Establishing Boundaries in Massage Therapy

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  • 0:04 Boundaries 101
  • 0:50 Physical & Sexual Boundaries
  • 1:44 Emotional Boundaries
  • 3:17 Social Boundaries
  • 4:34 Professional Boundaries
  • 6:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Bryant

Sarah has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and an active Registered Nurse license. She teaches in hospitals, clinics and the classroom.

This lesson will explain boundaries in detail, the types of boundaries, and how to explore your own as well as the clients. Limitations and fears that could impact behavior will also be explored.

Boundaries 101

Boundaries are limits between what is good and bad behavior. These are specific, individualized, and unique based on the person. You will need to first establish your boundaries, and from there you can better serve your clientele.

The therapists that have established a firm set of boundaries are the ones that get the farthest in their careers and have more repeat clients. Boundaries can be a difficult topic for some and they can involve how much talking is needed during the massage itself, what clothing you wear, the products used, gifts given and received, and the way communication is conducted via email, social media, and/or on the table and off the table. Also of note, there are physical, emotional, social, sexual, and professional boundaries to be aware of.

A Client Receiving Massage Therapy
massage

Physical & Sexual Boundaries

Setting physical boundaries is a must when practicing massage therapy. Draping is the task done by the massage therapist to help with the modesty and privacy of the client. It's where a client is covered to maintain modesty, dissipate fear, and allow for the massage therapist to access their body where massage is needed. It's the job of the massage therapist to also make sure the client feels safe, comfortable, and secure.

When it comes to touching a client, especially if it requires touching an area that is draped, be sure to talk with the client and explain what you will be doing and if they're comfortable with it. It's of note that it's never appropriate to undrape or massage a client in the area of their genitals or backside. It's also of note that a client should never touch a massage therapist in an inappropriate manner. If that occurs, it's necessary to let them know their actions are undesired and, if need be, end the session and do not reschedule that client.

Emotional Boundaries

There are also a few items to address in relation to emotional boundaries. Transference is something that occurs when the client makes a professional relationship personal. They tend to take something that originated in a past relationship or different relationship and transfer that onto the current, professional relationship. Massage therapists need to be wary of this and rein in the client back to the professional relationship at hand. Indications of this happening may include unwarranted gifts being brought in, a client asking you out for lunch, contacting you outside the office, or the client asking for a reduced price.

Countertransference is just the opposite, where the therapist unloads past issues onto their client. It's also when the client is unable to separate personal feelings from a therapeutic relationship. A massage therapist is supposed to recognize this and keep it out of their clients' therapy. A few examples of countertransference include excessive thoughts about a client and their problems after they have left, playing the role of a helper or fixer, thinking only you can relieve clients' pain, etc.

Power differential is the last emotional boundary to be aware of, since it has to do with the higher level of power the massage therapist has over the client. As a massage therapist, you will have clients that are in the nude beneath a drape, with you standing over them. This is a situation in which there is a power differential and you shouldn't exploit that in a massage session. An example of exploiting the client's position is if you have a lawyer on the table and you begin to ask them for legal advice.

Social Boundaries

This is an important topic, since social boundaries are the most commonly crossed ones. Talking is a normal human interaction because we want to be invested in others' lives and show that we care, but remember a client is there to get a massage to relax. As a massage therapist you will have to learn how to control the urge to be invested in a client's life and provide them with a relaxing environment. This will include refraining from talking about the client's work life, kids, vacations, etc. If a client tends to drift toward conversation it might be nerves showing through. It is your professional obligation as the therapist to try and rein in the client back to a relaxing and therapeutic environment. Let them know silence is okay; it allows them to relax and you to maintain concentration.

Next up are dual relationships, which is when the client is family, a work associate, or a colleague. This may mean that it will be hard to keep boundaries in check. It can be distracting for both the client and the practitioner if boundaries are skewed and unnecessary conversation begins. Here are some things to be aware of as the practitioner: you may feel entitled to give a discount to someone you know; you may put less effort into the massage itself; and/or the client may expect more time and flexibility from you.

Professional Boundaries

Appropriate Attire and Setting for Massage Therapy
attire

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