Poetics of Touch Concept Number 26


Massage is an anthology for the body. -- Joan Donato

Whether it's in-depth sharing or a few words about the room's temperature, conversation is one of the most personal aspects of massage. In an effort to be appropriate and not talk too much, some practitioners limit their words to such an extent that clients are left with their own monologues or an uncomfortable silence lacking in natural exchange.

As a general rule, contain your impulses to free associate, self-disclose, and give advice unless you are building rapport or offering information the client wants. When a client says she will be vacationing in Arizona, my Arizona stories surface. I have been there twice and enjoy talking about Arizona which puts me in more of a massage gray zone for talking than I am with places I've not been.

When clients tell personal stories, it may be tempting to share an equally personal story in return. Matching vulnerability with vulnerability is desirable in friendships but massage has a different focus, and confidentiality is not as reciprocal. Avoid saying to clients, "Don't tell, okay?" And keep what they say private.

One cardinal rule is not to diagnose medical conditions. In the following case, however, a suggestion was a worthy risk. A client's mysterious pain was undiagnosed by her doctors until her massage therapist said, "The pain moves around in such a way that I'd suggest you get tested for Lyme Disease."

Even though that was the correct diagnosis, the practitioner did not say, "You have Lyme disease," or "I'm guessing it's Lyme's." The diagnosis was missed for months because injuries from a car accident were assumed to be the sole cause of pain.

Types of communication and the role of talking:

  • Agreements -- structure for working together
  • Chit chat -- rapport building, informational, social
  • Educational -- about massage and other topics
  • Emotional -- personal, descriptive, confiding
  • Emotional process work -- confiding, emoting, re-framing
  • Feedback -- negotiation of wants and needs
  • Feeling -- informational, sensing, assessing
  • Questions -- various topics and purposes
  • Stories -- informational and emotional
  • Tone of voice -- important for intention, meaning, and rapport

Use common sense, courtesy, and gently honest words:

Do not say to a client, "You have the tightest back I've ever felt." Do say, "There is tension. I will do what I can to release it. Let me know how this feels. How much time should I spend here?" Words such as relax, should, body armor, and muscle spasm, rapidly decrease rapport with some people if they feel judged.

Basic interview and verbal agreement before massage:

  • Have you had massage therapy before?
  • Do you have any injuries?
  • Do you have any allergies to oils, lotions, or scents?
  • Do you have any concerns related to massage?
  • In general do you like light, medium, or deep pressure?
  • I will assume everything is okay unless you ask for a change in room temperature, depth of pressure, music, or anything else.
  • Don't hesitate to speak up, and I will ask how you are doing."

Educate the client about your methods and goals:

The massage should feel firm enough to be effective but not hurt of feel uncomfortable. It it hurts a little but feels good, that's okay. If you want, I'll demonstrate the choices of light, medium, and deep right now. Does this feel light to you? Should I do medium? How about deep? I will work gradually deeper after each area is warmed up unless you prefer lighter work."

Copyright Cinda Mefferd