Ethics in Practice

Excerpt from Chapter 13 - Special Topics
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Dual Relationships

Dual relationships are those in which the personal and professional boundaries between the therapist and client become blurred. This issue is sometimes avoided in discussions among massage therapists; it is also one of the least “black and white” topics associated with massage therapy ethics.

One of the most exciting aspects of being a massage therapist is the wide variety of clients with whom we have the opportunity to work. Learning about others’ personalities and worldviews can be a very enlightening experience and you may wish to reciprocate this exchange by expressing your own views to the client. If you consider, however, the boundaries of the therapist-client relationship and the goal of providing the highest quality massage therapy to the client, you may correctly conclude that the treatment room is not an ideal venue for personal conversation and information exchange. If personal conversations abound during a massage, such distractions can cause the session to be counterproductive.

Many massage therapists work alone and may therefore have limited interaction with other colleagues and the public on a daily basis. Some people embrace this solitary lifestyle and do not miss the daily contact (whether positive or negative) that a “regular” full-time job provides. Some therapists do become increasingly lonely, though, and would prefer more social interaction. Many times, in these cases, one’s clients fill the void from the lack of regular social contact. When a massage therapist transfers these feelings of viewing their clients as potential  friends rather than retaining the professional boundary, the quality of the massage treatment given to clients could diminish. While it is perfectly acceptable to exchange pleasantries, you must remain mindful of the client’s best interests and recognize that if conversation deviates outside of the therapeutic context, the concentration placed upon the quality of the massage being provided may become lessened due to the distraction of a lengthy discussion.

Some clients will come in for a massage and talk the entire time; this may be their way of relaxing. While you can be a polite and engaged listener, once you begin to offer advice and personal opinions to the client, the therapist-client boundary becomes muddled. Conversely, when other clients come in for a massage, it may be the only time of silence they are able to have for the week, month, etc. It is important to honor the client’s wish for tranquility and speak to them only for the purpose of inquiring about their comfort or explaining a procedure.

If you find yourself sharing personal information with your clients—thoughts that might be shared with a good friend, for example—it might be a good idea to ask a peer mentor to help you conduct an assessment. The mentor may help you discover the source of your need to share personal thoughts with a client and help you devise a plan of action.

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