One of the best parts of being a therapeutic massage therapist is helping a suffering client – and then witnessing his or her subsequent improvement. On the other hand, one of the most frustrating parts of this profession is working diligently with a client who does not seem to improve.

After intensive campaigning by a wide range of holistic health advocates, massage therapy is finally respected as a valid approach for an array of medical complaints. As such, clients may come in for regular bodywork to relieve a particular pain or improve an internal health issue. Because of bodywork’s therapeutic nature, massage therapists often find great success in helping clients meet their wellness goals. Unfortunately, monthly or weekly massage therapy visits may not always seem to make the impact the practitioner (or client) hopes for. Frustrating as it may be, any type of healthcare provider – be it a massage therapist, oncologist or neurosurgeon – must learn how to deal with disappointing results in a professional manner.

While they interplay with one another, considering the following five topics can guide therapists in dealing with clients who don’t seem to improve:

  1. Expand Your Repertoire – The human body harbors many complexities at a variety of different functional levels. As such, a collection of therapeutic approaches are often necessary to make a lasting systematic impact. For example, a chronic pain syndrome could involve scar tissue from an old injury, hypertonic musculature, a nutritional deficiency, improper ergonomics, continuance of aggravating activities and emotional depression. Employing strategies to address all of these impediments to wellness may be required to resolve the pain.
  2. Recognize Your Limitations – Helping clients in need can be a practice in humility; having reasonable expectations from your sessions and referring out when necessary. Besides giving therapists a way to measure improvement, identifying clear, reasonable goals prevents against unrealistic expectations. For example, a bodyworker may strive to ease a client’s tension to improve sleep, which is a more reasonable goal than planning to eliminate sleep apnea. Remembering that a problem is best addressed by approaching it from all angles, referring clients out to a specialist equipped to tackle their specific health issue may be necessary.
  3. Be Patient – Most people do not seek therapeutic massage therapy for a newly discovered problem. Instead, it is more likely that they have lived with an ailment for a considerable amount of time before taking action. Of course, the longer a problem persists, the more chronic it becomes. Likewise, the more chronic a problem is, the more strategies are needed, the more frequent sessions are advised and the longer it takes to see a lasting improvement.
  4. Find the Positive – Do not underestimate the power of a positive attitude – or devalue the harm in a negative one. Clients who are acutely tuned in to their pain and suffering are unwittingly perpetuating the cycle of pain and suffering. Helping clients see the progress they’ve made can jumpstart them on their healing path. For example, a client may report no improvement on his or her ability to drive long distances without hip pain. However, the client may not notice or report the positive impact of your massage sessions – such as a reduction in leg tingling and improved range of motion in the lumbar region. Helping clients see the beneficial effects of the work being performed goes a long way in restoring the hope and positive attitude needed for any kind of recovery.
  5. Admit Zero Progress – One of the hardest aspects of the health professions is acknowledging when no improvement has been made. Acceptable only after employing different healing approaches, setting reasonable goals, referring out, being patient and maintaining positivity, some patients may not make any improvement. In these instances, a practitioner’s best bet is to acknowledge that he or she may not be the right practitioner for this person while simultaneously encouraging the client not to give up on his or her quest for wellness.

A drawback of any medical profession is not always seeing the results hoped for. It can happen to any skilled practitioner. Regardless of how focused the therapist’s healing intentions are, some clients don’t seem to improve. When bodyworkers maximize their ability to help clients and recognize when they can’t, this professional hurdle will finally be cleared.