Monday, November 18, 2013

5 questions to help you find a body-positive massage therapist

"There's treasure everywhere!" CC image by OdysseySeaGlass.com on Flickr
I get emails pretty regularly from people who have found my site and want to know if I know anyone who specializes in body-positive/fat-friendly/trans*-positive massage in their area. Sadly, most of the time I have to answer "no". I have dreams and plans of creating a referral network for just these sorts of inquiries, but that's likely years off from any usefulness. In the meantime, what's a person to do?

First, I want to say on behalf of my profession, most of us want to be welcoming to everyone. Most of us could not care less about what you look like. Most of us are in this work because we truly love massage, and bodies, and the dazzling diversity of humanity. Most of us are accepting, caring people, and most of the time it's just a matter of finding someone who offers the style of massage you're seeking.

That said, I understand how hard it is to live in a marginalized body, one that you may simultaneously be ashamed and protective of, and that you're not going to risk making yourself as vulnerable as you are on a massage table unless you know the therapist working with you is going to celebrate and welcome you specifically. And yet, there are a great number of therapists out there who may not advertise explicitly as body-positive, but nonetheless are compassionate, mindful, and welcoming. But how to find one?

To help you, here are five questions that can help you find a body-positive massage therapist to honor with a chance at working with you:

1) What is their massage focus?

Body-positive massage therapists come in all modalities: Swedish, Thai, shiatsu, and so on. But looking at what a therapist's treatment focus is will tell you a lot about the sort of massage you'll find there. I know several excellent massage therapists I'd be happy to go to if I had a sports or vehicle injury, but they're not who I'd pick to see when what I want to work on is healing the feeling that my body is betraying me. Scan their website or marketing materials, and see if they focus on sports, luxury, injury treatment (all legit focuses!), or if they acknowledge and work with the emotional component of massage. They might not use the phrases "body-positive", "Heath at Every Size" or "Transgender welcoming", but looking at their focus can help narrow down the field.

2) Do they offer "cellulite massage" or affiliate with weight loss products?

It's hard to be body-positive if you're also promoting the message that a body isn't good enough exactly as it is.

3) What does their intake form look like?

A caveat here that intake forms are surprisingly difficult to create and many therapists simply use a standardized one someone else has made to look professional. But for many of us, having an intake that reflects our values is important enough we put in the effort, and whether or not a therapist has done can tell you a lot. Look for open-ended questions rather than a list of pathologies and diseases. See if emotional experiences are mentioned, or if the form asks for your reason for coming for massage. Check if they ask for your gender or pronoun and whether they allow for a nonbinary or self-supplied answer. Are questions about pregnancy listed under "For female clients", or does the form allow you to answer the questions that are relevant to you, without rigid gender ideas?

(Many massage therapists offer their forms online; if they don't, as I do not yet, you can email or call and ask for a copy.)

4) What are reviewers saying about them?

Look on places like Google+ or Yelp for reviews. What are the good reviews loving about them? What are the reasons people didn't like them? Remember, a "bad" review from one person might be a matter of mis-match between the client and the massage therapist; you can learn just as much about someone by what people didn't like as what they did. If the raves are primarily about injury treatment, increased range of motion, or say something like "it hurt so much but was worth it!" you may have found a great massage therapist, but probably not one with the focus you're looking for.

5) What does the massage therapist say?

It's true, sometimes the best way to get answers is to simply ask. Of course no one is going to say they refuse to treat any decent client, but you can ask about their experience in working with people of size, or people with body image issues, whether they know much about dysphoria or trauma, and whether they consider their work primarily physical, or integrative, or ___? Talking with the practitioner will also give you a feel for whether you want to work with this person, whether they have existing expertise in your needs or not.

What did I miss? How did you find your amazing massage therapist? If you haven't yet, what are you willing to try to find one near you?

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