I have been reading (and re-reading!) one of the most shocking and amazing books about the massage profession.
Touchy Subjects: Tales from the Massage Table
It was written by Steve Capellini who is well known in the spa world and has written a few books on massage and spas : Massage For Dummies (For Dummies (Health & Fitness), The Complete Spa Book for Massage Therapists and Massage Therapy Career Guide for Hands-On Success. He has also written for Massage Today on Spa Therapies and has taught spa classes around the world.
He also wrote a really great book called Making the Switch to Being Rich which is now out of print but you might be able to find it used somewhere. This was the first book I ever read by Steve. I think it might be coming to Kindle soon so stay tuned. The thing that struck me with this book was that finally someone was talking about money to massage therapists who always seem to want to give freely of their services when they can’t pay the bills or are barely getting by. I won’t go into that book right now but the reason why I am mentioning all his previous works is that this guy is a leader in the massage profession.
His latest book that has me so enthralled is Touchy Subjects: Tales from the Massage Table : and yes his book is a touchy subject in itself. Half way through it, I was almost in shock and I had to go back and look on amazon.com to see what genre it was listed under. I thought it must be fiction or part fiction. But no, it is the honest truth about what it was like and what it still is like, in some respects, to be a massage therapist in the world. As I read it I thought, this is how we have gotten to where we are as a profession. He starts with telling how he had to have a test for VD to get his massage license. That was probably about 30 years ago. Yes it was really like that. Back then they assumed that if you wanted to be a massage therapist that you would be doing prostitution.
I have also never heard that in our history of massage that many of the early massage therapists were also slaves. Starting with the Romans who had “slaves called ‘unctors or sleiptes whose sole purpose in life was to attend the baths with their masters everyday.” Other cultures also had massage slaves: Egyptian Pharos, Emperors in China, Maharajas of India and Nepal, and Turkish Tellaks who were young boy slaves who worked in Turkish baths. Our long line of being slaves may be some indication of some of the struggles that many massage therapists still have today. There are many establishments who take advantage of massage therapists, paying them low wages, making them work long hours without breaks and they don’t get paid unless they have a client. Massage is also today a big front for human trafficking rings bringing disadvantaged women into the country to work in illegal ‘massage parlors’. In other countries, you can get a massage for a few dollars. Why has the US been able to make it into something that we can charge hundreds of dollars for? – which of course I am very happy for having been a massage therapist for over 25 years.
Steve talks about draping and nudity in his book. In the early days in the profession, we weren’t so hung up on the nudity of it all. We just undressed in front of each other during class. No big deal. We learned draping, but I don’t actually remember learning the diaper drape but it might just be because I thought it was ridiculous. I never thought it was a big deal when men just asked for a towel to drape them. I also took training in something called Zentherapy in the early to mid 90’s where we pranced around the room in our underwear and learned to work people in their underwear lying without any draping. The reason was so that we could see what was happening in their bodies while we worked and we could get them up off the table to walk and stand to look at their posture and how it changed as we worked. I heard stories from Dub Leigh, who taught the classes about his early days in working with Ida Rolf. They used to Rolf each other in the nude and on LSD and also doing crazy things like hanging people up side down on inversion tables. Today we have laws and codes of ethics about draping. The thing of course about codes of ethics is that if you don’t belong to one of the big massage associations, you don’t have to abide by any codes. If it isn’t in your state laws, then you don’t have to worry about draping. I also have had the luxury to live in the PNW and have places like Doe Bay on Orcas Island or Brietenbush Hotsprings in Oregon where clothing is optional in the bathing areas. It will quickly get you over you hang ups about clothes and nudity. So we drape and we compartmentalize bodies making it OK to touch them by uncovering a arm here, a leg there, one butt cheek there. But yes please keep draping clients to your level of comfort and follow the rules and laws.
