After many years of reading through post after post of rants/vents about clients from massage therapists in the many online discussion groups, I have come to see that there is so much that massage therapists need help with.
When you feel frustrated or upset or just feel like you want to vent about it on Facebook (or where ever) with a client interaction it is really about boundaries.
- Have clients who expect you to be there 24/7?
- Have clients who come in late and expect to get their full session time?
- Have clients who frustrate you when their constant trying to control the session?
- Have a male client who is a regular and all of a sudden they ask you for that happy ending?
- Have clients who stare at the ceiling and make you uncomfortable?
- Have clients who wear jewelry or wear clothing (boxers, shorts, underwear) making it difficult to massage specific areas?
- Have a job where you feel like you are being taken advantage of?
- Feel like your clients are being inconsiderate and taking advantage of your time and energy?
Most everything that you feel frustration over is really just telling you that you boundaries have been challenged, crossed or even violated.
The thing is that most people don’t know what your boundaries are until you tell them.
If you want clients to take off their jewelry or boxers – you have to tell them.
If you are frustrated that clients seem to want massage immediately and think you don’t have a life – you just have to tell them what your hours are and then you need to keep them.
If they are late – you have to tell them what your late policy is. You also have to decide if you want to work on them longer to get the full hour. How much will it mean to your practice? If you decide to work on them longer, you still need to tell them that you are doing that today only and that your usual policy is to end the session at the scheduled time no matter how late they are.
Facebook discussion groups have made it very clear with all of the venting/ranting about clients, that many massage therapists really need support in clarifying their boundaries and learning to communicate them to clients. The many frustrations that you feel are usually about boundaries.
Boundaries are what tell you where you begin and end and where another begins and ends. Each person has their own boundaries and are very unique to them. Boundaries are created based on your values and beliefs. There isn’t any right or wrong in boundaries. There is what is right for you at that time. Because massage therapists are in helping relationships where there is a power differential, your boundaries will be a major part of running a successful business or having a successful career. Relationships where there is a power differential, tends to create issues of transference where the client is recreating the dynamics of the child/parent, caretaker relationship in their lives.
Boundaries are flexible and can be adapted for each client but the bottom line is always – will my decision to do this (work longer on a late client, charge for a no-show or whatever) drain me more than it nurtures me? Will my decision require that I do more in the way of self-care to strengthen my self-confidence and self-esteem? There are the physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, intellectual boundaries, sexual boundaries, energetic boundaries that need to be cared for.
Understanding boundaries for massage therapists is one of the easiest things you can do to build your massage practice is to keep getting clearer on what you want and learning to set boundaries around your values and needs. In doing this you provide the highest form of self care and it tells you that you are valuable and worth it! When you feel worthy and feel valuable, you will attract people who see you as just that. They will be on time and pay you your rates without complaining. They will call you to let you know when they can’t be there in enough time for you to schedule someone else or they will pay you full price for the missed session.
Boundaries are also the basis for the therapeutic relationship that occurs between the massage therapist and the client. It is what will make your techniques more effective for the client and more meaningful to you. Boundaries are there to protect the client and also the practitioner.
Massage therapists have a tendency to want to try to be nice to people and let things like this go. Thinking that the client will leave if you are not nice is a part of your unloved self talking. It may be true that they will leave but most likely they are not in your ‘Ideal Client’ vision.
Boundaries are what hold the space for clients to be able to do their healing work. It is what allows them to know where they are at and that they feel safe.
There are often many challenges to boundaries when doing massage.
- Clients may want to become friends.
- Clients may want to ask you on a date.
- Clients may ask for your advice on things not related to their massage.
- They will ask you for favors.
- They will bring you things and want to do favors for you.
- They will transfer their feelings from early childhood onto you (in a way they will act like a child and unconsciously see you as a parent or authority figure.)
- They will become attached to you and have strong feelings for you.
- They will want you to set your schedule around theirs.
- Clients will be late or not show up for their appointments.
While these may all seem like innocent things, they can greatly influence the results of your sessions and the success of your business. When you create and enforce boundaries you are actually doing clients a service. Many often will think that if they do something like setting the business hours to accommodate clients’ schedules that you will get more clients. You may do just that but it is at a cost of your values, time and energy.
How to tell them what your boundaries are.
The clearer you stand in your role as a massage therapist, the better for the massage client. Learning to do that is a process and involves taking a deeper look at yourself and your actions and the motivations beneath them. What I have found is that there are many underlying emotions and beliefs that seem to show up more in people who choose to be in a helping profession such as massage. The dynamics of helping have a very deep unconscious side that usually involves low self esteem and an unconscious belief that you are unlovable, not good enough or some variation of those themes.
Often we don’t really know what our boundaries are and new situations everyday will let you know them. It is also often a matter of finding out what you don’t want in your practice and learning to create what you want through boundaries. In the beginning, you may not feel confident enough to tell people your policy about being late or charge them for not showing up. It is often a process of building up your confidence enough until you can charge them the full rate for a missed appointment.
You start with telling them on your website with having your policies and procedures listed. You follow that up with your cancellation and late policies on your voice message or on your online scheduling system. You explain to them when they call saying they are late or whatever. You gently explain your policies to them and make clear requests in their session.
The process of supervision – working with an experienced massage therapist to help you sort through and deal with situations as they arise in your practice can help you stay true to yourself and your massage business. It can help you build self confidence and make better decisions every day that support you in your role as a massage therapist and business owner. You can make your sessions more about the client and less about you as you learn more about yourself and get the support for making the decisions that best fit you! Yes that is what Supervision is for!