What do you think is most important when it comes to running a massage practice?
Your technique? Your marketing plan? Your business skills?
It is none of these. The most important aspect of running a practice is who you are being—because this has the greatest impact on the therapeutic relationship.
Your role as practitioner is vested with huge responsibilities and equally satisfying rewards. This transformative role can never be fully realized without both the knowledge and practice of the integration of both your external code of ethics and your internal locus of guidance.
Being in this profession as both a massage practitioner and teacher has afforded me the gift and opportunity to consistently learn, grow, make mistakes and start all over again. I have continued over the years to develop my understanding of how our practice with clients becomes reflective of our inner life and supports our spiritual development.
I am forever grateful for the wisdom passed down through our written codes of ethics. This external locus gives us a structure from which to consider our actions and behaviors. It provides our profession with a clear consensus about shared values. It also helps to prevent serious deviation from ethical behavior caused by personal interpretation, selfish motivation or naiveté.
Our codes of ethics also allow our professional bodies to act as clearinghouses for ethical complaints so they can be handled in a responsible way. Our external codes of ethics also provide a context for deeper inquiry, which is required when considering our internal locus.
For example, the code of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork states, in part, that its certificants will “have a sincere commitment to provide the highest quality of care to those who seek their professional services.”
A deeper inquiry may invite you into initial questions, such as: How do I define highest quality of care? Shall I engage in self-disclosure? Do I overextend myself to please my clients? and, What is that fine line between friendly and professional?
And the inquiry continues.
When you are faced with an ethical dilemma, a difficult situation or quandary, your first resources are your written codes of ethics and regulatory laws; however, this is often not enough. Many situations require a decision that is based on something deeper.
Your Best & Truest Self
It is important to understand that you must engage in both self-development and transformation. Your work then becomes a spiritual practice that reflects your inner journey. You offer who you are being.
You have chosen a vocation that requires constant renewal of mind, heart and spirit—if you want to avoid burnout, take joy in your work and grow in service to others. You will learn many skills and techniques along the way, but probably the most worthy skill is the ability to offer clients your best and truest self, one that reflects a deep desire to serve.
It is important to recognize that your capacity to do your best work springs from your recognition of knowing and understanding yourself. When you are firmly rooted in self-knowledge and understanding, you gain the inner resources to offer your clients your best work from your truest self.
We all must be on a journey of repairing our own hearts and actions before we can offer healing to others. Touch connects you deeply to your clients, whether you work in a spa, clinic or private practice. Your touch establishes a trust with your clients that is unique among the helping professions.
As a result, the client-practitioner relationship is often a complex and delicate matter.
4 Steps on the Journey
The following four steps are part of a conscious, embodied journey of self- awareness and transformation:
1. Your internal frame of reference. Establish the continuity of regular inner work. This might be done through meditation, prayer, yoga, self- reflection, daily study, healing silence or the practice of stillness. All of these provide a rich and necessary discipline. You have an obligatory responsibility to attend to your clients in a way that does not cause harm. It is important to remember your session room is a reflection of your inner life.
2. Your sense of inner progress. Just as you track the progress of your clients over time, it is also very helpful for you to track your own inner progress toward calmness of mind, gratefulness, deep listening, skillful communication, compassion and empathy. When you learn to value the lifelong potential for growth that comes from the power of self-reflection and conscious choice, you then understand that serving from your best self is truly the root of ethical behavior.
3. Your refinement of thoughts and feelings. You strive to become more aware of the habits of heart and mind that drive your conduct. This allows you to place new emphasis on your higher values so that you serve your clients from your best and truest self. With inner practice, you can refine your thoughts that sometimes result in negative attitudes toward your work and your clients. This skill develops as you learn to live from the inside-out.
4. Your understanding of the power differential. A primary aspect of ethics is to gain knowledge and understand your attitudes, beliefs, wounds and habits around power and authority. Practicing using your power to the benefit and well-being of your clients and yourself is part of the deep, transformative terrain of your journey as a massage practitioner.
What Ethics Really Is
I have attempted, over the years, to offer a unique and meaningful approach to ethics education and inspire others to explore the elements of healing that go beyond technique. Ethics education offers more than simply guiding others into what to do, what not to do or how to do it. It is an invitation to travel within, to quietly sit in the questions and discover the self who steps into the session room.
Ethics has to do with the most interesting parts of human life: power, intimacy, authenticity, spiritual nourishment, inner guidance, service, boundaries and limits, personal values, character, emotions and love.
Ethics reach far beyond a professional requirement. It is more than good intentions. It is more than knowing and following an external code of ethics and regulatory laws. Ethics really offers this basic inquiry: “Who is the self that steps into the session room—and how may I serve?”
About the Author
Kathy Ginn, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., has been active in the profession of massage therapy & bodywork since 1991 as a practitioner, teacher and mentor. She is the founder of Ethical Dimensions and is the co-creator of Life Empowered Institute. Her passion is to bring the study of ethics to life and help others see their uniqueness and potential that far exceeds what they believe themselves to be. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork- approved provider.
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