How do I find a good massage therapist?
My friends and colleagues often ask me questions, (or just email one), and one of the most common is "how do I find a good massage therapist in my city/area?" It's a great question, and not a simple answer.
First of all, what makes a "good" massage for you, i.e. what conditions must be present for you to feel relaxed and supported? What type of pressure do you like? (Soft tissue, energetic work, craniosacral, deep tissue, structural integration, etc.) A "good" massage depends on your body, your issues, your likes and dislikes, and a host of other factors, so there is no one bodyworker that is perfect for everyone! Just because you loved one particular practitioner or session does not mean that your friend will, and that's ok.
What's going on in your body that is spurring you to seek a massage? Are you overly stressed, in pain, working with a chronic pain or muscle issue, recuperating from a surgery, pregnant, dealing with chemotherapy, etc? Are you just looking for a maintenance session to keep your body functioning well?
What do you want to accomplish in your session- is this a one time session or are you hoping for multiple sessions? This can help your bodyworker best serve you, but also help you choose a practitioner as well.
One of the big questions I struggle with as a movement teacher is are you treating the symptom of a movement based problem, or are you treating the problem itself? So let's say that you have shoulder pain- you can get a massage that focuses on the shoulder and chest. This can be beneficial, but what caused the pain to begin with? Was it something else like your daily use of your neck or spine or hips? Was it just a one time weird way of sleeping? Do you want a session that will help clarify what the problem is, i.e. should you see someone who is a physical therapist, or a bodyworker who does muscle testing or movement assessment? Many bodyworkers who are not physical therapists also teach movement, whether as personal trainers, pilates teachers, etc., and finding someone who does both can help you identify where you have deficiencies and how you can address them through movement.
Next suggestion is to look beyond chain massage facilities-there are some great therapists at chains, but many times, recent program graduates with less experience are working at such places. When reading someone's biography, look at how many years of experience they have to begin with. What sort of the training do they have? Most states have a comprehensive 750-1000 hour massage certification, but beyond that, many people will seek extensive continuing education, other certifications, or specializations. What sort of populations does this person serve or aim to serve? (older clients, those with special issues, etc.) Do they have anything in their biography that indicates a focus on your specific issues, pains, etc.? If they don't say "focus on performing artists or focus on athletes" in their biography, it doesn't mean that they can't be of help, but it's something to also consider. Some of my favorite massages (and personal training sessions) have been from people who used to play the violin, viola, or cello, and who very much can visualize what my issues are just from playing the instrument.
With all this begin said, I personally like deep tissue work sometimes, as someone who is not petite and with a lot of muscle mass. This is not good for everyone, and not good for me all the time. I also appreciate bodyworkers who understand human movement more in depth, and who maybe have training in movement assessment strategies, such as the work of Grey Cook and the SFMA/FMS. I also have had some really interesting success with NKT and P-DTR practitioners. If you're working with a chronic pain issue that is undiagnosed (and you're not being treated for), I'd highly recommend seeing a medical professional, and working with a good physical therapist who does both manual therapy, movement screening, and correctives. At the end of the day, finding a good bodyworker involves a certain amount of trial and error, to see if they're a good fit for you.