I have collected these Horror Story submissions from actual massage clients across the country.
(The horror stories have only been slightly edited and the names are real because they were submitted to me because the clients wanted to help the industry as a whole.
(If you or your spa is mentioned below — let me know and I will add a note about how you have improved the situation.)
We can all learn from clients who have had bad experiences so we never repeat these situations.
Even if you THINK you don’t do this…consider any similarities in what you might do or what a client might experience from your session.
The most important take-away from this post is that in most of these situations the client told me they didn’t complain about it to the therapist or business after the session, because either they felt it wouldn’t help or they were too embarrassed to say anything.
Hmmm… think about it: which of your clients have never come back and you don’t know why?
Horror Story #1.
Environment: Beautiful, elite day spa,
Experience: “I was having a great massage by Sam and realized that at times he was only using one hand to massage. Then I would hear what sounded like his “flip” cell phone closing. Yep, I was right, he was text messaging someone while giving me a massage!
I didn’t want to be the one who ratted him out. So, I told my nail tech who works at the same day spa and she informed the owner. Needless to say, Sam doesn’t work there anymore. It’s a real shame. He’s very talented and can read a tight muscle like few others.
I learned later, that at the time of my massage, Sam was on probation because another client had complained. That’s why he was let go–because he was warned, but kept texting.”
Gretchen Anderson Publicist, Boise, Idaho
Horror Story #2.
Environment: New Age Health Spa in Neversink, N.Y.
Experience: “I lay on the table waiting and the massage therapist came into the room late by a few minutes.
(several minutes more than just the “I’ll step out of the room while you change …”)
She had left me in a cold room with just a towel and sheet … no other props. The room was not even really a massage room … seemed more like a classroom with a table in it. The therapist was wearing jangly bracelets, slapped cold, runny lotion on me and rubbed me in no particular, therapeutic way. First an arm … then an opposite leg … just willy-nilly. With 20 minutes still left to go for my hour session, she said, “it’s not quite time but you’re done.” (The audacity of that still blows me away!)
I paid for an hour massage. And, yes I was done. I had to wipe off all the sticky wet lotion with the towel. Ugh. And, never ever stepped foot in that spa again.
It was 8 years ago and my new boyfriend (now husband) so proudly took me there as a gift so I never complained …if it had been today I most certainly would have.”
Debbie Phillips, Life and Executive Coach, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Horror Story #3 & 4. (Poor woman had two bad experiences!)
Environment: High-end spa in Carmel, CA.
Experience: “The spa was always really great at creating an environment that was calm and relaxing – one of those places where you feel your cares melt away as soon as you walk through the door. I was led to the room and stripped down, got under the sheet, and the therapist entered and talked with me a little bit about what I was looking to accomplish.
The treatment started as normal, but then she started talking and wouldn’t stop. I learned about her marriage breaking up, her new boyfriend, why she moved to the area, her history of abuse… I’d tried gently telling her I appreciated her stories, but I wanted to relax and would appreciate a peaceful environment. She would quiet down for a little while, but then would pipe up again and start chattering about something else.
Rather than having the experience be relaxing and soothing, I found myself irritated and agitated… and more stressed than when I initially walked in! Since I had asked her to stop, and she didn’t, I could’ve gone to the manager, but on some level I felt bad for her. Will I go back? Nope. I never did, because I didn’t want to chance running into her again. It was just too awkward an experience.”
And her second horror story…
Horror Story #4.
Environment: A place that gives massage students their first gig out of school.
Experience: “I’ve been to the clinic a few times in the past. My therapist led me to the room and instructed me to disrobe, which I did.
At the time I was having an outbreak of psoriasis, which I outlined on my intake form. Psoriasis is an auto-immune disorder that can cause dry, red patches of skin on the body, but I’ve had plenty of treatments and never had any issue with it. My therapist entered the room and asked what I wanted to focus on, but when she pulled back the sheet, she started freaking out when she saw I had some red splotches on my leg.
She was backed against the door asking me if it was contagious, etc, etc, and wouldn’t touch me, then took off out of the room. I was humiliated. I got dressed and went to the front. The woman at the desk was apologetic, but I had nothing to say. I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. Instead I called another of their locations and told them what happened, and asked them if they would be willing to take me in. They said they would, and discounted my service, which I thought was nice, considering it wasn’t even their location that presented the issue. After that incident, I didn’t go back to any of their locations.”
Carly Milne, Los Angeles, CA. Journalist.
Horror Story #5.
Environment: Hotel Spa (a very ritzy hotel in NYC — wall street area)
Experience: “This was my first — and definitely my last.
My business associate and I booked massages at the hotel. They didn’t have enough massage therapists available so I had to wait for my friend to finish then I would go in. The sitting area was comfortable — magazines, candles, and soft music. The therapist took my friend first. About 50 minutes later my friend came out and had a very funny face on her. She said “Your turn and I can’t wait to hear your response”. I’ve had 100’s of massages good, bad, and terrible however what I was about to experience was … so weird and so funky!
At first, everything is going ‘normal’ and I’m relaxing and feeling good. About 35 minutes into the session I hear her pull something from under the table. Her hand is on my leg. I’m thinking she is getting some oil or something. No big deal.
The next thing she does also didn’t surprise me — I’d experienced something similar in Spain. She climbed on the table and straddled me massaging my back. (Editor’s Note: It is always best to ask before you climb onto the table!)
But the next thing… blew me away. She sits on me..buttock to buttock and LIES DOWN ON ME and starts shimming and shaking and using the heels of her feet on my back. Think someone convulsing on my back. I yelled “What the hell are you doing?” “Get the (blank) off of me!” She did and said this was normal in her massage. I told her that wasn’t normal!
I quickly put on my clothing, walked out, and my associate (who was a timid sort) said “I’m so glad you are feeling that way – I didn’t know what to do?”
I went to the hotel manager and told him about the massage I had just had at his spa. Thankfully his face blanched. He proceeded to find that the massage therapist was new — very new — this was her first day and that other people has mentioned her weird session. I was dumbfounded that people accepted her ‘massage’.
Even though the hotel refunded our money and gave us a free dinner along with a hand written apology letter from the manager, I’ve never been back to the hotel. It is doubtful I will go back to any place that never tests their massage therapists first.”
Pegine Echevarria, Speaker/Author, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
Horror Story #6 & 7.
(Again, another woman who unfortunately had two horror stories too!)
Environment: Bali, Thai massages at a local day spa.
Experience: “Thai massage is one of my favorite forms of massage and I was really looking forward to it after a 19-hour flight from Los Angeles to Indonesia. I will never forget the two hours of misery I endured in at the hands of an inexperienced massage therapist with the WORST body odor ever. I think I broke a record in holding my breath! I was so focused on finding creative ways to bury my nose in the pillow without passing out that I barely noticed the bodywork. All I did notice was the wall clock that couldn’t tick fast enough.”
Horror Story #7:
Environment: Nidah Spa inside the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe.
Experience: “I booked the signature Turquoise massage. Instead of hot stones, the treatment used chunks of turquoise to provide the pressure to the back. It sounded exotic and kind of mystical. Trouble was, the therapist used WAY too much oil on my back. Turquoise nuggets were sliding EVERYWHERE and dropping to the floor, while the rivulets of oil dripping from my drenched hair and nape ran into my eyes and nostrils.
The therapist also COUNTED the # of strokes on each body part! How do I know? I counted along with her…up and down 6 times on the lower right leg, circled the knee cap 3 times, 6 times up and down the right thigh. Circle the knee cap again and repeat the action on the other leg. Same routine on the arms, and then she flipped me over and repeated the whole choreography.”
Rada K. Tierney. Communications, Phoenix, AZ
Horror story #8:
Environment: Calistoga, wine country of California, USA
Experience: “My friend Eva and I were the only clients at the inn that day. My therapist, named Sun Bear was a sloppily dressed guy with greasy long hair. The room was freezing and austere. Sun Bear put on a small space heater and I got up onto the table. His damp, clammy hands began working my back. As the massage went on, the room got colder and I began to freeze up. “Please turn up the heat”, I said. He grunted and did so. It had no effect. I got colder and more uncomfortable as the massage went on while his hands, inexplicably, got clammier and damper. He was repulsive! (On some level there needs to be a comfort level with the person whose hands are on your body, and there was none present here.)
Toward the middle of the hour I felt more like I was enduring this torment rather than enjoying anything, and I started to feel resentful that I would have to pay for it. I asked him again to turn up the heat but he whiningly said this was as hot as it got. It was the only massage experience I’ve had that had me counting the minutes until it was over. By the time my hour was up I couldn’t wait to get out of there and put my clothes back on. I was shivering! Freezing cold and sore, also grossed-out by the inept skills and petulant attitude of Sun Bear. He shot me a dirty look when I neglected to give him a tip.
