Knowing Your Client – What Works For One Person Doesn’t Work For All

In the early days of a massage therapist’s career, discovering which techniques work well in a treatment session can be baffling.

Is it deep tissue? Soothing strokes? Is it short sessions? Long sessions? Is it movement? Breath? Is it the clients’ mindset? Perceived value? Desire?

Somehow fumbling about in our dim-lit treatment rooms we establish our patterns of understanding, and hopefully we can match those up to our clients’ expectations.

But ask a room full of massage therapists what works can be maddening. Folks who otherwise feel compassion for others can get rigid about their thinking. After all, if something works for them, should it not work for everyone?

It’s a hard fact of life that what works for one person doesn’t work for all. Yet we as a profession are constantly trying to define and establish “scientific” protocols for what works. An effort of little reward, it seems, for therapists and their clients. It does seem to fill up chat rooms and discussion groups.

I saw a lot of this discussion in other professions, as I spent much of my first career reporting on medicine and health sciences. People in these professions don’t want to do any harm, but they want to alleviate suffering and improve lives. Complicating that is the fact that outcomes vary widely. Protocols often work far better for one doctor over another, and for one facility versus another.

The human factor, a long-time friend explained, is what drives people a bit crazy in clinical practice. Was it the protocol or the nurse/doctor/therapist/team/facility or the family prayer group in the waiting room? Is the new drug a wonder pill or is it the selection of patients and monitoring of its use?

I suspect the answers in massage therapy may be about as difficult to vet as it is in medicine. Meanwhile, we practice in the dim-lit rooms of our vocation. If lucky, our clients will tell us what we need to know.

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