Mastering the Art of Observation

Over the years I have been in conversation with hundreds of massage therapists and it turns out a lot of us have the same concerns: building our practice, retaining clients, and avoiding burn out. My advice is annoyingly simple: fine tune your observer. In massage school we are taught that observing our clients is a vital skill. I’m here to assert that it is one of the most important skills you can have, period. We tend to take it for granted but with training, practice and mindfulness we can take observation to a whole new depth and our practice to a new level of effectiveness. Here are some examples of the essentials we practice and how to challenge ourselves to the next level.

During Assessment

Essential level - watching clients performing specific tasks designed to give particular information: such as quality of movement as clients go through active, passive, and resistant motion Advanced level - study clients moving around the space, including the parking lot and hallways: observing distortions and adaptive behavior.

On the Table

Essential level – watching clients for the signs of stress and relaxation: including breath and body language. Paying attention to tissue response such as relaxation of fibers and softening of tension. Advanced Level - observing how well clients are in tune to their bodies and breath; how hyper-vigilant they are; and how well their verbal communication matches the non verbal feedback information. Observe the changes in tissues as they respond to the body work (including rhythmic techniques) i.e. temperature, flushing, and holding patterns.

Customer Service

Essential level –during client’s intake and follow up: paying attention to what information they give, what is important to them, and their stress levels. Advanced level- noting the types of descriptive words clients use: auditory, kinetic or visual. I.e. “I feel, I hear, or I see…. what you mean.” Framing language to mirror theirs and helping put them at ease. When discussing treatment protocols, throwing in medical terminology to check client’s knowledge and to better determine the best way to provide real informed consent.

Self Observation

Essential level - being attentive of our body mechanics, draping, and flow

Advanced level – being aware of the smells, glide, and texture of our medium; our connection to their body as we move through the layers; our responses, tension and breath throughout the session.

I can tell you from experience that if you are working on all these levels then no two massages will ever be the same, you will be fully engaged in every session, and clients will notice. At the end of the day that’s what we all want, right! I thought so until I read the book “The Not So Big Life” by Sarah Susanka. In this book she challenges us to develop “the watchful self-observer”. This skill allows us to simultaneously observe ourselves while being connected to others, without being so attached or judgmental that we can’t see the bigger picture. What I’m finding is that the watchful observer is a wonderful treatment ally and a great advisor. It can help us identify patterns that are holding us back from our ultimate success, in and out of the treatment room. Bottom Line, it’s making me a better therapist and that my friend turns out to be a big part of what I want.

Be well, do good work, and write us about your favorite medium: how it feels, smells, and glides in your hands on a client’s body.

P.S. Try thinking out of the box and perform a massage with Biotone Body Lux Hydrating Wrap. It makes me feel creative and it makes clients feel VIP.