Interviewing Massage Clients

The Client Interview
The Massage Client Interview is one of the most important parts of the massage session.
The Interview is how you gather information on what the client expects from their session as well as what they need.  It will help you create a plan of action in applying what you know about massage and help you to perform an effective massage.  It is the beginning of educating your clients about massage and what it is that it does and what you do specifically with massage.  It also sets the stage for building trust and for starting the therapeutic relationship with a client.

You can start with an intake form with the standard information you want to collect but the real interview is where everything starts.   Be sure to have a private area where you can ask these detailed questions or you can also ask during the session as you go.

What you really are doing is trying to get to the heart of why they are there so that you can address their needs and fulfill them in your massage session.  Often people don’t know the real underlying reason for seeking massage, but their main goal is always to get out of pain or have less stress.  What they really want is a better life that allows them to do more when they are pain free or have less stress.  Getting to these real issues can help you in creating a treatment plan for them that includes repeat sessions for achieving that.

People also do not always want to share their information either for personal reasons or they just really do not know that this information could help them get a better massage.  Because of transference and the power differential, clients often expect you to read their minds and just know what they need.  I know for me when I get a massage, it is really hard to talk.  I often go to a place deep inside part relaxation and probably part early childhood.  The way touch makes people feel nurtured and cared for will do that.

It also helps to track what they say so you can bring that information into the next sessions.  You can show progress that way too as they often may not seem like they are progressing but taking notes can help you to show them their progress. Here are some things to remember when talking with clients:

  • Be sensitive to the personal information you will be getting from each client.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal factors such as posture, gait and holding patterns of the body.  Be aware of your own body language too.
  • Learn to communicate just what it is that you do in a massage or what happens when different massage is applied to the body in different ways and explain what is best for their condition
  • Allow enough time to complete a thorough interview.  You can also ask questions as you are working
  • Use active listening and show that you understand the client by para-phrasing or telling them what you heard them say
  • Ask yes or no questions and also open ended questions.
  • Most of the healing process happens in just being heard and acknowledged.  It is part of the therapeutic relationship.

Create an intake form to make the process easier asking the questions you want to ask there first.  Expand on them in the verbal interview.

Just asking the standard questions to rule out contraindications is really just the beginning of a good massage client interview.  Engaging clients in their own healing process and becoming aware of their bodies is crucial for helping people to feel better and to also build your massage business.
What most people need no matter what they are suffering from or dealing with is to be listened too and believed.  Just the act of listening can give people such a sense of relief and start the healing process.  It doesn’t really matter what technique you use in your massage session.

Learning to listen is often a difficult challenge for massage therapists.  It is also about asking the right questions of clients to get them to open up about their real issues.  This isn’t psychotherapy but getting people to become more aware of their bodies.

Most massage therapists are taught to ask questions so that they will understand the clients condition better and know how to use their techniques on a client.  This assumes that knowing about the condition will help find a solution or fix the problem.  Most often issues do not have just one pat answer.  When you change the goal of asking questions to one of empowering clients rather than fixing them the massage client interview will look quite different.  It puts healing back in the hands of the massage client and focusing on what the client wants to have in their life rather than focusing on the problem.  Empowering clients help clients discover their own powers of healing and helps guide them out of the victim mode that so often goes along with injuries and illness.

A great book to help you to think of the massage client interview in a very different way than just trying to fix clients issues is called “Interviewing for Solutions by Peter DeJong.  In it he describes a process of learning to interview clients with the goal of helping them to come up with their own solutions.  Asking questions usually shows more about the person asking the question and their views and values.  Being able to set your views and agendas aside will be the constant challenge for massage therapists especially since they are often taught to fix in massage schools.
Using open ended questions can help.  These are questions that open up a clients perspective.  They can’t be answered with just yes or no.  Once the question is asked active listening is used to repeat the information back to the client so that clarification can be made.

  • Great people as they arrive – shake their hand, look them in the eye.  Make them feel comfortable.  After all they are coming into a strange office to take their clothes off and have someone they don’t know – touch them.
  • What brings you in for a massage today?
  • How long have you felt this way?
  • Have you had this before?
  • When was the last time you had a massage?
  • Do you know what causes the pain/condition?
  • Do you do anything that makes it feel better?
  • Does it stop or hinder you from any of your daily activities?
  • Have you used massage before for this condition and did it work?
  • Don’t use technical terms or names of muscles as you talk.  Most do not know what you are talking about.
  • Ask them what they do for a living and what hobbies or activities they pursue.  That can often give you clues about what is needed.  A chef will be using different muscles than someone sitting at a computer all day.
  • Have you had massage before for this condition? Did it help?  What type of massage was it?  This can help you assess things more.

