As a massage therapist, you possess the skills to treat the human body, and if you run your own practice, you’re likely knowledgeable about business as well.
But what about those “awkward massage moments” that your training might not have adequately prepared you to manage professionally?
The inherent nature of massage therapy places both you and your client in vulnerable situations. It goes without saying that your clients are usually lying unclothed on your massage table, with only a sheet or towel concealing their most private regions.
To assist you in navigating those awkward situations, I’ve compiled a list of some common scenarios you might encounter and how to address them professionally.
Uncomfortable Massage Situations You Might Come Across
It is essential to be prepared for and know how to handle potentially embarrassing or awkward situations. These moments can occur during any kind of massage session, so it is important to have strategies in place that will help you remain professional and avoid potential license suspension.
There are five main areas you should consider when it comes to awkward massage moments to ensure that you handle awkward massage moments professionally and avoid embarrassment or licensing issues.
Situation #1: Encountering Erections & Demands For ‘Happy Endings’
When a massage therapist is performing their job, they can often find themselves in an awkward situation. This occurs when the massage therapy treatment induces a state of relaxation and pleasure which may result in arousal in male clients.
An erection is an involuntary physical response to such feelings and does not necessarily equate to sexual desire.
This reflexive action is caused by the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which increases blood flow, particularly in the sacral nerve area.
Massage therapists must be aware of how their actions could induce this physiological reaction and should act professionally throughout any treatment session.
What To Do:
Ben E. Benjamin, Ph.D., and Cherie Sohnen-Moe, authors of The Ethics of Touch: The Hands-on Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Professional, Safe, and Enduring Practice, advise that the first step in any difficult situation is to remain calm.
This is achieved by following the Intervention Model which consists of the following key steps:
1. Confront the issue with confidence. Maintain a calm demeanor and proper posture while adjusting the covering on the client, emphasizing professional limits.
2. Explain the circumstance to your client, making it clear that you recognize it without expressing any judgment. You could say something along the lines of: “I observed that you seem to tense when I work on this region. Would you prefer to be covered up?”
3. Ascertain your client’s intentions and inquire about their emotions or sensations they’re going through. Anticipate their reply. In case of any concerns regarding improper or unwelcome actions, ensure you have an easy exit path to the door, allowing you to swiftly leave the room if needed.
4. Once your client has replied, employ composed language to inform them, while refraining from passing judgment. Convey to them that unanticipated physical responses to massages are fairly normal, and there’s no reason for embarrassment.
5. If the client’s intentions are evidently sensual (for example, requesting a ‘happy ending’ or ‘additional service’), reiterate that your purpose is not to provoke sexual excitement. You can employ a statement such as: “I’d like to emphasize that this is a non-sexual massage. If you’re seeking something else, I will terminate your massage immediately.”
Some practitioners tactfully handle requests with humor or by pretending not to understand, saying things like, “I charge an additional $50 for extra services. Are you interested in aromatherapy hot towel treatment, hot stones, or guided meditation?”
To prevent uncomfortable situations like these, some therapists display signs in their office stating, “This is not THAT kind of massage.”
6. Assess the next course of action.
Should the client not exhibit any sexual intentions, reiterate that you are present to provide a professional service and proceed with the session.
However, if the client makes any sexual remarks or advances, promptly terminate the session and exit the room.
Make sure to thoroughly document the events that led to the session’s termination. If you believe the client’s actions constituted sexual assault, you have every right to file a police report.
7. Should you feel uneasy about having another session with the client due to an unintentional erection, you have the option to recommend another massage therapist to them-or if you are part of a group practice or a hospital setting, discuss the situation with your supervisor to arrange a referral. In any case, make sure to record the incident for future reference, ensuring the next massage therapist is well-prepared.
Situation #2: Involuntary Bodily Responses – From Passing Gas To Groaning
The soothing and enjoyable experience of a massage can lead to deep relaxation in the human body, which may reduce clients’ inhibitions and control over physiological functions.
Similar to erections, this is a result of the parasympathetic nervous system decelerating the body’s response system.
