The Ethics of Massage Therapy (Part VI)

I was writing a couple of weeks ago about transference, professional and personal boundaries being crossed in the client-therapist relationship (click here to read the entry)

Again, it is very easy for transference to take place, partly because of the nature of massage therapy (therapists are the experts, client undress for them, and receive therapeutic touch from them). But another reason transference can take place so easily is because we all (therapist and client) are coming from collective experiences that are uniquely are own; thus personal boundaries are defined individually and what’s comfortable for one person may be uncomfortable for another.

This places extreme importance on therapists to outline clearly the professional, legal, and personal boundaries of their massage practice.  The best way to go about doing this is to clearly outline important boundaries right at the beginning of every massage therapy session. JoyLife Therapeutics does this, with disclaimers explained to clients before every massage session. Here’s a part of one of our disclaimers that clients must read and sign before receiving a massage:

“I understand the MT (massage therapist) is not a doctor and cannot prescribe medications or diagnose medical conditions. The MT reserves the right to end a session in the case of sexual innuendo or advances from client, and client has same right in instance of sexual advances or innuendo from the MT.”

Having a statement such as this one clearly explained to the client before a session clearly defines professional and personal boundaries that massage therapists should keep and that clients should respect. It also gives therapists something to use to explain to their clients why certain conduct is inappropriate and why, at its most severe, a massage session or relationship between therapist and client is being terminated.

It may seem like overkill, but having a client read and sign a form with such information on it can help set boundaries between client and therapist and provide therapists with a way of protecting themselves.

Moreover, it’s in the therapist’s interest to clearly define their boundaries, not just to protect themselves, but also because:

  1. It’s good for business. A therapist that is honest, professional, and upfront is one who attracts respectable clients.
  2. It’s good for your client. They know what to expect and where you draw the line. This will make them feel more comfortable around you.
  3. It’s the therapists responsibility to see that their practice is run in a respectful and professional way.
  4. It’s the best way to shake loose any misconceptions that people may have about massage therapy and your practice.

Besides clearly outlining what appropriate boundaries are before a massage session begins and when little incursions upon boundaries occur, it is also important that therapists encourage behavior that is professional and respectful of the boundaries. By doing this, therapists will ensure that boundaries are maintained and enforced and that their practice operates on high ethical standards.

I’m going to take a break from the subject of ethics, but please keep the conversation going in the comments section of the blog. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

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