciting! You can finally get out there and help people! But you can’t help everyone. I repeat: Massage cannot help everyone. You may have already noticed that when a friend or family member complains about an ache or pain that you jump in with “Massage can help with that!” Resist that urge. If you say it too often, it starts to not mean anything and you sound like a fanatic who thinks massage is a miracle cure.
Avoid making claims
We all get asked, “Can massage help X?” X= rotator cuff injury, insomnia, migraines, indigestion, low back pain during pregnancy.
“Maybe” “Sometimes” “In many cases” are great go-to answers. Try to answer in a way that welcomes more context to the conversation.
That may sound like, “Massage can be helpful in managing pain when you are recovering from a rotator cuff injury, but it’s not a total solution if there are tears or other problems in the joint. Have you seen your GP or a PT about it? What did they say?”
Be honest and pragmatic when you set expectations about what massage can do, so the client doesn’t feel swindled if you can’t help them and end up feeling like massage is useless altogether.
Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know
We gain so much more respect from colleagues and clients when we are honest about our knowledge. Instead of nodding along when a client brings up a new-to-you health issue or medication, be clear that you are not familiar. That may sound like one of these:
- “I see you are taking a medicine called Moxifloaxin. I’m not familiar with that, what are you taking it for?”
- “I have never treated a client with MS. May I do a little research and then call you the day before your first appointment when I have some intake questions for you? I would like to make sure I know the right questions to ask so I can adjust the massage to be safe and effective.”
- “Take your time getting cozy on the table. I may take an extra minute, I’m going to look this up before I wash my hands and come back in for the massage.”
Clients really appreciate this kind of honesty and it helps them trust that you have their best interests in mind, that your ego won’t get in the way of providing the very best care you can.
All of these rules apply tenfold when communicating with other healthcare and wellness professionals. And a few more apply, too.
Keep it clear
If you need to communicate with another provider, be clear and succinct. Be ready with your questions, so you can get the answers you need to work safely.
It’s really important to not assume the provider understands what massage is, and what your massage is. Be sure to spell it out within any questions you have. That may sound like this:
- "I know Mr. Doe is being treated for peripheral neuropathy in his legs. If I massage his legs and feet with light pressure (about the weight of my hand), do you feel that is safe for his condition?"
- "Considering that Mr. Doe is mostly sedentary, do you have any related concerns about his body’s ability to tolerate massage or his cardiovascular system being challenged slightly?"
Stay. In. Your. Scope.
No matter who you are talking to. Instead of “Yup, that sounds like a rotator cuff tear” say “If it’s bothering you, your GP can probably get you to the right PT or orthopedist for a proper evaluation.”
Instead of “This freckle is changing!” say “Have you noticed this very dark freckle? Do you have someone keeping an eye on it for changes or take a picture of it for you so you can check it out? Maybe consider checking in with your doctor about how to monitor it.”
This is hard. It can be easy to accidentally give advice outside of your scope when you develop a rapport with clients and you feel comfortable around each other. You will slip and not realize it in the moment. It’s okay to backtrack and follow up with, “I realize now that I should not have suggested you could have a rotator cuff tear, I’m not qualified to assess that properly. Have you made plans to see your GP?”
Clients and providers will always appreciate (and respect) your caution and humility.
This can feel overwhelming at first
But it gets much easier with a little practice, and great, realistic communication will help you build a fantastic reputation as a trustworthy massage provider. You’ll be able to help more people and make a good living. And that’s why we’re here, right?