Typical too-nice woman that I am, I didn’t even complain. I collected my friend, who’d had a perfectly acceptable massage with another therapist, and we got the hell out of there. Jumping into the jacuzzi at another spa later on was pure bliss, as I tried to warm my body and push the horrible experience out of my mind.
Yes, I should have gone right up to the desk and said that I’d had an extremely sub-par experience and would need some kind of compensation if I were to ever return. But I didn’t and I’ve always regretted it.”
Julie Tilsner, mom of two, Los Angeles, CA.
Again folks, as a community of well-meaning massage & wellness therapists, let us not allow history to repeat itself!
As was proven here, clients most often won’t tell you to your face they are unhappy with their massage from you, and you’ll never know why they were unhappy. Best case scenario, they just won’t come back. Worse case- they will tell everyone they know or post on the on-line directories and in social media to tell the world!
(More Horror Stories to come)
Share your experiences as either a practitioner or client below… AND, if you did have someone be kind enough to share what they were unhappy about, did you take it to heart and do something about it to change?
Business mentor, Educator and Inspirer to Clinic Owners & Solo Practitioners. Love to hear from you ~ Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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I have been an LMT for almost 3 yrs and I’m always looking to improve. I take criticism to heart and I don’t love it but I realize that it’s better than someone not saying something and leaving me wondering why they never came back to me again. Also, although it’s not fun to receive criticism, that’s how we learn and improve. Yesterday, a client of mine was an LMT. She arrived about 20 mins late and still needed to fill out paperwork. She stated that she wanted a full body massage. However, when I began the session I realized I had less than 40 mins to do so. I figured it’s more important to work on the parts that I would want done on myself so I worked on her upper body only. I should not have made that assumption. After the session ended she communicated her frustrations with me only working on half her body when she was expecting full body. I said that since we had reduced amount of time that I didn’t have time for full body. She said that you can do full body in 40 mins and walked out angry. Just goes to show, you should never assume that something is okay; it’s better to ask and communicate too much rather than too little.
Ouch- Olivia, you learned a tough (but valuable) lesson.
It is always best to communicate and co-create the best plan for the client.
You’re the expert, but it’s their session. Become the advisor they trust and I’m confident you will never have that experience again.
Well I’m a massage person and I’ve had some bad massages in my life as well
Hello, I’m am LMT I strive really anove and beyond in my practice to deliver complete and restful relaxation experience. I love my job. But, I too have experienced too many horrible experiences receiving massages. I just wish I could work on myself. I do actually. Its not the same as leaving your cares in someone else’s hands. As body workers we must be aware to not bring negative energy to the treatment room. It is challenging sometimes as the therapist were not always having a good day. Thats when I have to really focus. Its all about the client. It doesnt matter whats happening to us. The client is paying me to take them to zen and that’s what I’m going to deliver.
I had a little funny incident in Dec, last year. I went to a local massage center to reduce my backache that is bugging me since a week then. While I was getting the massage, the receptionist has just entered in asking that a male client wanted to have some quick massage session as he is in a hurry. So, my therapist asked if I have no objection getting the client in the room to the corner side for a quick session. I agreed to her. But, when that person entered inside, he was none other than my husband and we had a great fun getting the massage in the same room. This was a funny story of mine.
I just wrote this whole thing in it flipped away. Irene thank you for posting these. I thought I’d had a couple of bad massages but I take it back they were fabulous compared to these stories. It’s stories like this the make a bad name for our entire profession. Not so much the stories but the experiences that the clients had to go through. I thought I’d stay up till 4 and do a little reading in a little work but now after reading them I don’t think I can go to sleep I feel nauseated and disgusted. I see one was from Florida, I didn’t know any massage school in Florida would let anything like that out the door to graduate!
Wow I have experienced awkward clients. I have always gave GREAT massages! I’m proud to say I have all 5 star reviews! I had a client I called “Moaning Mona” I met her when I was doing my massage clinicians. She was an overweight woman . As I got started she started moaning to my surprise. As I got deeper into the Massage it started sounding like a sex session. She be moaning and making such noise. I was shocked and asked her to please calm down as other clients were in stalls next to us and could here her. I was horrified to think what they thought was going on ! So disgusting! I digress! 😣