With any business comes risk taking, and in the past, the massage and bodywork arena has been attacked by everything from injury lawsuits to being lured into less than appealing environments on outcall appointments. Here, in California, I have found the most important tool is the “Client Information Document” combined with thorough and comprehensive session documentation. I require every client to complete and sign an intake form that has complete medical history, medication listings and information related to any contraindicators that may be present. This will act as a filter and dissuader to those looking for something more than a massage, as it sends a loud and clear signal that your intention is nothing but professional. It also puts all their personal information at your fingertips, which causes those same thrill seekers to think twice about making the experience anything more than a massage.

Included in the required paperwork is a section that clearly gives the therapist the right to end the session at his own discretion, if the client makes any physical or verbal advancement the therapist deems out of line with the session. All this must be signed by the client and then signed by the therapist to ensure both are informed with consent. This documentation remains in the client’s file at all times and is joined by complete session S.O.A.P. notes for each session. The S.O.A.P. notes contain detailed notes using the universal medical abbreviations and notations that show progress and client-relayed information that have been proven to stand on the side of the therapist in situations where a client is looking for a quick lawsuit buck.

For chair massage practitioners, it is important to have a signed form that releases you, the therapist, from any and all liability due to any adverse results from a chair massage. With this form in hand, it definitely acts as a dissuader to the client, as he knows he has just put his name on an informed permission slip. On all out-call massage/bodywork appointments I make to a residence, I make it clear that this is only an alternative health care visit. Having them fill out the two to three pages of legal documentation and letting them know you have given your office that person’s phone number in case they need to contact you will send a very clear message that this is a therapy-based visit only. All conversation being kept or redirected to the session’s issues also sends clear indication of your intentions. Most importantly, in an outcall environment, do not hesitate to end the session and exit the location at the first indication of improper behavior by clients. This is not a time to second guess your instincts or to give them a second chance. 

I would be more than happy to share my documentation types with other therapists to give them an idea of what to have in place before moving forward in the industry. Feel free to contact me through my Web site using “MASSAGE Magazine” in the subject line.