At some point in every massage therapists career, they will encounter clients who cause them much trouble. Luckily, most therapists seem to face this in school and so have teachers to help them deal with it. However, if you are like me, then you might not face this problem until later in your career.
I had been massaging for three years when I encountered my first troublesome client, and it was quite traumatic. I was working in an airport giving chair massage and foot massage. The week before I had been diagnosed with severe Pneumonia, but since I was still new and barely past my 90-day probationary period I went back to work a week earlier than my doctor had recommended. If you have ever experienced Pneumonia, you should know full well what this could mean, if you have not then let me tell you. It was hell! I was extremely weak, it took minimal effort to wipe me out physically, and I was on steroids that made me shake a lot.
My first day back we were slammed. It is a first come first served kind of place, and we were backed up for hours. One woman had been waiting since before my shift had started and I finally called her name out a couple of hours after I had begun. When I looked around she turned her nose up, nobody else moved. So I called her name again, she grunted then snapped at me, saying that I had pronounced her name wrong. I apologized then apologized again for the long wait. When I got her back to my station, I started to ask her my usual intake questions when she interrupted me, telling me what she wanted. Great, right? I thought so. As it turns out, what she said she wanted was not what she wanted. I did try to check in with her about halfway through the massage (it was a 30-minute massage), but she did not respond. After we had finished, she stood up and started crying. Thinking this was just an emotional release I asked her if she was ok, she responded: “Yes, I mean no!”. After that, she was very loud saying I did this, didn’t do that, made an official complaint. It was a royal mess.The assistant manager had to have a meeting with me over it-she is the person who dealt with the woman. She asked me what happened, I told her, and she said that I did nothing wrong. However,…now that I have more experience I can see where I did a couple of things wrong. First was apologizing to her, as if I did something wrong worth apologizing for. Second, when I checked in with her, and she did not respond, I should have stopped the massage and asked again. Third, I let her get under my skin. That was the worst thing I could have done. I am a great therapist; I just wasn’t her cup of tea that day. I still remember her name and I refuse to work on her ever again, but she was not the last troublesome client I have had. Luckily it gets easier each time it happens, and it happens less and less often as I learn different ways to deal with these people.
So what can we do about this kind of client? That depends on your work environment. If you are an employee chances are there is a policy in place with procedures on what you should do. If not then first try to find out if the client is upset with you or if they are upset about a situation, most often it is not the therapist but something that’s happening in their lives at the time. Once you have established what’s wrong (if you can) seek out a lead therapist or a manager to let them know what’s going on. You will want to do this as soon as possible, before the client leaves, if you can. Always keep a written record of these situations for yourself. Things sometimes come back to bite you later on; this will be your record from when it was still fresh in your mind.
If you are the boss, this is a little trickier. You will have to decide how much you want to retain the client and potential future clients they could bring to you. If it is something small or that is your fault I would suggest giving them a little extra of something, whether it is an upgrade, a discount on their current service or perhaps some product. It is completely up to you. Now let’s say it is something a little more significant, you may want to think about referring them to someone else you think could be a better therapist-to-client match or letting them go completely. Should you decide that it is best for your business to let them go altogether than be sure to be professional when you inform them of this. I keep a list of names of people whom I will no longer work on; I will likely never need to turn any of them away because I made sure that they knew that we were not a good match.
Most important is to have a good support system in place. If I did not have people who knew me and how great I am, I might have quit. Your first troublesome client can shake you to your core. So network with other therapists, talk to a counselor, a mentor, get massages, eat healthily, get enough exercise and sleep. These kinds of clients will allow you the opportunity to see what kind of a therapist and person you are; you can improve with every encounter just as I have. Do what you need to do to continue to be a great therapist.
I am rare in that I have known since I was a small child what I wanted to do with my life-be an excellent massage therapist! Even knowing that I wanted to be a massage therapist since I was three, I did not go to school right away. In fact, I had a job working in childcare for a few years before I even started looking into going to school for massage.
While working in childcare, I received a scholarship to become a teacher, which is great because while taking these courses I had an opportunity to learn how people learn. Even though I never completed college to become a teacher, taking these classes helped me learn something essential: the different styles of learning. There are three main ways that people learn; auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Most people learn primarily from one of these three ways, with one of the other two as a secondary, some people learn from all three ways. It is imperative to know what kind of learner you are. I learned that I am primarily a kinesthetic learner with a visual secondary, very little from auditory.
Knowing how I learn, it was time to find the right school for me. Given that massage is very hands on I did not think that I would have trouble finding a school that suited my learning style. However, in my search, I found that not all schools are equal. First I looked at the school my sister went to, a community college that had a cheap short program. While there was a decent amount of hands-on, there was also a lot more lecture, since I learned the least from auditory this was one ding against this school for me. Another downside to this school is, since it is not geared specifically towards massage there was only one teacher which limits how much you can learn and if you do not vibe with the one teacher the program could be unbearable. If you failed one portion of the program, you would need to start over from the beginning, rather than retaking the part that you failed. Finally, this college seemed to be geared more towards getting people in and out quickly-they teach you the basics so that you can pass the exams, but not much more than that.
The next four schools I looked at were more-or-less the same with some slight variations. Two schools did not return my call and one school that finally returned my call a year after I graduated from the school I ended up going to. Nearly ready to give up I decided to look at one last school, this happened to be more than twice as expensive as the second most expensive school in my area. I set up a meeting with an advisor to take a tour of the school, this school focuses solely on massage, had a few dozen teachers, and if you failed one class, you could retake that one class. Instead of everyone sitting at desks (even for the lecture classes) you can pull out tables to sit at, on or lay on or you can use the larger exercise balls for your seat, you can sit or lay on the floor. After speaking with my advisor a little more I decided that this be the school I wanted to go to, they care about the quality of the school, they prided themselves on their students consistently getting the highest marks on the exams. I was told that classes started in a few days. Otherwise, I would have to wait months. After a few minutes, I decided it was time to take charge and do what I wanted, no more making excuses for why I could not do it “now.”
Looking back I chose the perfect school for me; it was completely worth it.
So if you are considering becoming a massage therapist (or any other profession), figure out how you learn best then look into the different schools in your area. Try to find one that suits your learning needs. What’s most important to you? Tuition cost, how long you will be in school for, the quality of teaching, reputation of the school, how you learn, or something else.
Whatever you choose, good luck and if you start it and find it is not the right fit for you, don’t feel too pressured to stay at that school.