The “Face Up or Face Down” Dilemma

As a massage therapist, and like many others, I love receiving massage. What I have found is that each massage experience is totally unique – therapists’ personalities, culture and skillsets offer an array of possibilities. While some experiences have guided me toward life changing insights, others have left me ticking down the seconds in my head wishing the massage over.

Massage is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get! O.K., I stole that line from the Forrest Gump movie, but it is true! I like to think that each interaction (be it giving or receiving) is somehow a learning experience.

After several years of being a client, I decided to no longer share the fact that I too am a massage therapist when visiting a new therapist. I have shared that information in the past and I’ve found that an “unnecessary dynamic or energy” often overshadows the session once that information is disclosed.

I believe it is better to go into a session and leave anonymously. I am not there on a professional level and I don’t spend my time on the table “judging or analyzing” the massage. My hope is to sink into the moment and become “one” with the ebb and flow of energy. Happily, this happens more often than not.

On four different occasions though, while receiving massage, I did decide to end the session. There were other times when I wanted to end the session but didn’t.

Sometimes a therapist can’t control their pressure and hurts me over and over again.  I’ve been booked with egomaniacs and therapists who talk too much. Occasionally a therapist feels that they know what I need more than I do. I’ve been told to change my diet, my habits and my expectations. Sometimes a therapist pretends to have the training or background in a type of therapy and they don’t.

I’ve had therapists drip sweat onto me, answer their phones while working with me, bang a gong in my ear, shine a bright colored light in my eyes, have their clothes, body, hair and jewelry drag across my body and have their dog stick their nose up into the face cradle leaving me with a lick!

Occasionally I feel I’m receiving a massage a therapist wants to give me, and not one I’ve requested.

Recently, while traveling in Miami, I went for a session with a therapist I have never seen before. I love to try out new therapists, especially those who come recommended by others.

I asked the therapist to specifically focus on my anterior lower legs and feet. I often work barefoot when giving massage and now have added a few cardio classes to my weekly schedule. My legs and feet were taking a beating.

The therapist instructed me to lie face down on the table and I immediately wondered why a therapist would have me lie face down when my primary focus was my anterior legs? Maybe she would be starting on my feet?

She expertly moved from my back to my glutes and calves, turning me halfway through the session. The entire first half of the massage I wondered when she was going to work on the areas I’d specifically asked her to focus on.

When the massage move to my anterior body, the therapist opened with scalp massage. I realized at that moment I was receiving a “routine” massage that the therapist liked to give (or receive) even though we spoke extensively about the reason for my visit.

Five minutes before the session ended, she found her way to my lower legs and feet – then the massage was over. Even though it was a good massage, I was disappointed and knew I would not return.

I have found that, in order to build a strong repeat client base, it is imperative to listen to and meet the needs of my client as soon as possible.

If a client schedules a session which revolves around hamstring pain, wouldn’t it be wise for me to open the session by addressing their hamstrings? In that case, wouldn’t it be wise for me to start my client face down on the table?

Notably, a client cannot relax when they are in pain. That’s why it is necessary to try to alleviate pain immediately so a client can relax into the session. This way, the client lets’ go of any expectations they have for the session because you have already met those expectations. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

The same goes for pectoral or ab work. Shouldn’t I start my client face up on the table and address those areas of concern first?

Of course other areas of the body are often the root cause for ongoing issues (agonist/antagonist), but those areas can be incorporated later on in the session (or during a follow up session).

Listening and incorporating ways to meet your clients’ immediate needs demonstrates a level of skill and professionalism that separates you from other therapists. Attention to details which matters to your client offers you an opportunity to build rapport and trust.

Nothing will make or break your business like “word of mouth” (good or bad).

Face up or face down shouldn’t depend on how you always like to start your massage but by what your clients’ immediate needs are and how to best position them on the table to meet those needs.

Jeannette, Massage CE Learning Tree

3 thoughts on “The “Face Up or Face Down” Dilemma

  1. This has happened to me too! It drives me crazy to pay for a massage and not have the therapist spend enough time on areas of pain. I’ve never had the nerve to end the massage but have wanted to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *