Intention Matters

Intention matters, which is one thing a massage machine will never do as well as a human

You know those fantastic massage chairs that look like a nice recliner but are equipped with technology to knead, roll and tap the tight muscles of your back and legs into submission? They really have gotten quite good. If you haven’t tried one recently at your local airport or shopping mall, I suggest that you do.

Working in the spa industry, I can’t help but wonder if this technology might eventually replace the need for a human massage therapist. As the chairs refine their “technique,” a human massage therapist with years of expensive training and experience could become obsolete.

Naturally, there are certain things the human version brings to the table: the ability to communicate with their client, to sense how the body is responding to their massage and to use their intuition to deliver a more personalized experience. But really, from a technology standpoint, these are all just elements of the “user interface.” Somewhere, in a programmer’s basement, there are code monkeys fueled by corn chips and Dr. Pepper who are working on using technology to solve these problems.

Luckily, for the future of my career in spas, there is one aspect of a human massage experience that a machine will never be able to replicate: the nurturing intention of the therapist. It would be easy to shrug this off. If the massage is delivered in an exactly identical way, what difference could the intention behind it make?

An interesting study looked at this question. Two groups of participants received identical massage programs from an automated massage chair. There was only one difference: in one group the massage started automatically; in the other, a researcher came in and flipped on the switch.

There was no difference in the massage program, so there shouldn’t have been much of a difference between how the groups felt after their massage. But what they found was fascinating. The recipients enjoyed their massage more, and felt better afterward, when they knew a human being had intentionally delivered the treatment.

This sounds surprising, but it is easier to understand if you think about how you feel when something bad happens to you. Isn’t it much worse when you know the bad thing was intentionally caused by someone else? Intention amplifies the effects of human interactions.

Recognizing the impact of your intention allows you to be more effective in your personal and professional relationships. Here are three ways to bring the power of intention to your interactions with others:

Set an intention. Before an important meeting or conversation, define your goal. What kind of impact would you like to have on the other person (or people)?

Make your intentions known. Let the people around you know what you wish for them.  When your family, clients or coworkers know that you have their best interests at heart, they will appreciate your contributions that much more.

Appreciate the intentions of others. Intentions matter. Be aware of the intentions of those around you and savor the people who are wishing you good things.

When it comes to a massage, sometimes we just need some knots worked out, and a machine could work just as well. But sometimes, we just need to know that someone else cares. This is what spas do well.

Many of the “healers” in modern society are just like the massage chair. They know what intervention your body needs and they know technically how to deliver it. But these well-trained doctors forget a simple truth: We don’t only need their expertise. We need them to care.

This is why I feel confident that with all of the advances in medicine, and all of the advances in technology, the idea of a spa, where one human being takes care of another, will be around for a long, long time.

Jeremy McCarthy is the Group Director of Spa for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.  He is the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing and hosts a blog at

Jeremy McCarthy

Jeremy McCarthy

Group Director of Spa at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
Jeremy McCarthy is the Group Director of Spa for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group leading their internationally acclaimed luxury spa division featuring 44 world-class spa projects open or under development worldwide. He has over 20 years of experience operating luxury spas in resort and hotel properties worldwide and is the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing. You can find more of his writing on his blog at
Jeremy McCarthy

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