Richelle Hawks, Yahoo! Contributor Network
You’ve just graduated from massage school, obtained a position at a massage clinic, and you receive an inquiry from a potential client asking if you do “gentle touch” massage. Of course you do-you can accommodate all manners of various pressure to the client’s tolerance and preferences! So, you tell the potential client, “of course” and book the massage. Right? Wrong, very wrong!
Maybe there are some massage schools out there that go over the potential compromising scenarios within the practice of massage, but it certainly wasn’t addressed in any of my classes. Even though there were isolated incidents of sexual impropriety within the classes (which were dealt with appropriately) we never received the low-down on the precise language used by clients seeking a non-therapeutic (read: sexual encounter) type of massage experience.
I’ve been a massage therapist for a decade, and I’ve worked in many different types of establishments, with many different clients. Below is my advice, based on my experiences, on recognizing, avoiding, and dealing with clients seeking more than a therapeutic massage.
There are a lot of code words used in the industry, by both clientele and practictioners, to signify sexual (or “sensual”) acts. Although there’s a chance the terms below may be used innocently, (that’s why they are effective as code words!) they are still commonly used as sexual subtext. There are many that I haven’t included, because they are blatant. Terms like “sensual,” “erotic,” and “happy ending” are clearly sexual.
Muscle or tension “release”
Aside from code words, there are some questions, comments, and actions clients will make that are clues they are looking for sexual acts. Below are a couple of those things.
Sometimes, the client will inquire about the draping that is employed during the massage. This is often a red flag, and implies that the client would like full exposure or nudity to be a part of the massage. Whether a client asks for “no draping,” or “light draping,” or anything at all about the amount of draping, be aware this may be a sign that more than massage is being sought.
Another thing that sometimes happens, is entering the massage room, to find the client on the table, on top of the sheets nude, or, the sheets discarded entirely. This may be an innocent mistake (albeit quite odd), so to avoid it, make certain to tell all clients clearly, “get on the table, and place the sheets over your body,” or something to indicate such, in no uncertain terms.
Questions about clothing/underwear
This one is a fine line. Many clients have warranted, authentic questions about whether or not to leave on or take off underwear during a massage. Usually, the question comes at an appropriate time, like right before you are leaving the room so they can get on the table. If a client asks the underwear question before even booking the massage, or prior to a time you feel is appropriate, it may be a red flag.
I suggest making the phrase “undress down to your comfort level,” part of the instructional discourse you have with the client right before leaving the massage room so they can undress and get on the table.
How to deal with code words, red flags, and compromising situations
The best way to deal with the non-therapeutic massage seeking client is prevention. Although no setting or forum is immune, some massage establishments are generally not as frequented by such clients. Chiropractic and medical clinical settings, and established, higher end spas, are less likely to attract this dynamic.
Massage clinics and outcall businesses (especially those catering to hotels) are more likely to attract sex-act seeking clients. If you work with one of these types of establishments, make sure the business itself is not advertising with code words, because you are certain to get a high number of unsavory inquiries.
Make certain, especially if you are in private practice, to promote yourself as a therapeutic practitioner, and attach your occupational license number to all public (including business cards) advertisements and literature. The terms “therapeutic,” “clinical,” and “professional,” are all somewhat code words too, but in an opposite way-they are code words that make a statement about the non-sexual nature of your practice.
Use these words within any inquiries you may receive. For example, if a client asks, “Do you do light touch work?” Reply, “I do therapeutic massage only-I’m not familiar with ‘light touch work,’ do you mean lighter pressure, because of an injury, ailment, or physical condition?” or something to that effect.
If the client is seeking non-therapeutic massage, you have effectively answered the question, and they will probably not book a massage. In asking for clarification too, you may find that the client really is simply asking for lighter pressure, for some health reason.
You may consider, if it is possible within your work parameters, to require new clients to have a referral from an existing client, or even references. Although you may not even need to check them, it is sort of your own code word that you are a therapeutic practitioner that doesn’t compromise. This is an especially apt device if you are working in a private practice, and especially, out of your home.
Alas, if, after all the preventative measures, a client does put you into a compromising situation in the massage room, there is only one solution. State outright that this is a therapeutic massage only, and that you are ending the session, and the client needs to leave. Do not hesitate or negotiate, and say it firmly, but without judgment or emotion.
The fact is, it is illegal, and unethical for the client to have approached this state, and you have every right and responsibility to end the massage-be confident that you are in the right! However, knowing the code words and recognizing the red flags are usually enough to deflect unwanted clients and issues before such an incident would occur.
On a final note, although I have yet to talk to an experienced bodyworker that hasn’t dealt with at least one uncomfortable situation, I want to point out that these dynamics are not a gigantic part of the experience of being a massage therapist-so for those new to the work, don’t be intimidated–but empowered–by the ideas in this article.