Creating Self-Care Programs for Massage Clients

Help your clients extend the benefits of massage through the use of self-care practices they can do on their own.

March 15, 2015

If you have clients you know would benefit from self-care practices they could use between massage sessions, knowing when and how to offer up this information can be challenging.

What if the client isn’t looking for self-care tips? For those who are interested, how can you make sure the information is easy to understand? How can you help ensure clients will actually practice self-care? (Hint: You probably can’t, but there are ways you can increase the potential for compliance).

When considering how you might better help your clients extend the benefits of massage through the use of self-care practices they can do on their own, clear communication and investment on the client’s part are key. Following are some great tips aimed to help you better help your clients.

Developing Communication Skills

You communicate with clients all the time, whether you’re reaching out to remind them of the benefits offered by massage therapy, gathering important information during intake or checking in with them during a session. When educating your clients in self-care practices they can do in-between massage sessions, many of the same rules apply. “The communications skills necessary for teaching self-care to clients are the same as those the massage therapist needs during a session,” explains Kathy Paholsky, a massage therapist and educator from the Waller Wellness Center in Rochester Hills, Michigan. “It’s about sharing information in a manner that is understandable and useful for all involved.”

Related: Tips for Better Client Communication

According to Paholsky, the key components of effective communication are authenticity, humility, warmth, rapport, clarity and focus.

Authenticity: “Be real and honest in your dealings with others, and know what you are talking about,” Paholsky says. “Your body language will reflect the truth.”

Humility: You should be confident in your knowledge, Paholsky advises, without passing judgment. “It’s not about what you know or how smart you are,” Paholsky adds. “It’s usually about how much you care.”

Warmth: Maintaining and reinforcing your professional boundaries doesn’t mean you can’tbe accessible and approachable to your clients.

Rapport: “It is the role of the massage therapist to develop and maintain rapport with the client,” Paholsky notes. “Respect and courtesy are reflected in what we say and how we say it.” Simple measures like maintaining eye contact can go a long way to establish respect and develop rapport with a client.

Clarity: “Speak clearly, concisely and calmly when making statements or asking questions,” Paholsky advises. Clear communication can help you avoid unwanted misunderstandings.

Focus: “Listen more than you speak,” Paholsky recommends. “It’s the only way to hear what is and is not being said.” Through focus and active listening, you will be able to better understand your clients and address their needs. “Active listening provides the groundwork to facilitate discussion and achieve better results,” Paholsky adds. “Active listeners will ask relevant questions that can directly impact client satisfaction by making sure they are heard.”

Creating Effective Massage Client Self-Care Instructions

When it’s time to discuss self-care practices with your client, you need to take great care with the way you talk about what you want them to do. The most effective instructions consider steps, time, expectations, problems, goal and intent. When demonstrating new techniques, Paholsky advises trying to incorporate as many different learning styles as possible by following a specific order:

  • First, have your client watch you perform the self-care practice. This is most beneficial for visual learners. “Don’t talk and show at the same time with something new,” recommends Paholsky.
  • “Ask the client to demonstrate the self-care activity and [have] them explain their understanding of the connection to short- and long-term goals,” Paholsky says next. This will appeal to kinesthetic learners the most, but will also help all your clients better understand how the activity relates to their health and wellness.
  • Then, have your client explain the process. Doing this will be most beneficial for verbal learners, but also allows you to assess your client’s understanding of the self-care activity.
  • Finally, have the client watch you again with their hands on your shoulders. This practice helps tactile learners to mentally reinforce the process.

Remember that when designing a self-care plan, you should consider your client’sindividual needs. Think about what they liked most or found most beneficial during the massage. Just as you would individualize a client’s regular massage session, so too you must consider individual needs and preferences when discussing their self-care plan.

Don’t get discouraged, however, if you run into some challenges when designing a self-care plan around your client’s individual goals. To better work through any obstacles, Paholskyrecommends enlisting the help of your client. “Sometimes the challenge comes in when we attempt to figure out what activity will work best to address the problem,” Paholsky says. “Don’t hesitate to get the client involved as you look for a solution.”

