somethingaboutblue: (faye)
[personal profile] somethingaboutblue
"You're guarding," she said. From my position lying on the massage table draped in sheets, I most certainly was not guarding. We were in a class, and I'd just gotten through explaining that I have a problem with my left hip, a congenital malformation. The femur head doesn't sit correctly in the socket and so moving my left leg when the bone locks into place -- something I can't control -- can sometimes be an experience. From my perspective I was relaxed, not holding back, and most certainly not "guarding" against anything.

"I'm not guarding."

"Yes, you are. You're guarding that leg."

We in the business all know exactly what that means: the massage therapist is saying you're not relaxed enough. In this case, after my explanation, the only purpose her repeated comment served was to make me tighten up even more and become incredibly defensive. I had to explain again: "I have a genetic structural malformation. The bones lock. Treat my leg kindly; I'm as relaxed as I get. I'm not guarding."

The problem with the massage therapist I worked with had nothing to do with her skill or her intention and certainly not with her as a person, but it had everything to do with her choice of words. There are ways to relax bodies, tips and tricks, and we all know them. Most of the time, they have very little to do with what we as massage therapists say. My friend could have just said "I'll do it for you." Or she could have said "oh, we must be encountering that bony lock you talked about. Why don't you lift your leg to where it's comfortable, and I'll take it from there?" Instead, in addition to my explanation being ignored, I got a judgment call: I was doing something wrong. I was guarding, I wasn't letting her in, and that meant there was something wrong with me. My intentions weren't pure. I didn't trust her enough. I had failed as a client.

Every day in massage therapy, we work not only with peoples' bodies but with their psyches. In my nine years as a practitioner I've heard so many things and had so many confidences shared. Working with people this way is an honor. The very least I can do is listen when they speak, and keep all my judgmental words to myself. Sometimes, there are statements that seem so innocuous that we don't even give them a second thought: you have beautiful skin or there's not an ounce of fat on you, things we routinely think of as compliments. But we can't say those things aloud during a session, because as therapists we're in a position of power over our clients. They're lying down; we're standing. They're undressed; we're clothed. They're here to be helped; we're the ones in position to help them. We have to be so cautious. What if the client was abused by someone who told them they had gorgeous skin? What if they have no fat on their bodies because of an eating disorder? We can't afford to trigger those types of memories or raise those types of defense mechanisms during the course of a massage.

I've long thought that the single most important skill we have as massage therapists isn't the way we move our hands or the techniques we learn. It's the simple ability to nod our heads in acknowledgment and say "Mm-hmm, yes." People tell us things because they want to be heard. We're not their analysts. We can't go beyond our training to act as psychotherapists unless we're authorized to do so. So what can we do? We can acknowledge. Whatever it is that's on a client's mind, we owe it to them and to ourselves to listen and acknowledge. It's simple: people will leave a massage feeling so much better when they know they've been heard as well as massaged. Their bodies will relax; their minds can get into that floating endorphin-pumped feel-good zone. They can take their mind off their worries and concerns and maybe the muscles around those areas where bone meets bone will mellow enough so that no one needs to be accused of being guarded or of holding or of being too tight or any of those keywords that cause a stress reaction.

What I've learned to do in my practice is used neutral phrases. If someone's tight and I can't move their arm the way I'd like, I'll tell them "I've got you" during a hold. If that's what lets them relax, great! If not, we can move on to other techniques, like vibration or light jostling. We know the physiological tricks to getting relaxed muscles, but do we know the psychological tricks? Telling them to relax and stop holding isn't one of them.

Massage therapy isn't something that can be gone into for egotistical purposes. We do it because we want to help, because we're all empathic to a degree, because we're drawn to a career in human service. We can't forget that over the course of the years. We can't force our clients to endure the type of massage we want them to have unless it's also the kind of massage they want to receive. We have to listen with our ears and hearts wide open, and meet them where they are, not where we wish they were. Only then will we be successful in making that hour of massage as perfect for our clients as they -- not we -- need it to be.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-09-21 01:29 am (UTC)
silveraspen: silver trees against a blue sky background (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveraspen
Very thought-provoking, insightful, and wonderful post. Thank you for sharing it.


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