Creating an atmosphere of safety and trust is foundation of the client-therapist relationship. How do clients recognize this foundation?

Massage therapy is a very personal service.

I often suggest to my students that they consider this: Someone is going to give them almost total access to perform healthy touch on his or her naked body. This image invites me into a place of deep respect and the responsibility to do no harm.

People seek massage for various reasons and to meet some very personal needs.

Clients desire and deserve to feel safe in the session room. They want to trust their massage therapist. Trust is, after all, the basic tenet if all healthy relationships.

It is important to be reliable, responsible and accountable, to create an atmosphere of safety and trust. Your words and behavior must be congruent in order to foster trust.

The ultimate ethical code of do no harm is of utmost importance to the client. It often takes courage to make an appointment with a new massage therapist.

In addition, the client often enters your session room with the following questions that often remain unspoken: Will I like my massage therapist? Is my therapist technically skilled? Do I have to get fully undressed? What will her or his touch feel like? Where will I be touched? What will I be asked to disclose? Can I question my massage therapist? May I say no?

Perhaps there are even more questions that reside in the shadows of the client’s consciousness.

Intuition & Congruence

Creating an atmosphere of safety and trust is foundation of the client-therapist relationship. How do clients recognize this foundation?

First there is the element of intuition, a deep inner feeling in the client’s belly that is often quite informative. Oftentimes the quality of the energy between client and therapist is the unspoken language in the session room.

Next, there is the congruence of words and actions.

Do what you say you are going to do, always. Be early and prepared for your appointments. Do not cancel or reschedule unless absolutely necessary. Be professional, authentic and present. Do not look for your clients to fulfill your needs.

Clients feel our energy and sense our sincerity. I cannot stress this enough.

10 Guidelines

Following are a few guidelines for massage therapists to be aware of, and that promote an atmosphere of safety and trust.

  1. Explain all procedures to the client thoroughly. Identifying what occurs before, during and after a session fosters clarity and soothes nervous tension. This takes place before the client undresses.
  2. Client cooperation is established. What role do clients have within the therapeutic relationship? It is important to teach your clients how to participate in the session. For example; invite them to breathe, receive your touch in the quiet, feel the stillness, follow your touch, relax and sink into the table, to simply relax.
  3. Clients have permission to speak up if something does not feel comfortable during the massage therapy session. Clients can end the session at any time.
  4. Clients have choices, including the simple choices of whether to begin face up or face down, the use of oil or lotion, extra heat on the table, areas of her body she does not want touched, what type of pressure she prefers, if she has a preference with music.
  5. Offer clear instruction regarding undressing and draping.
  6. Offer clear instruction what to do after massage is complete.
  7. Remember, the client holds full consent for your care.
  8. Listen. By bringing your whole self as a listener into the session room, you can be in touch with your clients in a way that is not often experienced in our noisy and fast moving culture today. Think of it this way; every client has a message on his forehead that asks you the following three questions: Do you see me? Do you hear me? and Do you authentically care?
  9. Requesting silence if that is what you need.
  10. Offer your client a quality of stillness and calmness of mind.

Technique is Not Healing

A technique is a way of expressing something. The technique is not the healing; it is a vehicle for the healing. The quality of the therapeutic relationship—rather than what the massage therapist does—is a foundation for healing.

What truly fosters the healing process is the way both therapist and client stand in relationship to each other. The magic and beauty occur when there is safety and trust: When the client truly feels safe and when the relationship feels trustworthy.

About the Author

Kathy Ginn, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., is cocreator of Life Empowered Institute. She is a body-centered Hakomi practitioner, Proctor-Gallagher Thinking into Results consultant, teacher and mentor. She offers body-centered coaching and continuing education focusing on personal and professional development, along with courses in Ethics as Right Use of Power. Her courses are offered through webinars and experiential classroom learning.


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