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How not to f*ck-up a session

God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak


Active listening is a lost art. When did it stop being taught in massage schools? When did it disappear from massage sessions? Wikipedia reminds us that active listening requires a person to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties. So today Im teaching active listening to my student(s) by way of 10 simple steps* on how to actively listen:

  1. Stop talking.
  2. Make eye contact. Don’t be creepy about it, but look a client in the eyes.
  3. Watch body language. Too much pressure? Cold? Goose bumps?
  4. Watching and listening for non-verbal communication
    1. Facial expressions-A smile or a frown?
    2. Tone/pitch of voice-Fast or slow? High or low?
    3. Gestures-Big or small? each tells us something about the person.
  5. Be Patient—play a game with yourself: when they stop talking, count to 5 before you start.
  6. Don’t interrupt. And apologize when/if you catch yourself interrupting.
  7. Double-check the meaning by saying, “So I just want to double check...”
  8. Make it your intention to really listen. Empathize, don’t sympathize. but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.
  9. Be comfortable with silence
  10. Learn your own boundaries. I like to spell it out with the:

Seven Step Intervention model**

Step 1.    Pause the session by taking hands off the client. This does not mean the session has ended. By taking hands off the client and making eye contact (if possible) you can concentrate on possible issue.

Step 2.    Describe the behavior you are concerned about. For example, for an off color comment is made you could ask, “I’m not sure I understood what you mean by that comment. Could you explain?” Or if the client is experiencing an erection you may say, “There seems to be a physical change happening in your body, are you uncomfortable?”

Step 3.    Listen. If necessary ask the client to clarify his or her answer/actions/behavior.

Step 4.    Restate the intention of the massage. For example, “Thank you for your answer. Sometimes I need to clarify the difference between therapeutic massage and sexual massage to my clients. I provide therapeutic massage. Kind of like medical massage. Does that make sense?

Step 5.    Listen. Evaluate the client’s response. If in doubt, end the session.

Step 6.    Continue or discontinue the session. If you feel it’s time to end the session for inappropriate comments, actions or intention on the client’s part, simply say, “At this time I am feeling uncomfortable. I am ending this session. So, after I leave, please get up, get dressed and meet me out front.” If the client asks a question, let them know they will get answers to any questions once they are at the front desk. If you have one, alert the manager on duty immediately. If you don’t, then when the client exits the treatment room the client is expected to pay in full for the session. If they want to inquire further as to why you ended the session, simply say, “Its important for me to feel safe and in control of a session. I didn’t like where that session was going. Its always my call if I need to end a session.”

Step 7.    Document the situation. Write up a full description of what happened before leaving for the day. Add it to the client’s chart.


My hope is that by reading this, we all improve the quality of our sessions with Active Listening. By sharing this info, we might event create a ‘compassion revolution’ 😉


*Credit to Karen Stobbe In the Moment/Communication for some of this content.

**Adapted from Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques, P.J.Benjamin


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