Communication In Massage Therapy

how to communicate as a massage therapist

Learn How to Communicate Massage Students

Did you ever have a massage and spend way too much time wondering if it was all “normal?”  Since beginning my journey as a student, I’ve been asked a lot of things….like:

  • How much clothing is normal to take off?
  • How do I tell the therapist that there is too much pressure (or too little)?
  • How do I ask my therapist to stop talking….or am I talking too much?

I honestly think that many of these questions and others can be easily addressed by your therapist during scheduling or intake. So, where does that leave us? Well, if you are entering the field of massage therapy in hopes that you won’t ever have to talk to your clients, it may be time to look into other fields.


Communication is an essential skill to develop for a great therapist.  As an educator in human services, I teach a lot of communication skills within my classes and I’m usually a bit surprised by what the students DON’T know.

Most higher education programs include some type of formal communications training.  Massage school should be no different.  This is especially relevant given the diversity of students entering massage therapy programs: from recent high school graduates to retirees…woman and men from so many different backgrounds!

The same is conversely true of our clientele…but we have a responsibility to communicate at a professional level as ambassadors of our profession. So, the gist of this (from my soapbox) is to make sure that you are attending a program that emphasizes the importance of professional communication…using appropriate medical terminology.

Learn the Talk

I speak to appropriate medical terminology from a variety of backgrounds.  If I see a client who has a skin irritation of some sort, it is out of the scope of my practice to diagnosis this.  But, my notes and documentation of what I observed and my treatment plans need to be written in a concise and clinical manner.  Additionally, my verbal and non-verbal communication patterns need to be professional and competent.

So, in addition to the actual communication instruction and practice, we want to be aware of using proper terminology from the anatomy, physiology and pathology of the specific client diagnosis that we are working with.  Let me be clear: the diagnostics are either self-reported by the client or that individual’s physician, PT, chiropractor, etc.

Communication is worth so very many blog posts, but for today, just know the importance of communication instruction within the context of your educational program.  Questions to ask an admissions representative include:

  • Is there a communication course included in the program or is specific communication instruction present in coursework?
  • How do you address teaching students how do a comprehensive and appropriate intake?
  • Do you discuss cultural communication differences within the program?
  • Is there ample clinical opportunity to role play communication skills?
  • If the answer to any of the above is “no,”  why?

You, as a student, are paying a large amount of money for an educational program that meets the requirements of your particular state…AND prepares you to be a competent professional in the field.  Our livelihood is dependent upon customers and even more so….repeat customers and referrals.  Make communication a priority in all areas of your life…written: social media, publications, business cards and materials; oral: interactions with anyone you meet; and non-verbal: again, every single interaction.

Now….back to the initial questions:

  • How much clothing is normal to take off?
    • Whatever you are comfortable with.  I tell my clients to undress to their level of comfort.  Am I able to have better access when someone takes off their underwear?  Absolutely!  But I would rather have a comfortable repeat client than a good access one time.  Even I prefer to have my underwear on…but I’m learning
  • How do I tell the therapist that there is too much pressure (or too little)?
    • Your therapist should be checking in on how much pressure works best for you.  But, I want to know.  Would you prefer more or less pressure…is there pain…please tell me.  It’s important to me to give you the quality work that you are looking for.  Pressure is truly individual.  There is no need for pain.
  • How do I ask my therapist to stop talking….or am I talking too much?
    • You aren’t talking too much.  It’s your session…you are paying for my time.  Please feel free to talk.  If your talking is interfering with my work, I’ll address it.  If I as a therapist am speaking too much….ask me if it’s possible to work in silence or with just music.  Be direct.

Do you have other questions?  Areas of concern or things you are simply curious about?  Let me know…I’m happy to answer.  Until next time…breathe!