You also might want to explain why you are asking so many questions.  Some people get put off by it all and have ‘form’ overwhelm.

Ask questions when looking them in the face.  If you are asking while they are on the massage table, move to where they can see you if possible.  If they are face down, that of course is not always possible.

At the end of the interview you want to know why people are there and be able to create a plan of working on the areas that are needed in order to get results.  There is nothing worse than going to a massage therapist and telling them your left leg hurts and then they never touch it.

Some of this information is to rule out contraindications and create a plan, but it is also about creating a connection with the client.  They want to know that you understand what they have and will be able to help them.  They want to feel heard.  They want to feel understood more than anything.  They often will feel worried about their health and may feel like that they are the only person in the world that feels that way.  What they really want to know is if you can help them with what THEY have going on.

Being able to communicate with clients in this way requires that massage therapists be able to set aside their own views and really listen to the client.  This process can be made easier when the massage therapist engages in supervision to work in getting their own needs met outside of the massage office.  In doing so, it allows the massage therapist to be more fully focused on the massage client rather than on their own need to fix.  Supervision can also help massage therapists become more aware of their own fixing and helping issues which will lead to a higher level of integrity in a massage business which often is what will also create a more profitable and successful massage business.

Rebooking Clients

This whole process is also about educating clients about their bodies and about how massage can help them achieve their goals.  Many do not understand how massage works and will expect to be ‘fixed’ in one session.   The goal is to get regular weekly massage – yes weekly.  Somewhere along the line we have gotten away from the weekly massage session and people have started to think that once a month is enough.   (Can you guess where that comes from?)  Most of my practice over the last 28 years have been working on people once a week for over 15-20 years – yes they really do come that often and for that long.  People may also ask how often they should come in.  Don’t be afraid to say once a week.  I even had a few clients who came in 2x a week for over 20 years and when I tell people that, you can see the jealous look in their eye.  They need to give themselves permission to give that to themselves, no matter what the cost.

Your website is also the first place to start educating clients about this.  You should have articles on just that and a separate article on the many conditions you work with or a few good articles on stress and how regular weekly massage helps with that.

At the end of the session, people should understand that coming weekly will help them achieve their goals not only for having less pain, but for having a better life.  I had a client who said it best – “I came in with neck pain and didn’t expect to leave feeling nicer towards my co-workers and partner”.

The real benefits of massage are:

  • Feeling lighter and happier
  • Being able to sleep better
  • Being able to work with a clearer mind and more energy
  • Having more energy and being pain free for engaging in family life
  • Having more energy and being pain free for engaging in hobbies and activities.

People want to run faster, jump higher and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  The want to hike more, work in the garden more, play with their kids more.  They want to have more efficient workouts and feel more at ease walking down the street.

You just have to ask them to come back next week.  Simple right?  So much fear is associated with asking a client to rebook.  Will it be too pushy to ask?  Will you come off as greedy?  Will you be too intrusive?  Is it too much to ask?  Working through some of these fears and issues is really a process.  Get support.

You also have to know some of the reasons people say that they won’t come back.  One of the most common is that there was too much pressure or not enough pressure.  This is part of the conversation that can start in the interview process but it continues on into the session.  You have to stop asking – is the pressure OK?  Be more specific.  Is this pressure deep enough or is it too much pressure?  People don’t actually know that they can speak up about this.  Read more on getting the pressure jussst right. (on my other site – www.massagepracticebuilder.com)

Listening

While this may seem like a lot of questions that take a lot of time, most of this is really just listening to what the client needs and stepping out of the way to let them figure out what they need in order to feel better.  It is the focus of a client-centered relationship.  It is not about you always giving advice.  It is helping them to come to the conclusion that they need more massage on their own really.  It really should not take more than 5 minutes if that. It takes practice to get it down to that though.  It is an art form.  That means you can’t be thinking things like when do I get lunch today or even thinking about your next questions.

Open ended questions can help in this process.  Open ended questions are like ‘what brings you in for massage today’, where the client has to give more than a yes or no answer.  When they reply, you pick out specific things that they say that catch your attention and ask something more about that.  It is called reflective listening.

You can also use this information to follow up in an email or text with someone (with permission that you get on the intake form and have outlined on your HIPAA policy).  You can ask how is your shoulder doing or ask some question about the session.   Use specific words that they might have used.