5 Common Mistakes Massage Therapists Make
1. Using too much oil or lotion. This is such a rookie mistake and easy to avoid if you time your time and don’t rush. If you want to make your client feel like a basted turkey, go ahead and slap that oil on without a care. On the other hand if you want to still be able to palpate the subtleties of the musculature beneath and work with the tissue and not just over it - apply just a little to the palm of your hand each time and apply evenly with a supple hand and a firm contact. It’s a more pleasant feel for your client too.
2. Using the wrong type of oil or lotion. All oils are not made equal and many just aren’t suitable for bodywork. Some are too greasy, some feel tacky, some don’t offer enough glide, some have ingredients that can trigger an allergic reaction and others just don’t smell too great. You can also end up paying an absolute premium for something which still doesn’t rock your world. In my opinion simplicity is the best way to go, and if you bear in mind that many schools of thought suggest that you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth…a good quality food grade virgin coconut oil is an excellent choice. Not too greasy at all and as it is readily absorbed by the skin, if added in small amounts it can give a pleasant silky glide whilst still allowing enough purchase on the tissue for the fibrous areas that need extra attention. Just be sure to keep it around the 18-22 degree mark and it will be very easy to work with.
3. Talking too much…or not enough. As an accomplished therapist you need to stay aware of your client’s needs. I’m almost always client led in this respect. In most cases I like to check in once or twice max during the session in regards to pressure and whether I’ve ‘hit all the right spots’ on that area. Using the method of getting feedback on every single point or stroke can get somewhat tiresome for both parties. Receiving bodywork is a golden opportunity for a client to get out of their head and into their body, so if you’re constantly shifting focus back into the busyness of their head you may be doing them a dis-service. On the other hand, your clients’ physical and emotional comfort need to be a priority and I do find that talking back helps some new clients get a little more comfortable with the process. For this type of situation I may employ a ‘speak if spoken to’ approach until they are gently lulled into the slumber of their parasympathetic nervous system. On other occasions where it seems valuable and appropriate the session may even be spent coaching them and getting them to reflect with insightful questions. This is most often when I get the feeling that there is an emotional or behavioural blockage which is preventing progress in the physical body.
4. Only having one routine. You potentially have an infinite number of different bodies and personalities walking through your door, so if you think that one set of moves will satisfy all of them? Think again. Even your individual client’s needs are likely to differ from session to session so it’s vital that you stay responsive to this by having a comprehensive enough repertoire that you can stay flexible. For this you may need to either time a session well enough to cover more extensive ground in a general or maintenance type treatment or swing the opposite way and perform detailed ‘spot work’ where you offer your most focussed and detailed work on a specific body part for a prolonged period of time.
5. Not listening to your clients requests. A high level therapist will be on the lookout for all sorts of non-verbal cues that will help them maximise the level of comfort and empathy they can offer the client. Very often a client will say they are comfortable or happy out of politeness, but it’s up to you to notice if there is an incongruence with their verbal answer and their body language. If so, then suggest trying something else or asking them how you could make them even more comfortable or satisfied and remind them how important this is to you and for the outcome of the session. If you are new to the profession you can absolutely be forgiven for missing this the first few occasions, but if you want to take your service to the next level your awareness needs to expand and you need to incorporate this as a skill. At the other end of the spectrum a client can make a specific verbal request or instruction and you don’t act on it, don’t expect them to be coming back anytime soon. This seems to be one of the biggest downfalls of a lot of therapist I have seen and it’s a sure fire way to leave someone feeling misunderstood and dissatisfied.
If you take care of these few small details, it’s super helpful to the folk who walk through your door and it’s good for business too as it will increase the likelihood of repeat custom. If you enjoyed reading this piece then please share with friends or colleagues and sign up to my blog at
Alexander J.P. Boylan BSc(Hons) MBAcC is an accomplished Therapist, Tutor, Writer and Wellbeing enthusiast with over 13 years’ experience in the field of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.