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What Does a Spa Director Look for in Professional Massage Therapists?

By Jeannie Jarnot

Jeannie Jarnot is the spa director at The Carneros Inn in Napa, Calif. Read "Spa at The Carneros Inn: Winner of the 2004 Best Spa Massage Award" and our interview with Ms. Jarnot at www.spatherapy.com/education/profiles/carneros.php.

"What does a spa director look for in professional massage therapists?" This is a question I get frequently from therapists seeking careers in a spa environment. With the growth of our industry, there are so many types of spas, massages, and establishments and therapists that it can be hard to know what we look for in a massage therapist, especially if you are new to the field. I would like to share what I look for when I interview a massage therapist to be a part of my team.

In every spa I have ever worked in, our most popular treatment has always been a full body massage. Whether we call it Swedish, therapeutic or full body massage, this service has always been at the top of the list. Let's face it: We can offer the most amazing aromatherapy treatment, decadent body wrap or healing energy treatment, but there's just nothing quite like a good massage. And our clients are getting more and more educated about massage. They often ask us over the phone during the reservation process where the therapist studied, how long he/she has practiced or what styles he/she practices. This is a relatively new line of questioning, so it has become increasingly important for me to have a consistent level of bodyworkers on my team that have qualities in common.

First, I expect a massage therapist to have a resume, even if they do not have work experience as a massage therapist. I want to see that the candidate can organize him/herself on paper and create a professional impression. Next, I look to see what type of education the therapist has. What types of schools and modalities has the therapist chosen? An education in massage therapy is often an eclectic collection of classes, workshops and training sessions.

My preference is for a therapist to have a basic massage education from an accredited massage school, and then maybe added classes or workshops that the therapist found interesting. I look to see if the therapist has learned a balance of Eastern and Western modalities, as I feel it is important to understand both approaches to bodywork. Then, of course, I look to see what kind of work experience the therapist has. Oftentimes, it is helpful for a therapist to have experience in a professional spa environment prior to coming to work for me, but I have had many successful therapists who have come to me without any spa experience and sometimes without any work experience at all.

Next, I schedule a sit down interview with the therapist. During the interview, I notice if the candidate is punctual and dressed professionally. I don't think I have ever met a therapist who wore a suit to an interview, but I check to see if their clothing and shoes are clean, whether he is clean shaven or her hair is neat and professional, which is not to be confused with conservative.

In the spoken interview I like to hear about how and why the therapist decided to pursue a career in massage therapy. I love stories about what inspired them to help people. I also ask about how they made their decision to educate themselves and to give me a description of their style of bodywork. That is often hard for the therapist, but it is important to me. I want to understand the therapist's philosophy of bodywork in his/her own words. Because there are so many therapists out there, I tend to seek people who are passionate about helping people through massage.

During the spoken interview, I ask myself if I would want to experience their work. Do I feel comfortable enough with them to get on the table and receive a massage? This might not seem like it is relevant, but I always ask therapists how they take care of themselves in order to maintain their ability to do massage. My best therapists have been those who can answer this easily, as it is their priority. Lastly, I try to sense if the massage therapist is fulfilled by massage. Is the therapist excited about his/her career; does the therapist think it is fun? By the middle of the spoken interview, I can usually tell if the therapist is someone I want to continue interviewing.

If we proceed to the practical interview, I always schedule it on another day. I want to confirm that this candidate can arrive to an interview creating a professional impression. I usually tell them that I would like to experience a full body massage comprised of their best work. I tell them they can use whatever techniques they choose and that they must conduct themselves as if I am a first-time client in a spa.

During the practical interview I expect the therapist to conduct a verbal intake, gathering information about my body, my experiences with massage and my preferences. I listen to their directions to see if they clearly direct me on how to position myself on the table and any other instructions, such as removing my jewelry, etc. I find that this is where a lot of therapists don't perform during the interview. They assume that because I am a spa director, I know what to do, or they're nervous or they don't know how essential this part of the massage experience really is. A therapist in a spa environment usually has between two and four minutes to make his/her first-time client feel comfortable. I definitely look to see if the therapist is confident during this part of the massage.

During the hands-on massage, I notice how the therapist introduces him/herself and gets in tune with the client, either through breath, energy or body reading. No one way is best; I just notice if it happens or not. Once the massage has begun, I look for the variety of strokes and stretches the therapist uses. I notice if there is variety or if the massage is one-dimensional.

Variety is preferred. I try to notice body mechanics, which is hard to do while on the table, but I have become pretty good at being able to feel if the therapist is properly using body weight, protecting his/her thumbs and using good posture (This is what I had the most trouble with when I was in massage school.) The therapist may not have ideal body mechanics but that there is due attention to them is what is important. A therapist who takes care of him/herself will be better at taking care of others.

Then, I observe the flow of the massage. Is the massage making sense? Is the therapist responding to what I communicated during the verbal intake? Does the therapist make sure that I am comfortable through careful draping and verbal check-ins? Finally, how is the massage session closed? Does it leave me with a sense of completion and relaxation?

Usually, but not always, therapists are nervous during their massage interview. I always take that into account. I have had my most confident and accomplished therapists tell me later that they were terrified during our interview, which always amazes me because they would have no reason to be nervous about their excellent work.

No matter how the interview turns out, it is a gift to receive a massage from someone whose intention is to help others. I always tell the therapist exactly what I thought the strong points of the massage were and then explain where he/she needs to grow. Once that is done, I let the therapist know that I will contact him/her the following day. I want time to reflect on the massage and feel the benefits of the bodywork. I want this therapist to be someone who will benefit by working with me, who will be challenged and who will challenge me. If all the pieces fit, then there is the potential for a long and prosperous career in the spa for everyone.

Jeannie Jarnot
Napa, California


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Date Last Modified - Wednesday, 17-Dec-2008 12:35:24 PDT