To complement “Ethics as Soul Work: Grow in Service to Others” by Kathy Ginn, L.M.T., in the June 2015 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. Summary: In order to develop a strong code of professional ethics, massage therapists should explore their beliefs about the concept of power and how power applies to their relationships with clients.
The roots of power are embedded in infancy and in our developmental years. That is when we learn about self; our relationship to the world; and the dynamics of control, boundaries, worth, belonging and power.
Our early years are when we begin to define ourselves and the world we live in. The ways in which we connect, relate and use our power are influenced by those early years.
This development carries into our relationships as we journey through life—and this same self who was born into infancy is the same self who shows up in the therapeutic relationship.
Ethics and power
Exploring those early years, to include our belief systems, attitudes and wounds, opens the door to exploring this question: What is my relationship with power, and how does this part of me show up in the therapeutic relationship?
Often in my Ethics class, I begin by asking, “How many of you want power in the therapeutic relationship?” This is a question that is not often asked in everyday life, thus the response is usually one of curiosity or is based on a strong belief. Some of the common responses are, “I don’t want power”; “Power is bad”; “I am equal with my client”; and “I don’t know.”
Thus, the exploration begins. The power differential is inherent in any therapeutic relationship, and the power differential is amplified by the physical aspects of our work. It’s helpful to consider power and related aspects:
Power is the ability to act or to have an effect.
Influence is how we interact with others to invite change and have an effect.
Role power is the increased power that accompanies a professional role. This is what creates the power differential within the therapeutic relationship. How we influence our clients and how we are influenced by our clients will be a force for either good or harm. All directed power represents a force of some kind, and thus the questions: Will our power be a force that empowers or disempowers those involved? Can we learn to use our power with skill and wisdom?
Right use of power promotes safe and trustworthy relations with our clients.
Ethics and right use of power
Following are a few of the ethical concerns to explore related to right use of power:
- How do I share insights with my clients without imposing personal values and beliefs?
- Do I listen actively and how do I know?
- Do I offer informed consent that is both written and verbal and delivered with clarity?
- When is therapist self-disclosure in service to the therapeutic relationship?
- When is it important to discourage dual-role relationships?
- What makes a difficult client?
- How do I model self-care?
- Do I acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses?
- How do I teach my client to be my client?
- What do I know about my presence?
Heart and soul
The dynamics of the power differential within the therapeutic relationship are often quite complex. It is important we explore our blind spots, along with understanding that good intentions are often not enough.
Exploring how we use our professional and role power is a necessary exploration—and is the heart and soul of ethics education.
Kathy Ginn, L.M.T., has been active in the field of massage therapy since 1991. She is an Ethics as Right Use of Power facilitator and Hakomi trained bodyworker. Her company, Ethical Dimensions (ethicaldimensions.com), provides services in continuing education, individual and group mentoring, spa consulting and practice development. She wrote “Ethics as Soul Work: Grow in Service to Others” for MASSAGE Magazine’s June 2015 issue.