Massage & Bodywork

JANUARY | FEBRUARY 2022

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massage therapist has said. It is always something along the lines of, "I can't believe how tight you are" or "Your muscles are full of tension." Who knows what that previous therapist was thinking about—chances are, their assessment of this client was more complicated. They may have given a great massage, and may have offered all kinds of other helpful ideas. And yet, this small phrase is what stuck. My muscles are really tight. This small phrase became part of this client's narrative of who they are. The downsides of that statement, as best I can tell, far outweigh the benefits. Did that client start a new stretching routine based on what that therapist said? No. Did that client start meditating, or doing tai chi, or change the setup of their desk, or start looking for a new job, or otherwise reshape their daily life? Probably not. But they did internalize this notion of tightness. We seem almost eager for this kind of self-understanding—this monologue of pain and tension. As if it validates us. There is something comforting in knowing things about ourselves, even if those things are problems. The world is changing all the time, and change is scary. No surprise, then, that there is comfort in what is familiar— painful or not. I think there is something appealing about this story of tension in this particular moment. We are facing historic levels of uncertainty, and a seemingly growing list of global crises, and at the same time we are constantly urged to be our own best selves and innovate our lives and be entrepreneurs and live perfectly curated, made-for-social-media lives. That perpetual stress and tension we talk about is proof we are striving to do all the right things, regardless of how much we are actually succeeding. We massage therapists have the chance to work against this perception. And yet, our good instincts often lead us astray. And in turn, that client's perception of self becomes even more narrow and calcified. To be clear, many of us work with clients who are dealing with significant, diagnosed issues—from cancer to carpal tunnel syndrome, from fibromyalgia to a recent surgery, and on and on. Obviously, our work must take into account any and every condition a client presents with. In my plea L i s te n to T h e A B M P Po d c a s t a t a b m p.co m /p o d c a s t s o r w h e reve r yo u a cce s s yo u r favo r i te p o d c a s t s 53 to try and expand, rather than narrow, the client's narrative, I am in no way suggesting you contradict that narrative. Everything your client tells you is valuable and should be treated with respect. Everything a doctor has told them should be taken seriously and integrated into your treatment. After all, having a diagnosis can be far better than just having unexplained pain. But for these medically complicated clients, we have an even more important job. With our touch, we can remind them their diagnoses are not the limit of who they are. They may be going through chemo, but they can still feel ease in their body. Possibility Not Prescription Where does all this leave you and your good intentions? I hope with this article to prompt your own reflection on your built-in habits and to encourage you to make small changes that will enhance the benefits you already give to your clients. See "How to Provide Possibility" on page 53 for a list of specific changes you can make. Here, I want to reflect more deeply on the possibilities for shifting our own perspective on the work we are doing. Doing less and saying less can make it seem like we are giving less—like we are letting our clients down. But I want to assure you the opposite is true. If you don't believe me, listen to the wonderful Diana Thompson, massage therapist and educator: "It is a blessing not to be able to diagnose, leaving us free to see clients as human beings to partner with, whose stories lead us on a path toward wholeness, rather than only relating to the illness—something to name and conquer." 2 If we think about our work with clients as a partnership, the possibilities only grow. As we deepen our scientific understanding, and as we improve our stature as a profession, we are at risk of losing something equally valuable: the recognition of all we don't know. I believe our ignorance makes us as valuable to our clients as our knowledge. The great (and underappreciated) gift we can give to our client is the fact we often can't tell them what is wrong with their bodies. We can't give them the answer. (Oftentimes, doctors can't either, but they We are actually more credible authorities— and more useful therapists— when we are honest about the things we aren't sure about and the questions we can't answer.

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