An Open Letter to My Massage Clients

I have been a Licensed Massage Therapist for almost 12 years. 12 years, y’all! It’s gone by so fast! Some days I feel like a seasoned veteran of my profession while other days I feel as if I know nothing and never did. Something I love about massage therapy is that there is ALWAYS something to learn, read about, analyze or evaluate. Ethics and client relationships are two of the most important things to me. Lots of folks think studying ethics after a decade is pointless. I beg to differ. How we communicate to clients is a huge ethical priority, I’ve failed numerous times. But I strive to do better, to be better.

This brings me to my letter to you, my Important Client.

Dear Client,

If you’ve gotten massages through the years from different people you’ve heard many things said to you about your body.  Comments may have been funny, sweet, even complimentary. A few words may have been wrong, hurtful, or confusing.  (Unintentionally, usually) You ask questions about this knot or that tightness. You’ve been answered with varying degrees of medical jargon, science-y words, made up words, guesses, and well-intended blaming.

In the beginning of my career I admit to doing this to clients. Speaking out of turn, incorrectly about a body. The truth is some of what you ask we don’t know. Or *I* don’t know and am willing to admit it. The following are things I no longer say, words that no massage therapist should be saying to you.

OMG, your shoulders are SO tight!

I’ve stopped pointing out “tightness” or “knots.” It draws attention to a perceived flaw. You are not flawed. You are you. Your body has aches and pains and those may or may not have anything to do with “tightness.” Incidentally, many of what I once considered muscle knots are actually muscle attachments. Sometimes when muscles attach to a bone we feel a lump or knot. That kind of knot isn’t going to be rubbed away.  Exclaiming words like these is dramatic and serves no purpose. Besides, it may make you feel badly about yourself. I want no part of that. 

What did you do to yourself? I’ve never felt shoulders this bad!

The first sentence lays blame onto you. Then you might begin thinking “if I’d only not do this” or “If I wasn’t so ___ I wouldn’t hurt all the time.” Our bodies develop pain or discomfort for any number of reasons. I cannot determine why a muscle hurts.  Sure, repetitive motion injuries exist and, yes, we can often assume extended computer work causes shoulder pain. But I’m only assuming. And I should really keep my mouth shut about the “why” and concentrate on the “make it feel better.” If you have questions about doing certain things which may cause pain we will have a conversation about movement and changing positions.  That’s all, though.  Client blaming/shaming isn’t my thing. My words do not need to give you a complex. Negative words such as these could have a nocebo affect making you feel pain you didn’t feel before. Nope, your massage experience should be positive. Accusations such as this only cause insecurity and guilt. You aren’t guilty of anything, you’re simply in pain seeking help.

 

You should always/You should never …

It’s not my place to tell you what to do with your body, especially if you don’t ask.  If you ask about ways to reduce certain pain we’ll have a discussion. I’ll ask questions and we’ll talk about different ways to try things. I don’t always have the answer. And it isn’t always “your fault” you are in pain. Again, these statements lay blame where no blame exists.

 

You should try this weight-loss product

No. Nope. Never.  If I fill my retail shelves with weight-loss items then try to peddle them to all my clients I’m breaking all kinds of ethical rules. I would never intentionally insinuate any of you should lose weight. It is NONE of my business. Asking you to buy something like that would likely hurt your feelings and cause you emotional distress. I WILL NEVER, EVER PUT YOU IN THAT SITUATION.

I care about your whole person: muscles and bones, nerves, brain, heart, spirit and soul. I promise to try my best to build you up, never lay blame, and never cause shame. I have created a safe place for you. You are always welcome here 🙂

Sincerely,

Tracy Bradley, LMT

4 Replies to “An Open Letter to My Massage Clients”

  1. Nice work Tracy. I have also heard of massage therapists who wouldn’t say anything to an overweight person make negative comments to a thin one – telling them they need to add some weight. Just like not knowing why a muscle hurts, you also don’t know why somebody weighs what they do.

    1. Thanks, Barry! I always redirect the conversation should a client begin to speak poorly of themselves. I offer encouraging words.

  2. Excellent article Tracy. Often I’m totally flummoxed by the stories my clients tell of massages they’ve had with other MTs…the stuff that’s been said to them. Has nothing to do with boundaries, health or a healing mindset. You set the record straight for those of us who really care. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I love your blog, BTW. It’s taken some time to realize that some of the most common statements made by massage therapists are nothing more than blaming or shaming. It’s so easy to say, “you’re so tight!” We never know what someone else hears between the words. I’m trying to let my hands do more talking than my mouth 🙂

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