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Massage Today
December, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 12

Connecting with Your Clients with Intent

By Ann Brown, LMT

Historically, spas were established as places for healing. Even though they have since evolved into a luxury industry, healing is still at the heart of what we do. Look at the menu offerings of destination spas, resort spas, even day spas and you'll find treatments that go beyond manicures, pedicures and massage.

From guided hikes and meditation, reiki and crystals, spas strive to provide life-changing experiences as they help guests address concerns on physical, mental and spiritual levels. However, when you want to provide a healing experience, the number and diversity of treatments on the menu are not as important as working with intent. With the prevalence of technology in our lives today, your massage clients and spa guests alike have lost touch with their lives, leaving them searching for fulfillment. Your work as a massage therapist, when performed with intent, goes beyond simple strokes to provide impactful therapy for your clients.

Making Honest Connections

People today have less and less time to really connect. Massage provides grounding and the physical touch that so many people need. Whether visiting a spa or a private massage practice, many are looking for relaxation, not help for specific strains or aches, so it is really important to find out their needs. To offer the kind of massage experience that brings your clients back for more, you need to be in tune with their needs, but first – you need to be in tune with yourself.

Providing quality spa education to therapists has been a mission of mine for a long time. Nothing surpasses the significance of education when trying to impact customer satisfaction, but while we can learn new strokes and techniques, technical practice may still be lacking something. As a spa director, I want my massage therapists (and all of my staff) to be at the top of their game and I know that education and awareness is a big part of achieving that level of service.

head massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark As a therapist, your personal focus and growth impacts how well you serve your client. Your personal intention in the massage therapy you provide translates in your service to your client. Anyone who has had massages from different therapists understands how intent plays a role in the delivery and the level of quality. You don't learn intent. You won't find it on massage school curriculum or evaluated on your licensing exam. Intent is your concentrated focus on the client. It is a connection transferred by the physical action of your strokes and touch upon the client, but one that stems from a deeper place inside you as you reach out to help your them.

Massage therapy is an interesting industry. It's not a first-choice career for most of the therapists in it. The American Massage Therapy Association reports that 83 percent of therapists enter into massage therapy as a second career. Massage therapists, by nature, are caring, nurturing people, drawn to a massage therapy career by the desire to help others. If you are one of those who entered the profession as a second career, is massage therapy a calling for you? If so, now that you are here, now that you have clients on the massage table, do you feel a purpose, a clear vision for your next step? Do you know what you are going to do now that you are here, at this new place in your life?

By choosing a new career, a new life path, you re-invent your life, making changes as you search for fulfillment and happiness. Richard Leider, a former member of the International Spa Association (ISPA) Foundation Board of Directors and ranked by Forbes as one of the top five most respected executive coaches in the world, calls it unpacking and repacking. Because massage therapy is a helping profession, I think unpacking is important for us to know not just in terms of ourselves, but what that means for our clients as well. I was first introduced to Leider through ISPA a few years ago, and I was fortunate to get to know him. You can see his true passion for life in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I've found that his books, philosophies and teachings really resonate with me and with the spa and massage therapy professions in general. I found Leider's lessons to be extremely helpful in my own life and want you to consider how they can apply to your own life and massage therapy practice as well.

Leider is the author of several books, including the international best-seller Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life, co-authored with David Shapiro. Leider stumbled across the notion of considering if what we carry – evaluating if the material things and craziness that we pile on ourselves – will bring happiness while he was on walking safari in Tanzania. A new friend, a Maasai village elder, showed fascination with the high-tech tools that Leider, outfitted with the best gear, was carrying. Leider unloaded his backpack with pride to show the elder the impressive materials. The Massai elder, after looking at the gear, asked one simple question that got to the heart of what today is Leider's teaching to others. He asked, "Does all this make you happy?"

Life's phases

We're all on a journey, looking for the good life. The question is what are we carrying with us along the way? What does the good life mean to me, and what am I going to need to get there? Leider teaches that we all follow predictable paths as we grow and mature, a cyclical series of changes that each move us farther along the path. We encounter our own unpredictable twists and turns, but the over arching sequences and stages of our life are universal.

At Phase I, we sit at a plateau. Life is generally pretty good and running smoothly. We're satisfied with our relationships, work and personal, content with where we are. Phase I comes with a potential danger, however, as we may become too set in our ways and are content to stay on the safe path for too long. We may avoid growing. We may not want to do the work required to move up and on.

