What happened to listening to your massage client’s needs?

Be warned, this blog entry is long and it is going to contain some editorializing. This isn’t something I normally do, however I feel I have the responsibility to talk about my recent experience at a very well-known spa in Edina, Minnesota.

As you may know, if you read my blog, I am a massage therapist and have been since 1995. I have received 100’s of massages over the years and one of my pet peeves is when you pay money for a mediocre massage.

Recently, I decided to use some gift certificates that I had for a local spa. I was going to have a “spa day”. We had just moved, work had been stressful and I needed a break. Physically and emotionally my body was drained. So I signed up for a facial, a haircut and a much needed massage. I signed up for the 1 ½ hour massage and I asked to be seen by the therapist with 20 years’ experience; I thought for sure I would get an amazing massage. I was wrong!

First I asked why aren’t you having me fill out an intake form and the response was “we are booked so closely together, we don’t have time to look at someone’s medical history form”. I was flabbergasted, but I didn’t say anything other than “that seems a little odd”. I went on to explain what my issues were, what my health history was and what areas she should avoid (I had a sunburn on my back). I asked her to focus on my neck and jaw as I was having a lot of pain and discomfort. She told me to get on the table face down. When she returned to the room the first thing she did was apply lotion to my back, which was ok but then she proceeded to perform deep gliding on my sunburned back and I said “ouch, my back is burned” and she said “I am sorry, I forgot”. Hmmm…I guess she didn’t listen to me when I told her my back was burnt or just didn’t care. Next she proceeded to do a full body Swedish massage and she didn’t spend extra time on the areas I asked her to and her technique was mediocre at best. After pointing a few things out a couple of times I decided she really wasn’t listening to my needs, as the client, and at this point I was going to have to take what I got or complain and I didn’t want to upset her and get an even worse massage. At one point she did ask me if I wanted to do a $20.00 add on foot massage treatment and since I wanted some extra work on my feet I said yes. I paid $20.00 extra for a quick 1 minute foot scrub and a hot towel wrapped around my feet, “Are you kidding me?”  By the way this meant I was now spending $125.00 for a massage.

Needless to say I will never get a massage from her ever again and I will not be paying for any more massages at the spa either. I had similar experiences at one of the spa’s other locations and that is why I tried this one. I was surprised that the quality was just as mediocre at this spa location as well. I was disappointed and concerned as a massage therapist and massage educator.

What are people paying for; don’t they know to demand more for their money? Maybe they don’t know any better. However, I think they deserve better and it should be the norm that a massage is therapeutic and you should ALWAYS listen to your client’s needs. I don’t care if you are just getting a basic Swedish massage or a Myofascial Release Treatment, the therapist should still be listening to your needs and customize the treatment to you. (Obviously, this is my opinion and I am sure there are those that would disagree.)

When I left that day I thought “Wow, we really do an amazing job at training our students at Globe University/Minnesota School of Business/Broadview University to be excellent massage therapists in technique, but to also listen to their clients and customize the massage to the client’s needs.” I guess that is why our graduates are in high demand. I know I sound prideful, but hey it’s true.

I ask all of you to not patronize a facility that doesn’t believe in health history forms (dangerous) and doesn’t hire high quality massage therapists. I don’t think this is too much to ask and to tell you the truth I feel it is our ethical responsibility as massage therapists to do what we can to “cause no harm”. If you don’t know someone’s medical history and you don’t listen to their needs, you are more apt to cause harm and lose a potential long term client.

I beg of all of you remember to demand excellence and if you don’t receive it, let someone know. (I will be writing a letter to the spa owners.)

I welcome any comments or your own experiences that you might want to share.

Be safe, be healthy and be happy!

Blog Post By:  Maria Leonard, MBA, MT, Reiki Master – Network Dean of Massage Therapy for Globe University/Minnesota School of Business/Broadview University

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7 Responses to What happened to listening to your massage client’s needs?

  1. Alicia says:

    Loved this blog, ironically this similar thing just happened to me at Globe. I am also in the MT program and was getting a free Swedish massage from another student. I had just came from the chiropractors before my massage appointment . We went over my health history and like you I told her certain
    areas to concentrate on. I also told her I do prefer a deeper massage. I am well aware of the scope for the MT during a Swedish massage, but I felt that she too did not at all listen to the clients needs. So on the feedback form I was honest of my opinion. The next time I had class my instructor, which is not the same instructor the other student has told me I was in the wrong and the other student did what she was supposed to.

    I felt completely different and believe listening to your clients needs is extremely important, especially if you want repeat appointments or referrals.

    areas to

  2. Alicia says:

    …I don’t believe I was in the wrong to say ” you can go deeper” when the MT asked during the massage. If that was my client I would adjust the pressure.
    My question to you as an instructor is, do you believe the students while in class performing massages on clients should this and adjust to their needs or just do a full Swedish massage as “text. book” as we are taught? I started school at a different campus than I am at right now and feel like the teachings are different too.
    Thanks for you’re blog!

    • Maria Leonard, Network Dean of Massage Therapy, Globe University/Minnesota School of Business/Broadview University says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Since I don’t know all the details regarding this experience I am going to respond generally. In a classroom situation it is always important that the students perform the massage technique in clinic that they are required to perform. The student may not have been qualified to perform a deeper massage at this point as well and that may be why the instructor stated that the student performing the massage did the right thing by just performing the Swedish massage.

      I would say that my blog post is specific to therapists that are graduated and working in the field. I will say however that students should listen to their “client’s” needs as well, but the client needs to be aware the students are still learning and when it comes to actual techniques they may not be in a position to do other techniques or the clinic may be for a specific massage technique, which I believe was the situation here.

      I wish you the best of luck in your career and I am so excited that you liked the blog and commented so thoughtfully.

  3. Karen Montanez says:

    Maria, I have had similar experiences when paying for “spa” massages which is why I usually try to get my own bodywork done from therapists who I have been referred to, generally this turns out to be therapists who are self employed or working in a chiropractic setting. I think its up to the spa owners to pay more for nationally certified therapists and demand higher quality overall, such as requiring a full medical intake and SOAP notes for every client. As a nationally certified massage therapist, I am required ethically to do this. I expect no less when I receive my own bodywork, I would not feel safe or comfortable getting a massage from someone who has not bothered to find out my medical history.

    I think we have a great massage program at Globe/MSB. I am proud to say ALL of my Lakeville graduates who have taken the national exam have passed.

    • Maria Leonard, Network Dean of Massage Therapy, Globe University/Minnesota School of Business/Broadview University says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Karen. I would add as well that whether they are a spa, a chiropractor or any facility for that matter, that hires massage therapists, they should always try to get the best qualified therapist and if applicable proof of passing either the MBLEx or NESL and if they are nationally certified that is one more feather in the therapists cap.

      On a side note however, I can say when I was hiring massage therapists years ago, the main things I looked for were hours of education, experience and most importantly, their attitude and willingness to do on the job training. I found that the therapists that thought they “knew” it all already tended to be the most difficult employees. So I really liked the students fresh out of school, who were excited and willing to learn even more!

  4. I wanted to say thanks for writing and posting the article. I found it to be well written and thought provoking. Thanks again and I will continue to follow your articles to see what else you write in the future.

    • Maria says:

      Thanks for commenting. I am so glad you enjoyed the post and I will do my best to keep things thought provoking. If you have any topic you think would like me to blog about, let me know! Have a great day.

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