Ethics in Practice

Excerpt from Chapter 4 - Non-Judgment
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Challenging Clients

In the context of the second guideline and respecting each client’s inherent worth, it’s appropriate to consider another frequently raised issue among massage therapists: challenging clients. This subject is a sensitive one among many therapists and worthy of a frank discussion.

Most of the people who seek massage therapy services are doing so for legitimate therapeutic purposes. However, many of the therapists I interviewed reported at least one instance of having been made to feel uncomfortable as a result of a client’s behavior toward them.

As professional massage therapists, we know how much time and effort we have invested in our education—the anatomy and physiology classes, ethics classes, theory classes, student clinic, etc. As a result of this dedication, we take ourselves and our practices very seriously, and in turn, expect to be respected by others as well. Although there have been many advances in the profession of massage therapy in the last several years, a sexual connotation regarding to massage therapy still remains.

Two stereotypes of massage therapists are common in the general public: either massage therapists are not grounded in reality or they are connected with the sex industry.
It is not that society as a whole is against massage therapy; many people are just ignorant of it as a modern profession. Some are still unaware that the correct term for us is “massage therapist.” For some therapists, it can be irritating to be called a masseur or masseuse—terms which often refer to untrained or unregulated massage practitioners.

Healer and Educator
Thus, our role in this profession is to be a healer and an educator. We must maintain an exemplary professional appearance and take the time to explain to the public that we have worked hard to establish ourselves. This is not to say that we must become massage therapy vigilantes; rather, we should be mindful that each person we meet is one more person who could come away with a more enlightened understanding of our profession. In turn, these individuals may educate their families and friends about massage therapy. What an empowering position we hold!

Handling Difficult Clients
It is directly stated in the second guideline that we must not discriminate against any clients. So how do we handle potentially difficult clients? Many therapists have devised methods to prevent, or at least minimize, any prospectively threatening situations involving would-be clients.

One therapist I spoke with uses a very extensive telephone interviewing technique when any new client calls her. During this interview, she mentions that the techniques she uses are medically based for pain relief, chronic problems, pregnancy, etc. She avoids focusing on the term “relaxation,” as it could have dual meaning for some people. She then asks what experiences the caller has had with massage therapy, what the current physical problem is, and what is expected from the massage session. Nearly every time, she is able to determine whether the caller is genuinely interested in massage therapy or is looking for “something else.” If the caller is looking for “something else,” she politely explains that her number is not the correct telephone number to have called.

This technique is very good—it eliminates a face-to-face meeting with a potentially difficult client and saves her the inconvenience of setting up an appointment to meet a client who is not there for the right reasons.

You should be very clear in your advertising about which treatment modalities you offer. It is ingrained into us in massage school to list ourselves in the phone book only under “Massage Therapy” and not simply “Massage.” Even when this is done, however, many therapists still receive calls from people looking for non-legitimate “massage.” When people contact us for these reasons, the techniques mentioned in this chapter will serve you well in dealing with these calls...

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