Massage & Bodywork

JANUARY | FEBRUARY 2020

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Ta k e 5 a n d t r y A B M P F i v e - M i n u t e M u s c l e s a t w w w. a b m p . c o m / f i v e - m i n u t e - m u s c l e s . 31 as we embrace our responsibility to uphold professional ethical boundaries that have been set before us. WHY COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL Communication is essential in all healthy and positive-functioning relationships, personal and professional alike, because it clarifies parameters of the interaction. Therapeutic relationships in massage are unique from other professional relationships due to the inherent intimacy of the session. Therefore, clear communication is imperative to the safety, integrity, comfort, and overall physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of everyone involved in the interaction. Think about it. A stranger comes to you for a first-time massage session. You ask personal questions to gain a bigger picture of their wellness profile so that you can choose effective ways to support them. Asking them which medications they take can feel very personal, let alone asking what kind of stresses they are experiencing in life. You ask them to remove their clothes, and then you touch their body. In many modalities that involve the client being fully clothed, the client still lies on the floor while the practitioner hovers over them. Even though they have opted to be there and have this experience, in some cases—and without proper management of tone and presence—it can create confusion in the mind of the client, as well as the mind of the practitioner, resulting in potential boundary crossings. DRAWING THE LINE Setting boundaries starts long before a potential boundary crossing occurs. Confusion is supported by subtle, yet powerful, cues that you and/or your client may not even be aware are being conveyed. In addition to communication, consistent awareness is a powerful force against confusion. Here are some ways you can set preemptive boundaries that reduce the possibility of subsequent confrontation. • Choose a professional office space and location that offers an environment that is safe, relaxing, and supportive of privacy. • Use professional words to market yourself. "Dr. Rubdown" conveys something far different than "Expert in Therapeutic Touch." Using the word professional in all marketing communications is recommended. • Wear a uniform or other modest attire. • Provide an informed consent document, explain their rights as a client, and set expectations of the session from the very first appointment. Do not skip this step! It is the first in establishing a professional and clear interaction. • Avoid standing or sitting too close to the client during the intake and postsession feedback processes. • Explain to the client how the session will go—where they will undress, how much clothing to remove and why (and that it's ultimately up to them to choose), how draping works, even what words they can use if they feel uncomfortable. Let them know you will check in periodically, and then follow through on that plan. • Keep the conversation limited to what is pertinent to the session. This doesn't require complete avoidance of personal conversation. It does, however, require keeping the client primarily focused on the therapeutic value of the work they are receiving and asking them to be present in their body rather than their head. • Avoid unnecessary touch. Hugging without permission, holding a professional embrace for too long, or placing your hand on a client's arm, leg, or back while interacting with them off the table, etc., can convey the message that nonprofessional touch is OK. UNDERSTANDING FEAR Fear comes from stories we create about things that have not yet happened. Stories of future outcomes might be based on previous experience, but present-moment fear is still about the potential threat of what might lie ahead. Following is a small but common list of examples from students and therapists I have worked with. Be aware of your fears and face them with clarity. • Fear of losing a client by not offering them what they want. This example isn't specifically referring to, or limited to, sexual wants. It encompasses the scenario of being unable to provide the service they desire, such as deep-tissue massage, energy work, or a modality you are not yet trained in. Performing a skill that you are not capable of, or trained in, crosses a client boundary, even if they are not aware of it. It is completely OK to tell a client you cannot offer what they want or need. Trust that either your client will be satisfied receiving what you can offer, or that another client who seeks your style of work will replace that client. • Fear that you are being too sensitive to, or misjudging, a situation. Let's say you sense a client is flirting with you. They don't say the words directly, but you sense it. Perhaps they talk negatively about a spouse. They might overcompliment you. They might bring you gifts. Whatever the case, if you feel uncomfortable, you must speak up.

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