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.