Massage & Bodywork

July/August 2010

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ethics and etiquette BY TERRIE YARDLEY-NOHR THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIPS The dynamics of the relationship between the therapist and client can be diverse and complex. Successful bodyworkers pay close attention not only to the techniques they use, but also to the many details involved in cultivating and maintaining the client relationship. Ethical issues often play an important part in this partnership, and the therapist should be aware as challenging situations can happen. THE CLIENT Clients who seek you out as a massage therapist do so because they believe you are well-trained and reliable. Clients want to trust that professionals know what they are doing and look to them to provide a quality service. For example, when you take a ring to the jewelry store to be fixed, you assume the jeweler knows what to do. But what guarantees do you have? You simply assume this person has the ability to fix it. The public assigns power to professionals and, in turn, many professionals act on this power because clients expect them to. This power develops from a psychological expectation, in many cases, rather than actual facts. For example, a client may assume that a bodyworker can give a full assessment of the range of motion in a knee. Some bodyworkers can identify a problem, but a full evaluation and cause of malfunction may be beyond the scope of practice for some practitioners. A client's assumptions can give a therapist a great deal of power. This shift of authority in the client- therapist relationship is called a power differential. A responsible therapist is consciously aware of the dynamics that can happen within this power differential and takes care not to take advantage of the client. It is common for clients to look to a therapist for advice regarding their overall health. While a therapist may be familiar with symptoms and diseases to help formulate a proper treatment program for a client, it is beyond the scope of practice for therapists to diagnose a condition or disease for a client. When clients start talking about what may be physically wrong with them and venture into forbidden territory, the bodyworker can respond by explaining that it is beyond the scope of practice for a bodyworker to diagnosis conditions. The power differential can include other dimensions related to why a client may be seeking you out as a therapist. A client could feel comfortable confiding in you or the sessions are helping to heal some emotional pain. This adds another layer of responsibility to the relationship. As the therapeutic relationship develops over time, the responsible therapist more fully understands why a client wants to receive massage. It is much like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together to form a complete picture. Clients come for a massage with a purpose and give the therapist the power to make them feel better. Some may simply need relaxation, while others need pain relief, corrected posture, or positive touch. A certain number of clients may be able to tell you during the initial interview what they are hoping to achieve. Others may have a difficult time verbalizing their needs and goals; only over time will you begin to understand why they have become clients. Because of the power differential, you have the responsibility to shape and maintain the relationship. 106 massage & bodywork july/august 2010

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