What should you expect from a single session vs. multiple sessions with your therapist?

Recently, we had a client come in for their once-a-year 60 minute massage. They had injured themselves a while back and had since had chronic pain. They were seeing an acupuncturist once a month to help address it, but although they believed that the ailment was mostly muscular in nature, massage had not been made a regular part of their healing maintenance regimen. After the 60 minute massage was complete, with the therapist focusing on the areas of concern, the client was mildly disappointed that the pain that they experienced was not totally gone, and left with their expectations somewhat unfulfilled.

This scenario brought up some thoughts about massage and the role it plays in healing and health maintenance, and some of the questions people may have about what they can expect from a single massage session vs. multiple sessions.

The World Health Organization defines Complementary Alternative Therapy as “a broad set of health care practices that are not part of that country’s own tradition and are not integrated into the dominant health care system.” With greater frequency each year, people are turning to CAM therapies such as massage, accupuncture, naturopathic doctors, and chiropractic care as an alternative to traditional western medicine. Although most CAM therapies do not offer instant results after just one session, many patients are choosing CAM therapies for results that are often longer lasting and without the side effects that may accompany traditional western medical therapies like invasive surgery or prescription drugs.

With these new choices in health care, comes some confusion as to what to expect from them. How often should you invest time and money into a session with your therapist?  What should you expect from a single session and when do you know if you should invest in multiple sessions? A good CAM practitioner will help you decide how they can help you reach your health and wellness goals according to their scope of practice and should help educate you on how you can play the major role in healing yourself.

As an example, if you are a person who enjoys robust health and does not experience chronic pain or physical disability, a massage once or twice a year is a healthy and relaxing experience. This person can expect to feel happy, satisfied, nurtured and blissfully relaxed after their session, and can expect to feel better than they did before they walked in. Although more frequent sessions can improve overall wellness and reduce stress related illness, these people can expect to use massage as a health maintenance tool for stress reduction and relaxation.

On another note, a person who experiences chronic pain, limited physical functioning, and ongoing life disruptions because of a physical ailment or injury should expect massage to play a different role.  A 60 minute massage once a year will certainly offer stress reduction and relaxation, but a single session generally will not offer the same results that a person of robust health can expect. Several sessions may be required in order to start seeing consistent results and meet the patients goals of becoming pain free. In this scenario, these patients can expect massage to focus on healing specific areas of the body both in and out of each massage session. Your massage therapist will often employ different modalities depending on what the patient needs. Your therapist should also be willing to take notes during the sessions and share them with you, so that you can see and measure your progress over time. Prescribing stretches and exercises that you can do at home and monitoring the effectiveness of these is also something that you should expect from your sessions with your therapist. Finally, your massage therapist may refer you to other CAM practitioners who, from their professional opinion, may be beneficial to you and work in tandem with massage therapy for optimal wellness.

Because we live in a “instant” culture, we often expect massage and other CAM therapies to “cure” us in one session. Take a minute to think of how it is you got to the state of wellness you are in currently. If it didnt take just one hour to get where you are, in most cases of injury or illness, it will take more than an hour to start recovering and healing.

Finding the right CAM therapy or combination of therapies, along with caring and competent practitioners is your starting point. Investing in your own health with both time and money, and having some patience for your healing process can help set realistic expectations for yourself and your health practitioner partners, at whatever state of wellness you are in.


Should you use a Massage Spa Chain or a Deep Discount Site for Massage?

The dawning of the age of “Wellness” in our collective conscious, paired with the sluggish economy has resulted in the proliferation of the “daily deal” for massage and spa services in deep discount sites, while at the same time, the proliferation of massage spa franchises have exploded over the last 5 years that sell massage and spa services for a fraction of their original value.

So should the public continue to use these discounted options with a clear conscience, knowing they are getting a good deal, while ethically supporting a business? And should a massage therapy business invest time, effort and money into marketing to deep discount sites? Surprisingly, arguments for and against both of these new discount sources come from the same camps, and for some of the same reasons.

