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In this Post: Learning how to give a client-centered massage is an important piece to the work we do as massage therapists. It takes digging into our own past and traumas and becoming truly whole. Get digging therapist!
In learning how to give a client-centered massage, great hands-on skills are awesome. Anatomical knowledge is key. But the real power is in having your sh%$ together!
I don’t mean to be crass, but truly, how many therapists have you met that are a hot mess? You know the type, the ones who are continually rescheduling on clients, showing up at the same time the client does, or just never quite seem to have it together.
There is nothing worse than going in for a relaxing, restorative, therapeutic massage only to hear a monologue from your therapist. Things like; how hard they have been trying to quit smoking, or how their on again off again boyfriend was a total A-hole once again. I mean come on, we aren’t in high school anymore, the drama is soo not appropriate!
How to Give a Client-Centered Massage
But how do we give a client-centered massage? What does that even mean?
A client-centered massage means that we are checking our opinions, experiences, and prejudices at the door. Not ignoring our own needs, but instead holding space for our clients to have their own unique experience, while still honoring our boundaries.
Our clients might have an emotional release on our table. They may moan during their treatment. Or they may chatter away the entire duration of their treatment. Instead of letting these things trigger us, we must maintain the therapeutic container. Holding space for them to explore their own healing journey without becoming enmeshed in our journey.
So, how do we check ourselves at the door?
We start by digging deep into our own experiences around touch, sex, intimacy, and body image issues. Getting comfortable or in touch with our own touch history will provide us the strength and guidance to be present with our clients. We need to spend time exploring how these issues played into us becoming massage therapists in the first place. And how they contribute to our strengths and weaknesses as bodyworkers. We must examine our own boundary styles and areas where we might benefit from further growth. Check out: Establishing Boundaries as Massage Therapists.
We should journal about these topics, meditate on them, and/or seek professional help.
Only once we have gotten clear on our own triggers, hold-ups, and traumas can we truly be there for our clients. These sensitive issues create a great deal of conflict for many. When we fail to acknowledge and find ways to heal from their effects, our past may prevent us from moving forward in a healthy way.
A therapist’s past, present, and future have the power to determine the make-up of how balanced and centered they may be during treatments if they choose not to do the hard work involved with becoming whole.
And hard work it is! It is emotional to dig into things like sexual abuse, eating disorders, and violent touch. And even if you didn’t have a horribly traumatic experiences regarding these topics, I promise you still have triggers. We all do; it’s human nature.
Massage therapy has the capability to heal or hinder trauma. It has the power to undo the effects of violent, or abusive touch and instead teach healthy, healing touch. This means that we, as therapists, have a huge responsibility to act in a professional, nurturing, empathetic way, without bringing our own issues into the therapeutic container.
We must make sure we are energetically introducing ourselves and asking before we barge into our client’s personal space. That we are listening to their unspoken cues, and respond accordingly. If we are getting strong and clear messages to back up, then for heavens sack, back up! It is an awful feeling to have someone enter your space too quickly or without invitation!
It is important to be aware of how your actions affect others. Touch has not always been a positive experience in everyone’s life, and it is vital to be sensitive to this reality.
We must practice active listening! Fully hearing what it is that our clients are trying to communicate with us. This means slowing down. And, there is beauty in slowing down.
One of my favorite quotes about this is from the character Phil Dunphy of Modern Family, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast!” This quote always cracked me up because I find it to be so true in my life. When I am trying to get things done, whether running errands, getting ready in the morning, or conducting an intake with a client, when I move too quickly, I make mistakes. And mistakes are timely.
As this applies to clients, if I slow down to hear what they are saying, I can more effectively approach the root of their problem without wasting time floundering.
We need to remember that it is our client’s time to relax, reconnect, and rejuvenate, not our own. If we have needs that must be met, we should schedule a massage, psychotherapy session, or date with a friend. Not use our client’s time for our own purposes.
Dual relationships present considerable challenges in regards to making sure the time is genuinely dedicated to the client. When we have a preexisting relationship with a client, it makes it hard to turn off the reciprocal nature of these types of relationships.
In our relationships, whether it be a friendship, a real estate agent, or a family member, we are accustomed to communicating in a back and forth manner. We share something, they share something, and so it goes. In the therapist/client relationship, this is not the case. Instead, we must honor the needs of our clients and put aside our history with this individual until a more appropriate time.
Maybe our client wants to be completely quiet the entire session, or perhaps they want to talk. Whatever the case, pay attention to what their needs are. One example I have seen is when a client clearly doesn’t want to talk, but a therapist continues to ask them questions. I mean come on, just shut-up already!
On the flip side, if your client wants to talk, make sure you are careful about the words you choose. People come in for massage often just as much for mental reasons as they do physical. They are often in delicate positions, recovering from divorce, death in their families, or other hardships. And remember we are not psychotherapists. We should not be offering advice. Instead we can listen with open ears.
Therapists, scrutinize your intentions, evaluate your thoughts, and be honest with yourself. Make sure that you have done the hard work internally, that you are coming from the most grounded, centered, authentic, and caring place. This can take a while and you may need to periodically evaluate where you are on the health scale, but this is your job! And it might be the most important part of working as a massage therapist. So therapist, get digging! Get your hands dirty. Cry. Laugh. Heal.
- Boulder College of Massage Therapy Graduate
- Nationally Certified through NCBTMB
- Colorado Licensed Massage Therapist
- Certified CranialSacral Level 1 through Upledger
- Certified Herbal Therapist through Nutrition Therapy Institute
- Certified Fujian Massage through Barefoot Masters
- Fort Lewis College - Majored in Art, Minored in Business Administration
- 6 Year Winner of Best Massage Therapist for "Best of The Boat" Competition
- Massage Business Owner Since 2008