Let’s face it. Not all the massages we’ve gotten in our past were what we were looking for. Either we just wanted to relax and had a therapist dig their elbows in our back, or we wanted some deep work and the therapist was giving us a Swedish massage that was way too light. But I have good news for you. It doesn’t have to be that way in the future. All you need to do is a little prep work and you can ensure that you only enjoy the session but that you’re also satisfied with the results. After all, you’re spending time and money on the session, you might as well have it meet your expectations. If you’ve ever had to withstand a full 60 or 90 minute massage with a therapist who simply wasn’t to your liking, you know that it can ruin your whole experience. Heck, I’ve even gotten a massage that made me more stressed than I was before!

Here are some tips to choosing the right massage therapist for you:

Know your goals

We’re all looking for something different from a massage. It’s important to ask yourself what you’re specifically looking to get out of the treatment. Are you looking for pain relief in a particular region of your body (i.e. tense neck and shoulders), treatment for a medical condition such as tennis elbow or an entrapped nerve, or are you just looking for some stress relief or just want to enjoy the simple yummy-ness of getting a massage.

Different modalities of massage aim to achieve different results and outcomes so knowing what your goals are in advance will ensure that you choose the right therapist for you, as different therapists are not only trained in different modalities but they also specialize in different techniques. For instance, if you’re an athlete, you may be interested in seeing someone who is trained in dealing with injuries or reducing recovery time so you can perform better. Or, if you’re just stressed out and want some general tension relief most therapists should be able to help if they’re good.

Learn about the various modalities that are available

There are numerous massage methods that therapists can be trained in. Learning a bit about what types of practices are available in your area may help you determine the best technique that will achieve your treatment goals. For instance, if you’re just looking for what I call a “feel-good” massage, a.k.a Swedish/relaxation massage, then a regular spa massage would suit you just fine. However, if you’re looking for specific work such as reducing pain or releasing tension in a particular area, then perhaps you should find someone who is trained in deep-tissue, medical, myofascial release, neuromuscular therapy or other therapeutic techniques that are aimed at reducing hypertonic (tight) muscles. Keep in mind, massage may not be the best medicine for your particular issue, as there are other bodywork therapies that may be more effective and efficient when it comes to relieving pain and reducing tension such as Ortho-Bionomy, Cranial-sacral therapy, Rolfing, and many more.

Figure out what your preferences are

Once you know what your goals are and the type of method that you’d like to try, decide what your preferences are when actually getting the session. Where do you want the treatment to be? Close to your home at a practitioner’s office or at your home as a house call? What type of environment do you prefer? In a relaxing environment such as a spa (dim lights, candles, relaxing music) or are you more concerned with reducing your pain and would not mind getting the treatment in a medical setting such as a physical therapist or chiropractor’s office? Once you know your preferences, don’t forget to look for these details on their website or you can just call or email them to ask. You will get to know a little bit about the therapist simply by asking such questions. Focusing on how eager they are to accommodate you will let you know if your experience with them will be a positive one.

Do your homework

Before choosing a therapist, there are many factors to consider. You may want to first see if there is information about them online and then ask them for a brief phone conversation (15 minutes or less) where you can ask them some questions. The following are some great questions to ask so you can get a better idea if they are the right therapist for you:

What type of massage education do they have?

Is it an officially recognized (accredited) school? Is it well-known or a small school that no one has ever heard about?

Are they licensed and/or certified?

Some states require both such as in New York, while others such as California only require certification. It’s much safer to use a therapist who is not only formally trained but also licensed/certified.

How many years have they been practicing?

The more clients a therapist works with, the more likely they will be intuitive. They will also more likely have a better understanding of anatomy and physiology since they have worked on more bodies, which may make their work more effective.

What are the types of clients that they usually work with and what are some of their treatment goals?

Some therapists focus on working with the elderly or with children, while others work with athletes or the everyday person. If you’re an athlete and in need of a sports massage, you may not want to go with a therapist whose primary focus is working with the elderly.

What’s their favorite modality to practice and what’s your philosophy when it comes to massage and healing?

While some therapists prefer to give deep tissue massage and have a no-pain no-gain approach, others may prefer to use a more gentle approach to bodywork, working with the body’s natural ability to heal itself without using force. It’s good to know what type of work the therapist loves doing, as that’s usually going to be the best work to get from them. You also might want to ask them why they chose this profession in the first place. A therapist who is passionate about what they do is almost always going to be giving you better quality work than someone who isn’t.

Finally, read reviews! While each client’s experience may be unique, you’re more likely to be able to differentiate a really good therapist from an excellent one by reading as many reviews as you can. Google their name and/or the place that they work to find out what others are saying. Are a majority of the reviews positive? Yelp and LinkedIn are credible online sources where you may find the reviews you need.

The only real way to know is to try

One of the best ways to find out if a therapist is to your liking is to book a session with them and give them a try. But remember, you may not necessarily have to go through a full hour massage with someone to try them out. Try asking them if you can book a 30-minute session to start and if you like their work, you will extend the treatment to either 60 or 90-minutes. Ask them if they can schedule you in when they have an opening afterwards to make sure that it could work out. Some therapists won’t agree with this, but it never hurts to ask.

And remember, just because a therapist has graduated from a good school, has years of experience, amazing reviews, and seems like they may be a great choice for you, doesn’t guarantee that you will resonate with them or even like their work, but it will bring you closer to finding just the right person for you. Someone who has your needs in mind and who has no agenda other than to make you feel better and give you the type of bodywork that you feel is right for you. After all, it’s your body and no one knows what your body needs better than you do.