What other things are ‘slave massage therapists’ subjected to in this wonderful profession? Steve will tell you all about it. No one told me about the bodily functions that usually seem to get stirred up with massage or that I would be having to deal with offensive body odors and all sorts of bodily fluids leaking onto the massage table. No one told me I would have to deal with morbidly obese people who don’t fit on the table. No one told me I would have to massage backs that look like a battle field of little pock marks and all sorts of weird skin things – but Steve does now for the many people considering careers.
How many massage therapist have been asked to give happy endings on the table? We won’t ever know the answer to that. But in the book Touch Subjects, Capellini admits that he did it – yes he engaged in prostitution and loved every minute of it. While I don’t recommend that you try this, I do commend Steve for his honesty and willingness to be vulnerable here with his story. He openly admits that he provided sex for money on the massage table. Yes that is prostitution and he openly admits to it. He risks being shunned by the massage profession and maybe even his own friends and family – who know. The place that he worked for even encouraged him to do so. I don’t really like the idea that he did cross the line but from what it sounds like and don’t want people thinking that they are going to be able to date and have affairs with their massage therapists or let alone have sex with them during their massage appointment. I do acknowledge the courage he has for talking about it.
As far as dating clients, there is such variation in what people are taught and what they do. I asked once on my Facebook fan page and got such a wide variety of answers. Yes it is written in the associations code of ethics. It is law in some states. It is a boundary crossing – yes. It is a dual relationship – yes. Yes – it is because there is transference in the client/massage therapist relationship. Clients will often behave in a different way when the massage therapist does things like takes their pain away and gives them that attention that they should have gotten at an early age from caregivers. Clients will unconsciously think that the massage therapist resembles the parents in a way or they fall in love with someone who has just helped them so much. When clients have this feeling, it is having boundaries and saying no to the client that also provides a space for clearing up old issues but massage therapists are not trained in this really. It would take getting a degree in psychology. It would also require that the professional associations and Massage Boards require Supervision to provide support for these many ethical issues. My question is – what has made it a boundary issue? Also most regular relationships start in transference – so how is this any different? The main thing is that we take money for our time and skills providing a service and when it becomes a relationship, it is then more about us than the client making it countertansference. It takes away from the client/therapist relationship. We are assuming that we are like psychologists or other health care professions where this is also an issue. How did they decide that massage therapists needed that same boundary? The law here in WA says you can’t date a client for 2 years after seeing them – but after that it’s OK. Some say you have to wait 6 months, a year, two years – who is right? How is it OK after 2 years? or 6 months?
Actually, when I first started out in 1987, it was OK to date clients. It wasn’t against the law. I don’t think it was in the code of ethics but I didn’t belong to any association. I of course don’t date clients now but I am just bringing this up because we need more forums like supervision to provide a safe place for massage therapists to start talking about stuff like this!
Massage is strange. You meet people, say a brief hello, ask a couple of questions and they take their clothes off. You spend an hour or more alone with them with the lights turned down low. You touch them all over their bodies the entire time, focusing all your efforts and attention on them, communicating with them verbally and nonverbally. Then at the end of your time, together, they get up, get dressed and before they leave they pay you.
Who would have ever guessed that I would be doing that for about 25 years!
I have already talked about the many myths in the massage profession that keep getting passed in massage school for various reasons. We do not have any proof that massage increases circulation or that there is a “Universal Energy” form called Reiki. Steve points this out in the book too.
The best parts of the book are the last few chapters. What is touch?
Teaching people how to massage is easy, but teaching them how to touch is almost impossible. People either have the touch or they don’t. Why is that? When people say ‘ Wow, she’s a great massage therapist. She has a wonderful touch, what do they really mean? What is it that you can feel but can’t really name when someone touches you?
Steve found the Himalayan Healers one day – a guy who works in Thailand to teach the people who are considered to be the untouchables in their caste system there massage. Think about that. What better way to get out of being untouchable – than to touch!
Be sure to keep reading until the last chapters which are really the most important. I have never heard touch and massage described in the way he has.
Touch is Love, Love is Touch ~ John Lennon
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