Most importantly, you want to make sure that your massage therapist is licensed or certified in your state. In Virginia, massage therapists are no longer certified, but must be licensed. Massage therapy is regulated by the Virginia Board of Nursing.
Education and licensing requirements
In order to practice massage therapy in Virginia, a person must have successfully completed at least 500 hours of education from an approved massage training program and a Federation of State Massage Therapy Board examination. The exam tests a wide body of knowledge including massage application, assessment, pathology, body systems, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and business standards.
Clearly, a massage therapist must do much more to enter this field than to acquire a massage table, some CDs of quiet music and a supply of candles! Massage therapy is a profession in every sense of the word, and a massage therapist is a valuable member of your healthcare team.
What to ask
Once you have covered these basic requirements, there are a variety of questions you might ask a therapist that you are considering working with. Here are a few to think about asking:
How long have they been practicing? The longer a massage therapist works with clients, the better understanding they are likely to have of people’s bodies and how they react to massage. They become more intuitive.
Does the therapist appear to have good business practices? Do they have an attractive website? A clean office? Do you know how much the session is going to cost up front? Do they live up to their advertising promises? Have you checked out their references on Yelp, Angie’s List and -- most importantly -- with friends?
Talk with the therapist about any particular health issues you have and ask if they are comfortable working with individuals like you. For example, do they have any rules about not working on pregnant women? Cancer patients? Post-surgery patients?
Does the therapist prefer a particular modality, such as deep tissue massage, and how does that fit with what you want? Do you prefer a gentler approach? It’s important to explore this before you choose a massage therapist, or at least work it out before you get on the table.
If you decide to “try out” a massage therapist, does the therapist follow your lead in regards to whether you want your massage time to be quiet or “chatty”? It’s your time, so you should not feel obligated to talk if you’d rather just relax into the massage.
No "happy endings"
Are you more comfortable with a therapist of one gender over another? You should never have to worry that a professional therapist would touch you inappropriately, but some people are just more comfortable being massaged by one gender over another. Warning: do not ask for or accept a massage with a “happy ending,” as this is not legitimate massage therapy, but rather a form of prostitution. You are insulting professional massage therapists and putting their careers at risk to ask for this.
Everyone’s needs are different, so it is not possible to predict with certainty whether you will choose a therapist that you can work well with the first time. However, if you consider these points and try a few therapists, you are likely to find one that you can form an ongoing relationship with who will learn to massage your body so that you get the most benefit out of each massage session. You deserve it!