Why should massage therapists study ethics?

When I want a post about ethics, I call Kelli Wise, because she knows her stuff, and more importantly, she takes my calls. You can find her being brilliant at Massage Therapy World and building beautiful websites at Pint Sized Sites.

I teach ethics for massage students and for working massage therapists and one of the questions I get asked most commonly is: why should we study ethics?

Often, the comment is made that a 4 hour ethics course is not going to make anyone more ethical. I would agree with that. If you are an unethical person, 4 hours of ethics education is not going to change that. So, why bother?

A great ethics course isn’t going to be about teaching you right from wrong. Hopefully your family and friends have done a good job of that. A great ethics course is going to teach you how to handle those tricky ethical situations that might arise from time to time.

As massage therapists, we interact with people one-on-one and often in a very intimate way. The physical intimacy that arises when one person touches another can lead to emotional and psychological intimacy. It’s our job as professionals to manage the client-therapist relationship, so a thorough understanding of the dynamics of this relationship and the potential pitfalls is very important.

A great ethics class will explain what transference and countertransference are, how to recognize them, how to manage them, and what to do when one of you gets caught up in it.

A great ethics class will explain what the power differential is and how it can be misused to manipulate and take advantage of another person.

A great ethics class will include real life examples of client-therapist relationship issues and allow for a honest discussion of possible ways to handle the situation.

A great ethics class will include possible ways to avoid finding yourself in a sticky situation.

A good ethics class will also include common areas where therapists might find themselves acting illegally. I always cover the two biggest issues:

     1. Don’t cheat on your taxes
     2. Don’t have sex with your clients

Once you’ve got those 2 memorized and follow them without exception, you’ll be safe for the majority of ethical problems. But how do you handle a client who asks you out on a date? If you’re like most people, you might stutter and stammer trying to come up with a kind, professional way of saying “No”. A great ethics class will prepare you with a handy reply that won’t hurt the client’s feelings and still keep you within the law.

Another problem area for therapists is clients who either no-show, show up late, or want a big discount. All too often, I see therapists go out of their way to accommodate clients even if it means sacrificing their own personal time. A great ethics course will help you set healthy boundaries and teach you how to maintain those boundaries, deal with unreasonable clients, and maintain your sanity.

What do you do about the client that reminds you of someone in your past, perhaps a very negative experience? Once you recognize that this is countertransference, you can start dealing with your own head trash and be able to provide the client with a wonderful massage.

Your work as a massage therapist will allow you to improve peoples’ lives. Healthy relationships and boundaries are going to make for a pleasant experience for both of you and that will keep you mentally and emotionally healthy for a long career.

As you embark on your massage studies, I would encourage you to pay attention to your ethics instructor. Ask about situations you might be having with your current student clients, ask about experiences your teacher might have had. Learn from those examples and practice some ready replies to the most likely situations.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net