by H. Lovelyn Bettison

What to Do When Clients Experience an Emotional Release, MASSAGE MagazineWe all learn about emotional release in school. Painful memories trapped inside tissue can sometimes bubble up to the surface during a massage. Do you know what to do when this happens on your massage table?

If a client starts to cry during a session, your first reaction is very important. Consider carefully what you will do in this situation before it actually happens. If you’re mentally prepared, you’ll feel less anxiety when it happens. You will want to be calm and relaxed, because the client may sense any anxiety you have. Your anxiety could easily be misinterpreted as disapproval and cause your client embarrassment.

You shouldn’t just start reassuring your client. Saying such things as, “Everything is going to be alright,” could seem dismissive. You don’t know what the problem is, so how could you know everything will be alright?

When in this state, your client is very emotionally vulnerable. Helping her feel relaxed and safe is your responsibility. You must stay calm and relaxed. You may want to place a reassuring hand on her and say something like, “You seem to be crying. Are you okay? Do you want to continue the session?”

Don’t ask any questions that delve into a deep conversation about what’s troubling her emotionally. You shouldn’t say, “Let’s explore your sadness.” This implies you will counsel her, and that could lead you down a path you are ill prepared to explore.

We are trained as massage therapists, not counselors. If you don’t have a counseling degree, you should never try to counsel a client who has a traumatic or painful memory on your massage table. While it may be well-intentioned, offering counseling without proper training could do more harm than good. You must remember not to overstep the scope of your profession.

If your client wants to talk about why she is feeling upset, listen in an accepting and nonjudgmental manner; however, be sure not to give advice about the matter. You don’t want to get too deeply involved in something that is beyond your professional abilities. If you feel it is too much for your client to deal with on her own, you may want to suggest she get professional counseling. 

While the likelihood of a client experiencing an emotional release on your table is greater with some massage modalities than others, chances are it will happen to you at least once in your practice. Being prepared ensures that the best interests of both you and your client are maintained.  
H. Lovelyn Bettison, MASSAGE MagazineH. Lovelyn Bettison practiced massage for five years, with an emphasis on therapeutic massage for children with disabilities. She currently writes articles on health and wellness and manages and