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How To Find a Massage Therapist
According to the Experts

By Ruthanne Johnson, CMT

Whether new to massage therapy or long time patron, there eventually comes a time when massage recipients need to seek out a therapist. But how do you go about looking for one? Should you take your chances with the phone book, or ask coworkers or friends to recommend someone? Should you try newspaper ads, the Internet, or maybe a day spa? Considering your experience receiving massage, do you know what to look for in a massage therapist, and, for that matter, are you even aware of your needs during a massage session?

These questions usually don't enter our minds until we are in dire need of bodywork, and by that time most of us tolerate whatever comes down the pike. Many times we end up trying four or five massage therapists before finding one that we feel comfortable with. Most retail consumers do research before large purchases, and massage therapy should be no different. Besides, these body workers are doing just that -- working on your body. So wouldn't it make sense to make sure your educated before choosing a therapist? By doing a small amount of prep work and telephone interviewing you can save money, time, and effort. And you will, most likely, end up forming a long lasting, symbiotic client/therapist relationship much more quickly than when "playing the field."

"Before people choose their own, personal massage therapist, they should understand some basic information regarding the massage therapy industry," advises Ellen Oliver, Intern Coordinator and Certified Massage Therapist at Heritage College in Denver, Colorado. Remember the following tips as you begin your search:

The therapist should be certified or licensed by the state in which they practice. Most states require licensing for practicing massage therapists. This ensures they have been professionally trained and can properly treat your needs. If certified, the therapist will have an abbreviated, professional designation that represents a basic level of training. Depending on the state, therapists will carry either a CMT (Certified Massage Therapist) or LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist) behind their name. Also look for a license or certificate in their office. Additional certifications might include: SMT (sports massage certified), NMT (neuromuscular certification), or NCMT (nationally certified massage therapist). When in doubt, ask the therapist what the letters mean.

Massage therapists should carry professional malpractice insurance. Massage therapists should always maintain a level of professionalism that keeps your best interests in the forefront. Malpractice insurance is particularly important regarding massage sessions paid by your insurance, and most insurance companies will ask for a copy of the therapist's state certification as well as her insurance certification.

It is very beneficial for massage therapists to keep session (SOAP) notes. Although not absolutely necessary, this can help the therapist become more familiar with your needs, especially infrequent clients. They can easily look in your chart and know the body areas worked on in the last session. SOAP charting is also important for insurance claims.

Is the therapist certified in any other modalities? Other modalities might include; reflexology, sports massage, infant massage, cranialsacral, lymphatic drainage, neuromuscular massage, or rolfing. Oliver suggests, "If you are not familiar with the technique, ask the therapist to explain." Another great resource for becoming more knowledgeable regarding massage therapy is on the Internet, at your local library, or one of the many massage schools around the country.

Now that you understand the basics, you can begin the process of finding a massage therapist. Next, you must assess the reasons you seek bodywork and then discern what you desire from the massage session. Ann Stahl at the Center for Advanced Therapeutics in Denver suggests, "The more familiar you become with your own physical and emotional needs, the better equipped you will be in choosing the right therapist for you."

STEP 1: Start with a short list of questions asking yourself why you want bodywork. Once you understand your own needs, you can better assess the qualifications of potential therapists. Here are a few examples of questions you might consider:

Is my therapy for injury rehab or sport training enhancement?
I looking for relief from physical or emotional stress?
Is the massage for general body health and maintenance?
Is the massage for general aches and pains?
What areas of my body are stiff or in pain?
What areas will I want the therapist to focus on during the session?
How far am I willing to travel for a good massage therapist?
Will I want to set up a weekly or monthly schedule for massage?

With a good base of questions, now you can comfortably begin to contact and interview massage therapists.

STEP 2: Start with a basic list of questions to ask your potential therapist. The more you know about the therapist, the better able you will be in determining if they will be a good fit for your needs.

Layman's Corner: 10 Questions That Are a Must
1. Are they licensed or certified in the state in which they operate?
2. Do they have malpractice insurance?
3. How much do they charge? Make sure the therapist is within your budget range.
4. Where are they located? It is best to find a therapist close to home. Less drive time equals less stress.
5. What type of experience do they have?
6. What other techniques are they qualified to perform?
7. Do they have experience with your needs?
8. What is their specialty?
9. How long have they been in business?
10. Do they give discounts (first-time massage, senior citizens, students)?

STEP 3: Where to begin your search. Most times you probably end up asking family or friends if they know of a good massage therapist. Sometimes that works well enough, but it can mean traveling far from home. Other times you might look in the phone book for a day spa near your home. Either of these can be good resources, but here are a few other suggestions and as well as some precautions offered by Fran Cegalka, owner of the Institute of Therapeutic Massage Movement in Nashville, Tennessee, and Dennis Simpson, owner of The Colorado School of Healing Arts in Denver, Colorado:

Phone book: Many (but certainly not all) massage therapists and day spas are listed in the yellow pages under Massage, Massage-Therapeutic, or Spas-Beauty and Day. When looking by name in the phone book, always look for certification letters after the listed name. Many times it is hard to speak and ask questions of a day spa therapist, but professionalism is almost certain in these operations.

Referrals: This can be a great resource because the therapist been tried and tested by a family member, friend, or coworker. But sometimes your referral source may not live close to you and, therefore, the therapist may be a good distance from your home. Also, just because the therapist was referred by someone you know, don't feel obligated to continue seeing them if you do not enjoy their work.

Massage School Clinics: Although not common knowledge, this resource is gaining much popularity because of its value. The benefits include low cost, professional location, and students well versed in the latest techniques. These clinic students have all but graduated from programs and are eager to please. Many times, massage patrons will become a "regular" of an exceptional student after graduation. Communication between student and massage patron is essential when using this resource.

Newspaper ads: When trying to grow a business, massage therapists sometimes use local advertisements such as newspapers, flyers, or mailers. They may even offer holiday specials or incentives of some kind. This is a good opportunity to try therapists at a discounted price.

Chiropractor/Primary Care Doctor: Most chiropractors integrate massage therapy within their practice. These body workers usually have good experience with specific trauma work and can be very intuitive.

The Internet: Massage trade magazines such as ABMP and many of the Massage trade associations have websites and list qualified therapists on their sites. This can be a wonderful resource for folks that travel.

Ruthanne Johnson, CMT, is a journalist in Denver.




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