Massage Therapy. Or, Better Yet, Massage AND Therapy.

Smiling woman massage

If you thought hair stylists heard all the drama, you are sadly mistaken. Blow-dryers, telephones, and chattering women set the stage for idle gossip, yes, but where do you hear the real hearts and minds of clients? The treatment rooms.

The Environment for Heart-Pouring

Let’s walk through a visit to a massage therapist as the client, shall we? First, you walk into the waiting room. Already, the door seems to shut out the harsh, worldly noise behind you. A staff member will probably whisper a greeting, which, in turn, makes you whisper. Your heart rate begins to slow. You grab a magazine from the fancy table with the sand tray and sigh with relief. Wherever you were before, it was stressful by comparison. Then it’s your turn and the massage therapist brings you into the treatment room, where scented candles and calming music flood your senses. Upon noticing the tiny fountain in the corner, you’re slightly relieved that you already used the restroom and slither in between the sheets. Sound familiar? Other than the sheet thing, this is basically a shrink’s office and sometimes, it’s treated just so.

And then it happens…

People who thought they were coming in to fall asleep end up telling you about the horrors of their day or their entire life story. One client was raising an adopted son and hadn’t told him he was adopted yet. One client was planning to accidentally bump into a high school flame to rekindle something lost. One client spent every session reviewing her fifteen years of marriage, wondering why she ever felt pressured to marry in the first place. When I first started out, I just wanted everyone to shut up and pay the extra fee to see a real therapist; one with a master’s degree in psychology. But it was one of my quiet clients who taught me to understand this habitual purging of information.

The Heartache Sanctuary

This woman scarcely spoke a word when she came in for her regular massage. She said hello, thank you, and goodbye like clockwork, but rarely anything else. Then one day, I went to work on her troubled area—it was getting better, but it was still a tough lump of muscles on her back—and she broke into tears at my touch. I mindfully worked the area with her permission, but she didn’t say anything as she cried. And I cried. I didn’t even know why, but I quietly cried with her because there was something deep and painful stuck in her back and it wasn’t just clustered fascia—it was the place where she kept her heartaches and I was breaking the sanctuary apart. Things were released. I came to realize, my chatty clients were also having releases, but they didn’t handle them the same way. This one session is still vividly clear in my mind because it helped me find the grace to tolerate the people who grieved and expressed stress in different ways.

Why do our muscles become tight with stress? 

Sure, they become tight when you sit at a computer all day long or lift something heavy, but why would the body become tight when it’s under stress? Despite our technology and civilization, human beings still possess some primal instincts. Our bodies respond to danger (stress) with muscles tensed, ready to fight or flight. And it just so happens that we respond to each stressor with different reflexes. Maybe every time you think about your mother-in-law visiting, your neck spasms. Perhaps, your mind sets off an alarm to your shoulder whenever your child screams because you have carried him up and down the hall every night and he just won’t sleep. You’re already sore in this area from bearing the load, but now the thought of him waking sets the muscles aflame. How cliché would it be if I said the mind is a powerful thing? That’s pretty cliché—pretend I didn’t day that. But take the point to heart.

So what do you do, as a massage therapist, when your client won’t shut up?

You listen. If you feel remaining silent would be too awkward, respond accordingly but, please, don’t meddle. You are a massage therapist, not a therapist. You may think you have the seat of power because you’re helping to heal the client’s body, but it takes years and years of education and tons of unpaid internship hours to somewhat understand the mind. I’m not saying you should avoid fostering a relationship with your clients because developing friendships with clients is one of the huge perks of the job! I’m just saying, until you’ve earned trust and a friendship, avoid trying to “fix” people in your professional position. This is difficult, because most massage therapists jump at the chance to fix people. It’s what we do. Just focus on the work you know you can do: bodywork.

And above all things…

Confidentiality. I know I just said you shouldn’t think of yourself as a professional councilor, but you must take this code of honor with you. I don’t care if you can’t wait to tell all of your coworkers about the affair your client is having. Be professional and keep it to yourself.

Or, tell your cat.