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Finding The Right Massage Therapist Is Priceless
Finding the right massage therapist is a lot like finding the right hairstylist… Priceless. It can also be a long, difficult game of trial and error. So, just like a hairstylist, when you finally find a massage therapist that really gets you, you guard them with your life and hope like hell they never move. But you want more than trial and error. I know you do. So do I.
You Can’t Avoid Trial & Error, But You Can Minimize It
I wish I could give you the magic formula for finding the right therapist, but unfortunately there isn’t one. The problem is that everyone is different, with different needs and different reasons they’re looking for a massage therapist. Your pain is different than your mom’s pain – even if you both get migraine headaches. Your pain tolerance/comfort level is different than your best friends – even if both of you are considered to have a high pain tolerance. I think you see where I’m going with this. The best I can do is give you a few pointers on 1) where to look for a massage therapist (and where NOT to look) and 2) Questions to ask before booking your appointment.
Look Here… But NOT Here
There are lots of ways to find a massage therapist, but these are the best. Hands down.
Friend’s Recommendation – This is a great place to start. You know their general constitution so it’s easier to judge how good of a fit their recommendation will be. For instance, if they’re a delicate flower type and you’re the type who’ll just shake off an accidental amputation, their recommendation might not be the best fit for you.
Review sites – Yelp, Google Places, Facebook, and many other sites let clients review a massage therapist. A note on Facebook: some businesses disable the reviews on their page because of problems with mobile users accidentally rating them – I’ve heard numerous stories of someone who had never been a client giving a one star review (Troll? Fat thumb syndrome? Hard to tell). So don’t jump to conclusions if their FB page has no or low ratings. A note on reviews in general: Read all reviews with a critical eye… Do the words and rating match, or does it remind you of one of those Amazon reviews where the reviewer gives the book 1 star because Amazon shipped it slowly, but when you read the review they rave about how great the book was? Do they give specifics as to what they liked or didn’t like? If it lacks specifics, might this be a client who’s disgruntled because they didn’t get a “happy ending” or couldn’t push the therapist to give them a discount or come in on their day off? It might it be the competition trying to make them look bad, or could it have been written by one of those people who aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about. Be discerning and use your best judgement.
Talk to other people who have the same problem as you – Find out which therapist and/or technique brings them the greatest relief. Every therapist has one or two things that they do better than anything else. It might be working on a specific area of the body (like neck & shoulders), or it might be a specific technique (like myofascial release). If the person giving the recommendation lives in your town, get the name of their therapist. If they live far away, knowing what kind of specialty you’re looking for in a therapist will go a long way toward helping find one in your town.
Technique listing sites – Many companies that offer continuing education train massage therapists in only one technique. Most of these companies will have a finder/listing service. If you’re looking for a therapist in your area who does a specific technique, this is the way to go. Most of these listings will state whether they are beginner, intermediate, or expert in the technique, and that’s very good to know. Simply Google the technique you want + practitioner finder. For instance, I just Googled “myofascial release practitioner finder” and the very first result was the John Barnes Myofascial Release Find-a-Therapist page. Be aware: These listings are NOT cheap, so there will be some very good therapists who aren’t listed. But the ones who do pay to list will likely have a very successful practice so you may have to book your appointment a few weeks in advance.
Professional Organization listings – ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals) and AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) are the 2 largest professional organizations for massage therapists and they both have free therapist finders. If you’re new to an area, vacationing, or just on a business trip, these finders can help assure that the therapist will be a professional. Both organizations make their members sign ethics agreements, have strict rules governing member’s behavior, and have continuing education requirements. Since membership in these organizations is strictly voluntary (I am unaware of any state requiring membership as a prerequisite to licensing) and not inexpensive, you know the therapist takes their job seriously. Click the links that follow to access ABMP’s practitioner finder and AMTA’s massage therapist finder
There are also some not-so-good ways to find a therapist, like…
Craigslist or Thumbtack – This will probably p*ss off a few of the massage therapists who read my blog, but I stick to it. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good therapists out there who advertise on these sites, usually early in their career (because they’re free listings) but there are a lot – and by that I mean A WHOLE LOT – of less than reputable people advertising on there as well. Add to that the number of people who use those services to find sexual services masquerading as massage and well… I think you get the picture of why it’s not in my top 5.
Yellow pages – yeah, you know… those big phone books that still get delivered to your door whether you want them or not. Very few massage therapists advertise in them, so you won’t get a good representation of who’s out there. Plus, the small ad size that most MTs would be able to afford (those things are ridiculously expensive) isn’t big enough to put in enough relevant information for you to make a truly informed choice.
Once You’ve Found a Therapist
It’s time to ask a few questions before booking your first appointment.
How long have you been a massage therapist? While longevity in the field is not a guarantee, it’s somewhere to start and does mean they have plenty of experience. Potential downsides to be on the lookout for: complacency, arrogance.
How long have you been doing this technique? (if you’re planning on booking a session for a specific technique) Again, you’re looking for experience. It isn’t always the panacea we think it should be, but it’s a good place to start. Potential downsides are the same as above: complacency and arrogance.
Where did you study that technique? If a therapist is offering a session in one particular modality, they should have training in it beyond massage school. Many schools give an intro to several advanced techniques during initial training. However, that’s usually only enough training to allow them to integrate a few moves into a regular massage session. If they give you the name of a training program, don’t be afraid to Google reviews of it. To stick with the myofascial example from above, I Googled Barnes myofasical release reviews. The first 4 results were for various pages of his website, but the 5th result was a blog post of a massage therapist reviewing the first class they took. Bingo!
Have you worked with many people with XYZ condition? What is your average outcome? (assuming you have XYZ condition and that’s why you’re looking for a massage therapist) Ideally, you want someone who’s treated many people with XYZ condition. Just how many is enough can’t be said because it depends on the rarity of the condition and the rarity with which people with the condition tend to get massage. Remember, just because someone hasn’t seen hundreds of clients with XYZ, if their average outcome is the type of result you’re looking for, they could be the therapist for you. Important note: If a therapist ever tells you that they have helped/cured every single client with XYZ, be leary. Be very leary. Very little in life is this cut and dried, especially our health.
What’s your approach to dealing with [my issue]? If they recite a rote routine that they do for everyone with that issue, you might want to reconsider. For instance if they something like “Well, everyone with [your issue] has [this underlying cause]” you may want to cross them off your list of potentials. You see, there are MANY reasons that you may have any particular issue. You really, really, really want a therapist who understands that principal. These therapists will use words and phrases like assessment, individual, integrated, it depends, and unique.
Now I’m curious… In the comments below, let me know how you found your current massage therapist.