It’s not your fault! What to do when clients don’t improve

When massage clients don't improve - Sage Institute of MassageIt’s a wonderful feeling, making a difference to people’s lives, especially when we can do this through our work. Fortunately with massage therapy, we’re often rewarded by watching our clients’ health and happiness improve. In fact, many people are drawn to massage therapy for this reason. It’s no surprise that newly graduated therapists find the positive feedback quite addictive! “Wow, everyone thinks I’m amazing! This is awesome, I just LOVE my job!”

Sometimes, though, as with any treatment or therapy, we can’t perform miracles. Massage therapy is a fantastically beneficial complimentary therapy that provides healing and relief for so many individuals, but no treatment is a panacea to all illness.

Professional objectivity

If you become too attached to your clients (also known as countertransference), there is a danger that you may become overly concerned if your client doesn’t improve. Sometimes massage therapists, usually those who are less experienced, will perceive an unsuccessful outcome for a client as a personal failure. It is important to learn to detach yourself from your client and think objectively about the situation.

You can support and treat your clients the best you can, change techniques, provide helpful homework, but the outcomes a patient experiences should not rest entirely on your shoulders. You can’t assume ownership of the health of another person. To do so is unhealthy for you, both personally and professionally.

Changing tack

We choose a starting point with every new client, using our education and experience to guide our decisions. But, as every individual is different – and responds differently to treatments, the outcome is not always predictable. Sometimes you will need to change treatments, or frequency of treatments. It may be necessary to look more closely at lifestyle habits and give prescriptive exercises to be completed in between sessions. Blaming yourself for any lack of progress is counter-productive, though. Experienced practitioners realise this and can distance themselves accordingly.

When to refer a patient on

when to refer a massage patient on - Sage Institute of MassageAny qualified and experienced practitioner will have confidence in their abilities, along with enough professional insight to know when something is beyond their skill set. In fact, clients will have deeper respect (and trust) for you if are able to tell them when you are out of your depth. After all, such transparency shows confidence and honesty, making clients more inclined to believe you when you tell them you can help them!

Sometimes, a client may not improve because the problem is not muscular. For example, pain in the back could come from a disc herniation or facet joint irritation that requires specific treatment from a physiotherapist or even a specialist doctor. Other times, a patient may have an underlying health problem such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia that needs to be diagnosed and treated first, before resuming any massage treatments.

Over time, try to develop relationships with allied health practitioners that you trust so that you can have a decent referral pool. When, on occasion, you do need to refer a client on because you are not able to help them, you will still have the satisfaction of making a difference by suggesting a different and more appropriate treatment option.

Finally, if you want to look at this from a business point of view and not for the benefit of the patient (although we hope that these two issues would be intertwined) by referring clients to other health practitioners when it is appropriate, it’s pretty likely that those other health practitioners will also refer some new clients to you.

Above all, be honest, do the best thing for the client and not your ego – and remember, somebody else’s health is not your success or failure.

Sage Institute of Massage – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

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