Test Driving a New Massage Therapist

steering wheel

I’ve recently started “test driving” some new massage therapists in the Louisville area in order to find a good match between what I need and the styles the massage therapists I try use. It’s rough trying out a new massage therapist. For those of you in Nashville trying out Andrea Mindigo or Margo Coppinger (or for those of you getting massage in Louisville trying ME out), here’s some advice on your first session or two with a new massage therapist.

Before I start, a note on semantics. You can only get a good massage if you’re ready to receive one. In fact, I thought about titling this post “How to Receive a Good Massage from a New Therapist.” You may be in the mourning process, in denial that your previous massage therapist is unavailable, or disappointed in other massage therapists you’ve tried because you’re looking for something very specific. You may know that you need a massage but not yet be ready to face facts that you’ve got to really commit to massage for a period of time in order to make a true difference in the physical issues you’re having.

Don’t Expect the Same Massage You’ve had from Other Massage Therapists

I admit I do this. I get on the table, and immediately have the tendency to compare the massage I’m receiving with the massage I got from other therapists. I try to let go and receive the massage that I’m being given. But that can be a challenge.

No two massage therapists are alike. And even going to the same massage therapist you may never receive the same massage twice. I couldn’t do two massages exactly the same if I tried. I depend too much upon feedback from the body and what I palpate while I’m working. I may start out thinking I know the issue, only to find while working that the problem is stemming from another location, or requires a different type of massage than I had planned.

Here’s what you should do: expect a different massage than you’ve had before. Be open to the differences in flow, technique and personality. Instead of thinking, “This isn’t how Heather does it,” try, “That’s different, let me see how this feels.” Instead of being quiet, communicate any immediate needs in pressure or comfort. Suggest things you know that help you when you’ve received other massages. A good massage therapist will welcome the feedback and input.

Expect a Different Level of Communication

The interaction I have with a new client is different than that of a client who has been coming to see me for years. The first time I see someone, s/he’s usually a stranger. I know the information on the intake form, and maybe some details from the initial intake interview, but I don’t know the details of the situation.

Oftentimes, what makes me comfortable with new massage therapists is the level of familiarity that comes from a few sessions and some sharing of personal information. I tell a few interesting stories, ask the therapists a little about themselves and their lives. By building that basic level of familiarity, I am more comfortable on the table.

And, if I’m the therapist, I’m more comfortable working with the client. Just remember, your last massage therapist was probably a stranger when you first met him/her, and it took time to develop a rapport.

Here’s what you should do: Share some basics about your personality, how you communicate, things important to you, hobbies, jobs, family, etc. to give the massage therapist a feel for you. Ask the massage therapist a few questions about her style, communication and background so you can become more comfortable with her.

Turn Off the Inner Dialogue

Here’s a little of the inner dialogue I have when I try a new therapist: “Margo doesn’t start me out face up. . . Oh, that’s way too light. . . No, no, too deep. . .  Andrea didn’t work my feet when I was face down. . . I like this music. . . Should I say something, that one spot is really tender? . . .  Waaaaay too much lotion. . . .  Oh, my god, that’s way to deep. Don’t hit the therapist. Don’t hit the therapist. . . What is s/he using? Thumbs, elbows, knuckles? . . . I wanted some stretching too, but s/he’s already moved on to the next body part.” You get the idea (If I’m honest there’s a little bit of, “I’m totally stealing that move. That rocks!”)

If I let myself, I have that running dialogue the whole massage. It’s not conducive to receiving a good massage. Instead of being in your body while you’re receiving the massage, you’re spending your massage caught up in your head, talking to yourself. One of the primary benefits of a massage is creating a fluid sense of embodied self. If you stay in your head, conversing with yourself about the massage, you’re not able to bring your focus to the work on the body. By moving your awareness to your body and quieting the mind, you are better able to receive the massage you’re being given. Which bring us to -

Be Aware During the Massage

The best compliment you can give a massage therapist is to bring your attention and focus to what you’re working on at the massage table. Put yourself in your skin and pointedly feel the sensation of the work you are receiving. Stop talking to yourself. Stop grading the therapist. Just be. Breathe.

In fact, an easy way to bring your focus back to the massage is to time your breath with the strokes of the therapist. For example, if the massage therapist is working along the spine, take a deep breath, and exhale during the long glide down your back. If the therapist is working the arm or the leg, focus your breath on the long, gliding motions often used during massage. If the therapist is doing still work, practice deep breathing once she settles in a place or while she’s holding a particular spot. Use your breath to focus on your massage rather than what’s distracting you in your mind. Remind yourself to do this each time the therapist starts work on a new part of the body.

And, if something feels fantastic, tell the therapist so s/he can keep doing it for a little longer! If something doesn’t feel good, let the therapist know right away. Once you bring your focus in to the sensation of receiving your massage, communication on things to make the massage better or make you more comfortable are excellent ways to build that rapport with your new therapist.

Expect and Embrace the Differences

No matter how much or how little experience this massage therapist has, chances are s/he’s bringing something unique to the table. Now, what s/he brings may or may not be what expected, but chances are, there will be a couple of things you enjoy and a few differences you might relish with a new massage therapist. At the end of the day, the massage therapist may not be a good match for you, but being open to a different type of massage or therapist may bring you an unexpected gift or moment. If the massage therapist isn’t a good match, be honest. Many times, a therapist will be able to help clients find a better match – either someone closer to their location or someone that has more experience in a particular style they want to receive.

Here’s what you should do: set your expectations before the massage. Here’s what I try to say to myself before receiving a massage from a new client (generally once I’m on the table, but before the therapist enters the room): “I know this massage will not be X’s massage, but if I communicate with him/her, and am open to something new, I will have a good experience.” And honestly, that really helps.


Maybe I’ve been able to give you a few pointers on how to test drive a new massage therapist. I hope so. The important thing to remember is that part of what makes a massage therapist a good match is not just the style of massage she performs, but also communication with her, and that takes time to build. It also has a lot to do with personality. Many people stay with massage therapists for years once they find one they like, so give yourself some time to find the right person. I like to give therapists a few sessions if they meet my basic needs to see if it’s going to be a good long term match.  And it may take some time to find the right match, but keep looking, and ask the massage therapists you know for recommendations.

photo credit: flickr.com CCL – user: paul posadas


  1. Andrea said,

    September 13, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Amen! Thank you for posting this.

  2. Heather Wibbels said,

    September 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    You’re welcome, Andrea – It’s only fair. I’m test driving new massage therapists too, and thought maybe others might benefit from from experience. :-)

  3. Randall said,

    September 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I loved the advises! So true!!!! I´m actually going to school with http://www.edmundmorganschool.com/ and it always helps me a great deal to get a scope like this! Thx Heather!

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