Let’s start with the Massage Franchise Model:
The arguments for the franchise model come from those who say that massage is an under-represented health care option–one that has been largely ignored and minimized by the health care system in America, so that any business model that can promote massage to the mainstream is a good thing, despite other drawbacks. The second argument for a franchise model, is that it keeps costs low for consumers, allowing younger people and people with limited incomes to start making massage a regular part of their wellness routines, which is good for the massage industry in the long run.

The arguments against using a franchise chain come mostly from those who believe (or have personally experienced either as consumers or employees) that the franchise model can in many cases overwork and drastically under pay it’s therapists–sometimes with the resulting massage work being provided to the public by inexperienced or below-average therapists. This can set low expectations of massage at a time when Complementary Alternative Medicine is struggling to prove itself within the larger medical community. The other argument is that the low pricing structures of these chains drags the whole valuation of the price of massage down, which is bad for small businesses trying to compete with a larger chain who can afford the loss due to high volume.

And then there is the deep discount site:
The arguments for
using a deep discount site could be pretty obvious. For the consumer the lure is a cheaper price than you will find at most spas and private practices–usually by half or more. Most of the deep discount sites offer more than one deal at more than one location for a massage or spa treatment in a general location, so a consumer could presumably book these deals over a period of months or years with different businesses and never pay full price. The businesses who offer these deals are often small operations that are trying to gain clients, so barring bad planning, you can often expect good service and value far above the discounted price. The consumer gets introduced to a new service and business at a great low price, and the massage therapy business gets exposed to a new potential client base.

The arguments against come mostly from massage therapy businesses and customers who have tried the deep discount site route and come out burned on the other end. Stories from massage businesses tell of bad behavior from clients, missed appointments, expectations of continued discounts, and a feeling of exhaustion and “drinking from the firehose”, with little income or return clients to show for the experience. Reports from clients can range from delight to dissapointment when redeeming a discount coupon–simply because the businesses who decide to use the service underestimate their ability to fulfill the requirements, and the sheer volume of appointments it generates exhausted their resources and planning. This dissapointment can in turn reflect badly on the businesses in the form of negative reviews, and hassles with refunds or credits. What started out as a hope for future revenue for a business can end up in decreased revenue for time spent, and a decreased expectation of what massage should deliver on the part of the consumer.

So what’s the answer?
For both the cost-conscious consumer and the massage therapy business owner the answer may just lie in the willingness of both to walk in each others steps, and to be willing to acknowledge that there is some merit to both sides of the argument.

For the the massage industry as a whole and especially the smaller massage therapy business, there is no doubt that the proliferation of deep discount sites and massage franchise chains have taken their toll on profits and expectations. And although these options continue to change consumer perceptions of what is “fair” to pay for massage, one thing is clear: in order to stay competitive and to attract a mainstream audience as a whole, you must be willing to look at your current pricing structure and reevaluate. There of course are some massage practices who market to a specific niche and have no need to expand their client base to the newly initiated wellness client, but for the majority of wellness businesses, a new way of thinking may be in order. Offering monthly special deals, a new client discount, providing a senior discount, offering massage package discounts, or organizing joint discounts with other wellness businesses can go a long way in leveling the playing field in the consumers minds. And once you can show the cost-conscious consumer that a small, local massage practice can not only compete with the franchise chain and deep discount site in price, but can exceed their expectations with individual quality and service, you will earn a returning long term client.

For the consumer, it is important to remember that although you may be getting a killer deal at the beginning, it may be a deal killer in the end. When it comes to deep discount sites or badly run franchises, you may be paying for an underwhelming massage from an exhausted massage therapist, or you may experience booking difficulties and feel like “one of the herd” and miss that individual service that we all love in a massage. Look for a small local massage business that will keep your money invested in your neighborhood and that really deliver value. Those that offer first time client discounts (most offer a very generous discount), massage discount packages, and monthly specials can be a great way to get a great deal without sacrificing quality or customer service, and you can feel good knowing that you are supporting a small business who really appreciates your patronage!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!