Massage & Bodywork


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permission, and we know not to ask people how much money they make or what their sex life is like. But there can be exceptions to these cultural norms in certain settings. The profession of massage therapy sometimes breaks cultural norms. Where else would you enter a room with a stranger, take off all or most of your clothing, and have that stranger touch your body in a way that is often relaxing and pleasurable? Massage breaks the intimacy taboo and may partly explain (though not excuse) why some clients harmfully boundary-cross in this setting. INTIMACY There are three types of intimacy: verbal, physical, and sexual. Massage is no doubt physically intimate. Often the only other person who touches you in a gentle, soothing, and pleasurable way is your spouse or partner. For some people, especially men, this physical intimacy can be confusing. A part of the brain in some people does not differentiate between physical, verbal, and sexual intimacy. An example of this loosening of the boundary is that most massage therapists have clients who tell their massage therapist very personal, intimate details about their life: their unhappy marriage, their financial woes, their emotional struggles—almost treating the massage therapist like a psychotherapist. This is incredibly common and demonstrates the intimacy leap from physical to verbal/emotional intimacy that sometimes occurs. Well-trained therapists recognize this phenomenon and gently set a boundary. And when it's appropriate, they direct those clients who need emotional help to a psychotherapist. When a person is starved for physical intimacy, they may make an emotional leap in a massage setting, confusing the physical intimacy with sexual intimacy. This happens to female therapists with male clients every day, all over the world. The transition usually starts with subtle sexual comments L i s te n to T h e A B M P Po d c a s t a t a b m 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 61 or jokes, and if not stopped can escalate to invitations to dinner, uninvited touching, or sexual requests. First and foremost, if a massage therapist feels unsafe during a session, they should end it immediately and get the necessary support/backup needed. If a client breaks a boundary with severely inappropriate behavior, no second chances should be granted. What we're exploring here is that if a minor misstep is made, there is typically a way to immediately stop the behavior, set a firm and clear boundary, and teach the client what is acceptable and what is not. TYPES OF BOUNDARIES So how do we set those boundaries? There are verbal, emotional, sexual, and intellectual boundaries. We can set these boundaries verbally or physically. The most common way we set boundaries is through verbal communication. Those boundaries can be set by using three different verbal behaviors, depending on the context we are in and our goal. We can use attack, anger, or self-assertion behaviors. Let's examine them one at a time. Attack We all have the impulse to attack someone when we feel slighted, put down, insulted, hurt, or humiliated. We want to defend ourselves and retaliate to hurt the other person and make them feel bad for what they have done to us. We might say, "Don't be so stupid," "Get your hands off me," or "I hate you." Or we might use what's called "righteous questions," which are attacks in the form of a question: "How could you do something like that?" or "Why are you behaving like such an idiot?" These are not really questions you expect an answer to—they are just another form of attack behavior. Anger The function of natural anger is to protect ourselves, teach boundaries, and neutralize a threat from someone else. Mild anger is how a lion teaches its cubs how to

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