Phase II is the trigger phase. Whether we like it or not, something knocks us out of that safe zone. Suddenly we are unbalanced and forced to re-evaluate our lives. Triggers may be death, divorce, work changes or deep losses, but they aren't always traumatic. They may also be spiritual awakenings, new relationships, changes in children's lives, retirements and decade birthdays (40, 50, 60 and so on). For me, a few of the most significant triggers in my life were getting married and the births of my two children. Triggers are wake-up calls, according to Leider.

We enter limbo at Phase III. Leider says, to protect ourselves from the chaos initiated by a trigger, we go into suspended animation, withdrawing emotionally. We lack knowledge and understanding of what our life is going to be in the future, and we are left numb and confused. In limbo, we don't know where we are supposed to go next.

Next comes the unpacking phase, Phase IV. When we unpack, we look for that direction we lacked in limbo. We look for answers, solutions that will fulfill us. We explore – new relationships, books, travel, coaching, job renewal. In the unpacking phase, we may be happy and excited one day but depressed the next. We are still confused, but we are seeking the answers that will bring us happiness.

Phase V is repacking. Unpacking and searching drains our energy, so we find relief in repacking. We take charge. We make decisions that will reinvent ourselves. We turn attention to other areas of life we may have neglected. Right or wrong, we make decisions. We move on and eventually find our way back to plateau. Does this cycle sound familiar to you? Did a trigger move you into an unpacking stage, that brought you to re-invent your life with a new career in massage therapy? Leider's stages fit my own life, as I look back at the health challenges and revelations that moved me from a high-paced, money-motivated career in sales to discovering the rewards of working in the spa industry. I look back and see how my father's death – another trigger – initiated change in my personal relationships. We continually hit plateaus, fall off them and then figure out how to climb back up. The goal is to reach higher levels of purpose, life awareness, self-worth and happiness at each new plateau. Our journeys, including all the good stops and bad, have purpose.

Gaining Awareness

When we move with awareness through the sequences of life, we realize the dangers of the plateau. You may have re-invented your life with your new massage therapy career, but that doesn't mean you've found the end-all answer to happiness. Big or small, triggers will come along that force you to once again reevaluate how and where you are. The key is to recognize them as triggers. Awareness will help you to make good moves as you look at the different paths before you and reevaluate your vision in life.

In this industry, continuing education is required. We've embedded a structure of growth and learning, but you need to look at education as more than a requirement. Expand what you are learning to assess more than your hands-on skills. Evaluate where you are in life and where you want to be. Ask the question, "What does the good life mean to me?" The strength that you may find as you move through Leider's sequences of life will bolster the relationships you have with your clients. You have the opportunity to impact others through your work as a massage therapist. Isn't that why you chose this career? Consider what you are carrying, what you are bringing into your practice, and how it impacts or serves your clientele.

In the spa industry, we see guests enter who look like they have it all. The stereotypical guest is affluent, dressed in the best. But they are searching for something. On the massage table, your guest looking for stress relief, or relief from pain built up by tension, is at their own stage in Leider's sequence. How can you help them to become more aware of what is going in on their body physically, that may in turn help them mentally and spiritually as well? How can you help them achieve a greater awareness? When you are aware and mindfully present in your life situation, you are able to serve your clientele with more intent, more focus, more connection.

One of the things I love about the spa is watching guests come back who don't even know why they are coming back. They came for a massage, but the therapy was more than they expected and they discover the healing that is possible through the re-connection with the body and through the respite from day-to-day life drains that spa therapy can bring. When we are whole in our lives, professionally and personally, it resonates with our guests. It keeps your clients coming back. You reach greater heights and you help your clients on their own journeys to new plateaus. Bring the healing spa therapy mind set to your practice. Focus on more than a sequence of strokes when you provide massage to a client. When you work with intent, you help both the client and yourself reach fulfillment.

For me, I'm still climbing as well, in more ways than one. Richard Leider is an avid hiker, and he's inspired me to hike Machu Picchu in early 2013. Awareness of my own "a-ha" moments in life is helping me open up to life's possibilities and take advantage of opportunities to challenge myself and grow. My wish for you is that you will also find awareness and the paths that will take you to your highest plateaus. For more information on Leider, visit

Ann Brown, a licensed massage therapist, is a member of the International Spa Association's board of directors and serves as spa director at Spa Shiki at The Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo. She also provides management consulting services through Spa Insight Consulting.


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