The Ethics of Massage Therapy (Part IV)

Boundaries were the topic of my last entry, specifically professional boundaries that therapists must be clear and open about in order to maintain an honest and professional (and legal) practice.

Today I want to continue discussing boundaries, but this time focus on the legal and personal boundaries of massage therapy.

Legal boundaries are very much locked up with professional boundaries, and so, again, they need to be clearly defined and followed in order to keep a professional and legal practice. Thus, a massage therapist should not be practicing acupuncture (unless they have a certificate/license to do so) even though his or her clientele might be interested in it. Other activities that people may seek massage therapists for, such as chiropractic work, medical advice, prescriptions, etc. also must be avoided by massage therapists unless they possess the appropriate training and qualifications.

It’s important to remember that massage therapists can still provide great service and advice – by, referring clients to medical professionals if they are seeking medical advice, for example – while also offering the valuable service of massage therapy in a trusting and professional climate that loyal and smart customers will appreciate.

Personal boundaries can be more difficult to define and enforce, but, like legal and professional boundaries, are extremely important to be clear and firm about in order to maintain a professional practice. The potential for a massage session to turn personal or sexual is the most obvious example that illustrates the importance of personal boundaries. These, like professional and legal boundaries, must be abundantly clear between the massage therapist and his or her client.

Again, personal boundaries are different for everyone. For example, some clients may think that a massage therapy appointment is an opportunity to flirt, ask a therapist out on a date, or even make sexual advances. Obviously some of these actions tread on legal boundaries, but they also may walk all over people’s personal boundaries, destroying trust between therapist and client and creating the potential for a very uncomfortable relationship.

Violations of personal boundaries, along with violations of other boundaries (legal and professional), usually begin with small offenses (a flirtation, an inappropriate comment) that can seem unpleasant or even harmless at first, nothing that would deserve an intervention or a stern explanation of personal boundaries. Unfortunately, if these small offenses go unchecked, they can be taken as signs by the therapist or client that certain boundaries do not exist, and the problem can then snowball into a major violation of ethics and the destruction of the relationship between therapist and client.

JoyLife further elaborates on the subject of boundaries – professional, legal, and personal – at the following two Web sites:

My next blog will explore the breakdown of personal boundaries – something called transference – and practical methods of avoiding such situations.

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