3 Steps to finding a good massage & bodywork therapist

Where to Start Looking for Good Therapist

Word of month is an ideal place to start when it comes to finding a good massage therapist. If it comes from a friend who knows you best, you tend to trust their suggestion a little more. Friends who have had a great massage with a therapist will give their honest opinion.  They will give you more insight into their experience. Friends are more open about the challenges that brought them to book a service.  Friends will let you know whether or not the skills of the therapist addressed that issue.

However, if you don’t have that “good friend” to help guide to a good therapist,  then you can search.  Of course, nowadays that would be over the internet. It is a little harder to tell who may be good, qualified or even skillful.  However, beginning your search this way will get you started. If this is your main option to find a good therapist, don’t fret.  We will go over the “must do” next steps.  Here are your 3 steps to finding a good massage and bodywork therapist.

Find out if the Therapist is Adequately Trained, Certified and Licensed

Search Your State Government’s Site

As a part of your search, your very next step is to find out if the therapist is adequately trained, certified and licensed. The best place to find that out is your state government. This may sound daunting, but it is not that bad. And hopefully, if you find that rightFinding a good therapist therapist, this could be the only time you would do this type of search (unless you change therapist). Each state has a way to search for licensed therapists.  You can find out if they have any legal actions against them for lack of ethics. You will also make their license is current.

There are some states (very few, however) that may not require a license.  If you live in such a state, contact your local government.  They will be able to tell you about any alternative requirements they do to vet a safe, qualified therapist. 

What are Their Certifications?

All qualified massage training schools do certify their students. You can find out where the person was trained and inquire if that person completed the course and earned his or her certification.

When it comes to non-massage treatments, keep in mind that some modalities do not require the therapist to have a license. However, there are ways to make sure the therapist is certified in that modality.  You can do this in the way I just mentioned for massage certification inquiry. Many of these schools have a membership for new and existing therapist and may list them through their website or you can contact them. You can do this for both massage and other types of bodywork (i.e. Thai Massage, Myofascial Release Therapy, Ayurveda, Reiki, etc.).

Search Industry Associations

As mentioned, your next best resource is associations a therapist would be a member of. These significant organizations can be a one-stop shop. They typically keep up with when and where a therapist was trained. Associations typically require therapists to uphold current continuing education of their skills if they hold a current license from their state.  They also have ways to contact that therapist. The popular and larger associations are AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association), ABMP (American Bodywork & Massage Professionals) and the NCBTMB organization. The NCBTMB is a nationwide certification organization that certifies massage and bodywork schools and sets the standards for the industry.

This first part might be the most involved effort of these steps.  However, it is essential and worth it.  The other steps are as simple as having a conversation.

When Booking your appointment

Ask Questions & Clearly Communicate What You are Looking for

Now that you have found a therapist, connect with the therapist and have a brief conversation.  This way you can get a better sense of what type of person he or she is as a therapist and if that person is going to be right for you.  Take this time to ask all your pressing questions and provide information that may help the therapist better serve you. It is always good for the therapist to know if there are any current medical awareness they need to consider.  It’s also the best time to bring these matters up just in case there is something that is out of their scope of practice or the therapist may not be comfortable working with. If you find this is the situation, then it’s best to look for someone else.  You can even ask that person if they recommend anyone who may be a better fit. Most therapists would be happy to assist you with that information.

For example, if you were diagnosed with cancer and just finished treatment.  You will be able to find out if the therapist is comfortable proceeding with the service.  Therapists with oncology massage training usually are very comfortable. In your best interest, it is ideal to find a therapist who is comfortable working with you.  So don’t be shy, ask away. The goal is for you to have the best experience and get the most out of massage and bodywork many benefits.


Communicate what you are looking for out of your session.  Are you looking to relax more, do you have an injury that needs support in the healing process, or do you have specific areas that are always bothering you?  A good therapist would be able to respond to your concerns.  That person will also give explanations to your concern.  He or she will know which types of techniques to use to achieve your ultimate goals. That person should be capable of giving you some ideal routines (like yoga, exercises, etc.) to do after the session.  Appropriate exercises will help you maintain your treatment. A good therapist will also lead you to ideal resources.  Knowledge is power.

The More the Therapist Knows

In my experience as a therapist, working in an environment where I typically saw clients only once (unlike in a private practice), I learned that the more I was able to intelligently communicate knowledge that helped my client, the more that person walked away satisfied with their experience with me. So for you, if the therapist does not mention any suggestions right away, take the initiative to ask if they have any suggestions to what you can do at home to up keep your treatment. But as I said before, a good therapist will be happy to share that information with you automatically.

Know what to expect of a good therapist

The therapist sets the tone. The environment where they hold sessions must reflect a space for healing and relaxation.  Clean, soft lighting, soothing music (unless you request no music), gentle to no scents, and relatively quiet from outside noise.  

A good therapist should also have a good to excellent level of customer service. It is ideal for the therapist to do a brief verbal intake to find out why you came and what you are expecting to get out of the service.  They should also take that time to find out if you have any medical concerns so they can keep you safe and not cause any harm.

They should put your needs first.  Yes, when a person trains to become a therapist, he or she will learn a certain flow sequence as a way to learn new skills.  But once they have been in the business for a bit, their flow should be more intuitive and respectful of your needs. They should briefly explain what to expect from a specific treatment (because some modalities have a sequence that’s been proven to be successful), but capable of adjusting when needed.  In addition, it is ideal for them to give you a pain level scale, so when they are going beyond what your body can handle you can let them know.

Make Sure You are Being Heard

The customer service includes when you speak up.  A therapist should respect your communication with them and respond appropriately.  There is that level of “good pain” (or intense sensation) and “red flag” pain (where it could have a potential of lasting harm).  To be honest, your instincts will usually let you know which is what. The only reason I explain it this way is because it is not that easy to put what sensation is supposed to feel like into words.  What I have found as a therapist and a receiver of massage, firm pressure on the bone (typically) does not feel good. It is not that good sensation to me and would be red flag pain. Most people I have worked on would say the same thing. You also should not come out of the session bruised (unless you tend to bruise very easily due to a medical condition or medication.  If this is the case, be sure to let the therapist aware of any conditions you may have and then your doctor if you have not been diagnosed previous to finding this out).

Speaking up is up to you initially.  Don’t be afraid to do so. This service is for you.  If you do not, then it is very difficult for the therapist to have a clear understanding of your experience in the moment.  When they know in the moment, they are better able to adjust their touch or technique.

So hopefully, this information helps.  To find a good massage therapist or bodyworker does not have to be a daunting task.  The benefits from the treatments they provide are real, and when you have a therapist that compliments your needs and goals, these benefits are amplified.  When the expectations, mentioned above, lines up with the therapist skills, you will come off the table feeling better than before you got on.

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