“Finding a hairstylist takes time! It’s like dating, except you have to wear the results on your head.”

That was one of the first things my hairdresser said to me when we met. Still new to Chicago, I had spent six months looking for someone with increasing frustration and even guilt. Was I just being picky? Was I wasting time? After all, nobody had given me a bad haircut; it was the experiences that had been mediocre (or, in the case of the angry-looking woman who answered my conversational sallies with monosyllables while scraping at my neck with a straight razor for an hour, awkward and mildly disquieting).

So I found myself sitting in yet another hair stylist’s chair, wondering if I should just give up on trying to find someone, when I found the perfect match. Lots of people can cut hair, but having someone who listened and understood and responded to what I was saying with wit and humor made getting a haircut go from a chore to a delight that I look forward to every month.

We often feel awkward asking for things from our service providers; we don’t want to seem greedy or ungrateful. With massage, especially, it can be tricky—many therapists are quite knowledgeable, which can be intimidating. And besides, isn’t the whole point of booking a massage to relax and let them take care of things? But after going to the trouble of booking your appointment, getting to the spa, undressing and mentally preparing to have a stranger touch you, the last thing you want is a mediocre massage.  

While not every therapist will end up being a match for your needs, there are some things you can do to increase the chances of a successful session:

Align Expectations

As with any relationship, massages are most effective when everyone’s working toward the same goal. Talk to your therapist about what you’re hoping to achieve with the session—is there a particular muscle that’s tight and needs release? Is that knot behind your shoulder blade killing you? Have you just had a crazy week and really need to relax? Tell us! We want to help you.

A good therapist should have some questions for you, but there’s no reason you can’t ask them questions, too. Remember, “massage” encompasses a huge range of techniques and modalities, so if you haven’t seen the therapist before, ask about their style and what to expect, as well as how they intend to address the issues you’ve brought up. Treatment plans almost always work better when they’re collaborative.

Related: Massage Therapy Based On Your Fitness Routine

Empower Yourself

It can be a little intimidating, talking to a therapist, especially one who’s been practicing for a while. Keep in mind that while they know a lot about bodies, you know the most about what it’s like to live in your body. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, whether it’s more focus in one area, less pressure on a particular spot or even something seemingly silly like a change in the music or lighting. We want you to have the best opportunity possible to relax into the work and that means making you comfortable.

Build Rapport

Massage therapy is a very personal service that requires vulnerability and trust. In medicine, people who like and trust their care providers have better outcomes than people who don’t; the same is true for massage. You don’t have to tell us your life story, but feel free to open up a little bit if there’s something you want to get off of your chest—most of us are excellent listeners, and we’re covered under the same code of confidentiality as healthcare providers. Nothing you say will leave the room.

Allow space for other modes of communication

All of the above having been said, keep in mind that words aren’t the only channel through which you’re communicating with your therapist. Your body will also tell them (and you!) a lot about what it needs. Once you’ve talked about your treatment goals (and maybe that frustrating experience you had at work yesterday), consider taking a mental step back. Relax and bring your focus to the sensations your body is experiencing.

Related: Stressed? Here’s how massage therapy can help.

Be comfortable with setting boundaries

Boundaries are difficult, but they’re also the foundation of trust. Therapists can get caught up in their egos like anyone else, and they may think they’re helping when the opposite is true. If your therapist insists on using a technique that doesn’t feel helpful in your body, or ignores your requests or makes you physically or emotionally uncomfortable, stop the session and articulate that boundary. There are multiple ways to reach any treatment outcome; no technique is so unique or effective that it should be practiced on an unwilling client.

Even if the session is fine, it’s also perfectly possible that a therapist simply isn’t a match for you—whether due to their style, or their specialty or simply their personality not meshing with yours. There’s no reason to feel guilty about hunting for a different one! It may take a few tries, but it’s well worth finding a person you like and connect with, who makes you feel great and whose sessions you look forward to all month.

After all, it’s been six years and I still see my hairdresser.

Post written by FFC Contributor Ambrosia Rose.

Ambrosia Rose has practiced massage therapy for five years and can be found at FFC Boystown. To schedule an appointment with Ambrosia, please email arose@ffc.com.