Working safely as a Massage Therapist

The recent rape of a massage therapist in Bellevue WA (which is a really upscale area of town!),  has brought up the real issues that every massage therapist will face at one time or another in their career as a massage therapist.  With so many TV shows depicting massage therapists as giving happy endings, it makes it challenging to keep the weirdos away and to keep yourself safe.  It gives people the wrong image of massage therapists.   I even have moments of ‘wondering’ about a new male client who is coming in when I am working alone in my office even though I have never had any problems in 24 years.   Even when there is none of the obvious signs that they are looking for something else, it can be difficult working alone as a massage therapist.

There are many things you can do to help keep yourself safe.

  • Don’t ever do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Don’t ever take any client that you feel uncomfortable with right from the beginning from the phone call or email.
  • Be confident and act confident even if you aren’t.
  • Be assertive.
  • Get an alarm system put in your office that has a panic button on it that can call the police.
  • If you are working alone, let someone know when you are supposed to be home or make a plan to call someone when you are done.  If you don’t call them by a set time, they will start looking for you or do what is needed (call the police!)
  • If you are going into a hotel, talk to the security people there and let them know where you will be and when you are supposed to be done.  Tell someone where you are at all times and text them or call them in between clients to let them know you are OK and on your way to the next appointment.
  • If you are going into a hotel, have the client meet you in the lobby and meet them in front of the desk clerk and tell the desk clerk you are there and going into the room.
  • Be sure to give someone your location at all times.  You can even go so far as to call or text in front of the client and say something like just letting my next client know I am coming or letting my husband know when I will meet him or something like that.
  • Keep your cell phone handy for emergencies.
  • Anything can be turned into a weapon – biofreeze in eyes, pens, massage tools
  • Keep pepper spray or mace or Wasp spry handy to spray in their face if needed.
  • Set and keep your boundaries at all times.
  • Take self defense classes.
  • Have an exit strategy all the time.
  • Pretend there is someone else in the office if you need to.
  • Let other people in your office building know if you are concerned about someone coming in if you can.
  • Screen clients carefully on the phone or through email.
  • Get their credit card information when they are a new client to secure their appointment time.
  • Don’t advertise on Craigslist or other places that do have a section that advertises those other types of massage places.  It is too easy to be confused.

Here are some things to beware of when people are calling:

  • Someone asking for a ‘full body’ massage- emphasizing the word full.
  • Someone sending you their picture when they are asking for an appointment.
  • Someone asking you to send you your picture before they come in for a massage.
  • You can usually tell by the tone in someone’s voice when they call.  Do they ask weird questions?  Can you feel them sweating already on the phone by their tone?
  • They also will ask:  Will you help me out if I get excited?” “Do you provide erotic massage?” “Will you massage my buttocks because that gets me excited?” “What will you be wearing during the massage?” “What do you look like?” “Can I massage myself during the session?” “Do you work the groin area? (from
    Outcall Service and Safety: Preparation is the Key to Success Business Side  Massage and Bodywork Magazine. )

You can do things like only take referrals from people that you know, but that does not always make it fool proof.  You can also do things like only take women clients.   Going into hotels or to people’s homes is one of the riskiest types of massage business.   I actually tell massage therapists that I am working with to find another way to get an office space as soon as you can.  It just isn’t worth it.   If you have to go into people’s homes, consider teaming up with someone and doing couples massage or don’t go into a home/hotel unless you have 2 people in the same location that want massage.

Other ideas to help prevent getting those kinds of clients (not that you can really, but do everything you can.)

  • Make sure you have only very professional pictures of yourself on your website and Facebook profiles.  No low cut tops, tank tops,  halter tops or anything revealing. (Yes I know that sounds innocent, but you don’t often know who you are dealing with.)
  • Don’t put pictures of yourself on your Facebook profile of you partying with your friends or engaging in unprofessional behavior.  (Keep it to yourself!)
  • Dress professionally to give yourself a more professional image. (Scrubs aren’t professional! Neither are red, halter top dresses – Yes I met a MT who was wearing something just like that and going into hotels!)
  • Share an office and have a plan not to be there alone ever.
  • Do thorough intakes with clients and start on the phone or email.
  • Become a part of the Real Massage Campaign and write a page on your website about it to help get the message to the public that massage is not to be confused with prostitution.
  • Form a email/meetup.com group where you can stay connected to your local massage therapists and keep each other informed of scams or questionable people or repeat offenders!

More articles:

Safety Lessons for Massage Therapists by Punkie Spelts

Massage Therapy World’s tweet chat on safety and security for massage therapists

Massage Magazine comments in response to a question about safety.

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