Consider this example: You see a client for discomfort in the shoulders and neck, primarily from sitting at a computer all day without taking breaks. Paholsky suggests demonstrating a shoulder stretch that would help loosen the muscles and reduce discomfort. “As I do a demo, I might say ‘Here’s what I would do to help my shoulders. Try it, then let me know how you could change it to make it work for you,’” she says. By involving the client directly in the development of their self-care plan, you increase their understanding of the self-care practice as it relates to their long-term goals.

Obstacles to Compliance

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when designing a self-care plan is the fact that most clients see massage therapy as a passive activity. “Part of our responsibility as therapists is to educate them on the benefits of massage as part of their health and wellness maintenance,” says Paholsky. “Self-help activities between sessions can do much to improve their well-being.”

Again, one way to increase compliance is to include the client in the process of developing the self-care plan. “Humans have a fundamental need for autonomy and self-determination,” Paholsky explains. “When you give your clients an activity, give them some options and allow them to be involved in the planning, especially when it comes to the frequency of performing the activity.” By including the client in the development of their own self-care plan, you not only increase their understanding of the treatment but also the likelihood that they will follow through.

You also need to ensure that the client fully understands the self-care practice you recommend, as sometimes issues arise because the client doesn’t understand what you demonstrated. “It’s important that they have reference information so they know if they’re missing a step or ‘doing it wrong,’” Paholsky says. “A handout with illustrations, photos and/or step-by-step instructions can be beneficial. It’s also helpful to review the dos and don’ts. Just saying that it shouldn’t hurt may not be enough. Instead, describe what they can expect to feel during and after the activity.”

Other barriers to compliance include lack of time and enjoyment. “Remember to ask if the client would like some maintenance activities outside of the session,” Paholsky cautions. “Sometimes in our eagerness to show them ways to reduce a problem, we overlook their lack of desire to work on the issue outside of the treatment room.” Communication is as much about listening as being heard. While it is important to properly communicate the benefits and techniques of self-care, it is equally important to recognize when your client is not interested in self-care activities.

Avoiding Misunderstanding

When communicating with your clients, one of the most important things to keep in mind is clarity. Clear communication, free of misunderstanding, is vital to the health of the relationship between you and your clients and ultimately your ability to help your client. “Make sure you understand where the problem lies,” Paholsky instructs. “Ask the client to describe where they may sense any difficulties or misunderstanding between what you’veshown and how it works for them.”

Remember, too, that you may need to make adjustments. “Even with the best listening skills and understanding of the client’s goals, it’s not uncommon to go through trial and error on determining what works best as an adjunct to the treatment sessions,” Paholsky notes. “When they return for another session and tell you that they weren’t able to practice, listen to what they’re telling you. Find out where the problem occurred—was their life too busy, was the self-help practice confusing, did it not address the issue as they had hoped?” Whatever the problem, listening to your client’s concerns is the most important step toward finding a solution. “You may know more about massage,” Paholsky says, “but they know more about their own body and what does or doesn’t work for them.”

Just like you might have clients who are not interested in self-care activities, you might also have clients who are overeager. For these clients, you need to explain that working the muscles too hard might actually be detrimental to their long-term goals. “The same is true with clients who may seem overeager to perform a self-help activity in a manner that could be harmful,” Paholsky advises. “Don’t hesitate to explain how doing too many repetitions or at too intense of a manner can be detrimental in reaching goals.”

If you didn’t want to help people feel better, whether that’s relieving pain or keeping stress in check, you probably wouldn’t be in the massage therapy profession. And part of guiding your clients in achieving their long-term health and wellness goals sometimes includes helping them take better care of themselves between massage therapy sessions. Giving clients self-care practices can be a great way to extend the benefits of a massage therapy session. And knowing how—and when—to provide self-care practices is a great place to start.

Be aware of scope of practice. When providing your clients with self-care practices, you need ot make sure you're staying within your scope of practice. Before making any recommendations, check with your state's massage therapy regulatory authority to ensure they are within the state's defined scope and standards of practice for massage therapy.