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Ellijay, Georgia

Massage School: Gaining Clinic Confidence

As part of our comprehensive massage therapy certification program, Cohutta Healing Arts Institute School of Massage requires that students complete hands on training by providing massage therapy treatments to the public. Doing so builds confidence and skills for entering the field of massage.

One Massage School Student’s Experience with a Difficult Clinic Session

(Certain details have been edited or omitted to honor the privacy of both student and client.)

I had successfully finished my first quarter of student clinic with amazing session results and wonderful feedback from clients and was now well into my second clinic quarter – just weeks from graduation. I was doing well. But if I had let it, this one new experience could have broken me. It could have easily crushed all my hopes of continuing through the program, and eventually, of becoming a licensed professional. I could have given up and walked out, right then and there.

Even before I greeted this client, it seemed as though there was a preset determination to be dis-satisfied with anything that would occur throughout the session. The introduction gave way to perceived hostility and skepticism. Our intake was met with misunderstanding and confusion. Any attempt to invite in positivity and relaxation was thwarted. Before the actual session even began, I wanted to walk out – tell the client they would not be receiving a massage today, and tell my instructors that I didn’t think I could do this anymore.

“But…” I reminded myself, “my instructors have prepared me. I will choose to be determined and confident. I will ground myself, shake it all off, and enter this session with humility, strength, focus, and client-centeredness. For the entirety of the session, I will remember Unconditional Positive Regard.”

I didn’t know what the client may have walked in with – what was being carried under the stern face and tense muscles before me. I did know, however, that I had within me the knowledge and ability to create therapeutic change. I entered back into the therapy room, ready.

I went through the session holding my head high. My strokes were slow and deliberate. I employed deep-pressure applications of Swedish massage, along with a little bit of Neuromuscular Therapy and Trigger Point Therapy. I spent extra time on the client’s areas of restriction and tightness. And I used as many techniques on as many regions and areas as time would allow. I encouraged the client to breathe deeply, in and out. I remembered to breathe as well. And in my thoughts, I kept repeating to myself, rhythmically, “Unconditional Positive Regard.”

Though the client’s breathing slowed considerably as I provided gliding stroke after gliding stroke, and muscles softened underneath careful kneading and compression, post-session my techniques were harshly criticized. “Nothing I could say or do would have changed this client’s opinion of me or of the therapy given”, I thought. I chose in that moment, as in all the moments throughout the session, to not take it personally. While massage therapists have the ability to facilitate healing within the body, it is also up to the client to connect with the therapy being provided, to communicate what they are feeling and needing, and to allow themselves to be a part of the process. Whatever this client was dealing with, they were not able to let it go. And for whatever reasons, despite every effort, I was not able to get through. That wasn’t my fault. I did all I could, and I would not allow this experience to reflect on how I viewed myself as a person, or as a (future) massage therapist.

My next few subsequent sessions were a bit shaky. They required more focus, deep breathing, grounding, and intention than ever before. As I worked through each of them, however, my confidence and skill increased even more. I can do this. I am doing this.

The experience of that difficult session taught me confidence in a way that all my prior experience combined could not have. Despite being challenging, stressful, frustrating, and even disconcerting, I realized that, if I could handle that session in a calm and professional manner, I could handle almost anything presented to me during a session.

Not all experiences like the one I’ve described happen in clinic. Sometimes they occur when practicing or learning with your family and friends, or in class with other students. Sometimes they do not happen until you are already graduated and licensed. Assuredly, ALL massage students and licensed therapists have had at least one moment, one difficult or embarrassing experience that has left them feeling shaken up, ready to quit or walk away. We have all had our defining moment(s). It is up to us, however, to decide if these moments are going to end our desire to become licensed and to help others through massage, or if we are going to allow these perceived setbacks to catapult us further into our resolve to keep going, keep growing, keep being the best we can be, for ourselves, and for the community – the people that we have such a heart for helping.

For more information about the benefits of massage, becoming a massage therapist, or receiving massage and bodywork, visit: or call 855-515-2424.