You might encounter clients making moaning sounds that seem sexual, giggling, or even passing gas audibly or with noticeable odor.
As a skilled massage therapist, your responsibility is to address these situations with sensitivity and professionalism.
What To Do:
Although these physiological reactions might cause embarrassment for the client or even make you chuckle, they are entirely normal and can be seen as a compliment, indicating that the client is at ease.
Moaning and grunting can aid in releasing bodily tension and expressing the pleasure the client feels as you alleviate their muscle discomfort.
It’s crucial not to exacerbate your clients’ embarrassment or focus on the sounds they produce.
Refrain from making remarks and avoid laughing. If you feel overwhelmed during a massage session, it is perfectly understandable to take a few moments to regroup and collect yourself.
An effective way to do this is by using an excuse, such as switching up the music, retrieving an oil bottle, or getting a towel from a nearby shelf.
If your client apologizes for any unexpected outbursts, it is best to not make them feel embarrassed about the situation.
Instead, provide reassurance that it’s quite common and nothing to be ashamed of. Once the situation is resolved, you can continue with your massage session as if nothing had happened.
Scenario #3: Poor Hygiene
Ideally, clients should arrive at their appointments clean and free of unpleasant odors. However, what should you do if a client shows up with bad body odor or dirty, smelly feet? Maybe they came directly from the gym, covered in sweat.
Although specific practices may have distinct guidelines for addressing clients with poor hygiene, here are a few options on how to proceed.
What To Do:
Option 1: As the massage therapist, you hold the authority to decline service to any client you’re uncomfortable with, including those with hygiene concerns.
Option 2: Think about discreetly discussing with the client the importance of showering before a massage. Express your appreciation for their patronage, but emphasize that maintaining proper hygiene is crucial due to the intimate nature of the massage therapist-client relationship. If needed, offer to reschedule their appointment.
Option 3: Clarify that the massage products you utilize during sessions are most effective on clean skin. This can be particularly accurate if you use premium massage products like CBD Clinic™, as they tend to be more costly and contain top-quality ingredients.
Option 4: Think about having warm towels and alcohol wipes readily available. You can provide these for clients who wish to freshen up before their massage or offer them to those who arrive with subpar hygiene.
Tip: To prevent this situation entirely, you could inform all your clients to shower before their appointments through reminder text messages, WhatsApp messages, or emails. This approach may discourage individuals from arriving in an unsatisfactory state.
Situation #4: Receiving Personal Invites Ranging From Dates To Private Gatherings
While most of your clients probably respect the professional nature of your relationship, you might occasionally encounter a client who disregards the boundaries between patient and massage therapist.
What should you do if a client requests your personal phone number, explicitly asks you out on a date, or invites you to participate in an activity unrelated to a massage appointment?
As you’re aware, establishing boundaries is crucial in massage therapy. A client’s invitation to interact outside of the professional context represents a breach of these ethics, although there may be some ambiguous situations. Therefore, exercise your best judgment.
What To Do:
It’s crucial to emphasize to your client that blending your professional and personal lives in this context is not permissible. You can respond with something like:
“Thank you for the invitation. For professional reasons, I prefer to keep my work life and social life separate.” or “Thank you for the invitation, but my code of ethics prohibits me from seeing clients outside of work.”
However, some situations may not be clear-cut. For example, what if you are treating a client who works in your field and wants to invite you to a networking event, conference, or relevant course? Once again, rely on your best judgment.
Assess the situation based on your comfort level. If your client genuinely didn’t realize that their request breaches your code of ethics, they will likely understand and move on.
Nonetheless, any signs of argument, aggression, or anything that makes you uncomfortable warrant stopping the session and leaving the room.
As mentioned earlier, you reserve the right to decline working with any client who makes you uncomfortable. You can either refuse your services or recommend that the client seek a massage from someone else.
Although you strive to be well-prepared, the intrinsic nature of massage therapy may lead to uncomfortable situations.
It’s impossible to foresee these events, but you can mentally brace yourself for the unexpected by devising a strategy to manage such awkward moments when they arise.
Keep in mind that as a professional, you possess the authority to determine how these scenarios unfold.