The Ethics of Massage Therapy (Part III)

In my last entry I wrote about the important ethic that most professional massage therapists follow, consent. In today’s entry I want to talk about another ethic that is just as important, boundaries.


Boundaries are extremely important to be clear about, because many boundaries are personal, coming from our collective experiences. Therefore, each massage therapist may have their own boundaries that may differ from other therapists, and, more important, each client will have different ideas of what their boundaries are. This makes it very important that boundaries are clearly defined and understood by all as soon as the relationship between therapist and client begins.

Since boundaries are personal and vary from person to person, it can be difficult to provide specific examples when talking about the ethic in general terms. However, there are some boundaries that are more black and white than others. For starters, there are the professional boundaries of each therapist; to paraphrase from the JoyLife Web page that also covers this subject, massage therapists should not provide any therapy that is outside the scope of their certified practice, nor should they pretend that they possess capabilities beyond what they are certified to do.

Often times, clients come to a massage therapist looking for a certain kind of treatment, possibly one in which the therapist is not officially trained. This can be problematic as the client may pressure the therapist into providing the therapy, and, moreover, the therapist may want to oblige in order to keep the client or get more money. This harkens back to my last entry on the importance of voluntary and informed consent; if the client is fully aware of the therapist’s professional capabilities, then there shouldn’t be any pressure on the therapist to perform modalities or procedures in which he or she is not trained.

Thus, in order to be professional and ethical in their line of work, therapists need to create clear boundaries that demonstrate what they can and can not do, and must avoid the temptation to offer or advertise other services that are outside their professional capabilities. The main benefit of this open and honest presentation of their professional boundaries is the potential for a long-lasting, trusting relationship between client and therapist. The drawbacks associated with not respecting professional boundaries, besides the breach of ethics, are potential legal, medical, and professional problems that could lead to suspension of a therapist’s certificate or license or even jail time.

In my next entry, I will explore legal and personal boundaries in massage therapy. Please comment if you feel you have anything to add or simply want to respond.

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