Delivering wellness experiences – the differences between retreats and spas

Delivering wellness experiences – the differences between retreats and spas

For all the therapists, practitioners and healers that have worked in both spa and retreat environments, you know that there are some clear distinctions between HOW wellness experiences are delivered  in these two different settings. Let me take you through my thoughts on the key differences, drawing from my experience.

Firstly, forming a relationship with your clients in a traditional spa or clinic environment is much like friendships and relationships outside the clinic; you take time to get to know each other. After the initial consultation process where it is customary to list medical history and current symptoms, it’s natural to take time to let the client feel safe enough to ‘spill the beans’ on other life events and situations that are more than likely co-factors in whatever condition they came to see you about. Trust and rapport naturally take time to build.

Treating in a health retreat environment is a bit more of an immersive process. They have left their known environment and entered a space they are unfamiliar with, where there will usually be some rules around what they can and can’t do. You can be guaranteed that many of their buttons have already been pushed – especially if this is a detox style retreat!

It is also my experience that most clients in a retreat setting are ready to really take a deep dive into their wellness journey. This is in part due to the fact that quite often guests attend a retreat as the result of a ‘break down’ moment or a health crisis.

There can be a sense that you need to cram a month’s worth of explanation and advice into the treatment and it usually involves a lot more of the client’s investment – financially and emotionally.

Another element to be aware of with these types of clients is that generally they are very well educated about the latest health trends (and by this I often mean fads!) newest beauty products, advances in anti-ageing technology and research in the efficacy of acupuncture to name a few. What this means is that we also need to stay abreast of the latest developments.

We can’t be all things to all people though, so pick your niche and stay on top of it.  Keep up to date with the latest journals, published books, blogs and techniques, as best as you can. Keep in mind that your expertise will not extend to all things, fads will come and go and your core beliefs, habits, and authenticity will stand you in good stead.

Knowing when to refer to another specialist in a certain field is essential in a retreat setting. You aren’t working in isolation and they will often go from a skin or body treatment to Pilates to meditation to your acupuncture table, then off to a spin class! Check in with them as to what other advice they have received. Hearing similar advice from different points of views reinforces the validity of their new health and lifestyle changes and gives them an opportunity to evaluate any resistance they might have to those changes.

Five essential things to include in your retreat treatment

(from my point of view as an acupuncturist)

  1. Explain the importance of the maintenance plan. Give examples of frequency of treatments and other complementary modalities that might also assist when the go home.


  1. Referrals – it’s unlikely that you will see this client again for some time so even if you don’t have a network of practitioners in other cities (with the use of Face Book and LinkedIn this is easier than ever) advising the client to contact an acupuncturist for regular treatments and recommend any potential need for blood tests etc. with a Holistic GP.


  1. Explanations – in the world of Traditional Acupuncture the metaphor is your best friend! Most people are unfamiliar with the concepts of hot and cold, wind and damp and even Qi when it comes to their organ functions and health conditions. The often over used car and fuel metaphors really do work!


  1. Take home Tips – this includes things like ‘legs up the wall’ to nourish the kidney energy and switch off the adrenals, warming teas to aid digestion and abdominal breathing to reduce the stress response and again support digestion to name a few. You will have your favourite tips. Putting them in a hand out or flyer is another great idea.


  1. Stay firm – this isn’t about bossing your client around but it is about offering yourself and your expertise in such a way that they are invited to be brave and open up to trying something new or thinking about things in a new way. Phrases such as:

‘I’d invite you to be brave….

I’d like you to get the most out of me and this experience….

What I would wish for you is…’

This approach has helped me deal with some very tricky clients that are used to being very much in charge in their everyday lives and that are probably feeling quite uncomfortable and often dealing with detox symptoms.

Working in a retreat setting is a unique and rewarding experience. It can be wonderful for a newly graduated practitioner to have access to a steady stream of clientele and to have the support of a team of like-minded practitioners.  Likewise for the more experienced practitioner consulting at a retreat can lead to creating a thriving business relationship with established and successful brands.

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Image courtesy of Wellness Travel Thailand

Keri Krieger is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Practitioner and Founder of the wellness specialty therapy Rockupuncture™.