When in Doubt, Refer Out!


No individual therapist knows everything there is to know about every condition clients may face. You don’t have to be a massage therapist very long before a client walks in the door with some condition you have never heard of before!  Even if you have seen and heard it all, that doesn’t mean you have the necessary skill to address the issue. Knowing when and who to refer to is an essential service you can offer clients who have conditions outside of your area of expertise.  First, you have to understand the basics of the client’s situation. Second, you have to have a network in place that either has an appropriate practitioner to refer to or offers you recommendations you can rely on.

Having a quality intake form is the first step to opening conversations about challenges clients face. Intake forms allow you to identify health issues and concerns, including past injuries, surgeries, current medications, and pathologies. Ensure there is blank space for the client to write in any conditions that are not expressly written on the form. Once the client completes the intake form, it is good to review it with them verbally.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about any conditions with which you may be unfamiliar!  It is also important to be sure you understand the client’s goals.  If the client books an appointment because they want a relaxing Swedish massage, it may not matter that they have a condition that you do not have the expertise to address!  If the condition is not contraindicated for massage and their goal is to relax, addressing their goal for the session would be within your practice scope.

If you feel confident that you can comfortably work with the client, GREAT, get to work after reviewing the intake form and the client's treatment goals!  However, if you feel you can work with the client but have some concerns or questions that you need to address first, don’t be afraid to ask the client to speak to their other healthcare advisers, Chiropractor, Primary Care Physician, or medical specialist. Lastly, refer out if you do not feel you have the expertise to help the client with their concerns truly.  On rare occasions, this may even mean you have to refuse service. Still, in most cases, as long as the condition is not contraindicated, you can typically provide a gentle, general massage to encourage relaxation.

You have to know your own limitations to determine when to refer out; then, you have to have a network to refer out to! Have you built your referral network to ensure you are prepared to best support client’s needs?  If not, an easy way to start is to ask people who the “best” chiropractor, physical therapist, dentist, podiatrist, physiotherapist, personal trainer, massage therapist (other than you, of course), or yoga instructor (among others) is in your area.  When you get the same name 3 times, look up that individual and give them a call. Let them know the names of those who told you they were the best at what they did, and let them know you are working on building a referral network for your clients.  Ask them to tell you a bit about themselves and the services they offer. Most will take the time to talk to you, especially when you open the door by name dropping people they know in their community/practice.  If they don’t take the time to talk with you, keep searching until you find the right fit.  You have to be confident in those you refer to. After all, your clients are trusting your recommendation!

One of the best parts about building a referral network, outside of it helps your clients, is that you will typically end up with one or two practitioners you click with, resulting in new friends and a fresh referral source for your business!


Business & marketingMassage therapySpa therapy