As a massage therapist I am asked many questions and not all of them pertaining to job. Depending on the therapist there may be some topics that are too sensitive or intimate to talk about while we’re working on a client or patient. Whatever is said in the treatment room stays in the treatment room. In the state of Washington, ethics is a mandatory continuing education class every two years for licensed massage therapists; which is a higher standard than ANY other health care provider in the nation (including doctors). It is the duty of a massage therapist to help our clients/patients within our scope of practice and to do no harm. Here are my Top 6 Topics that your massage therapist may or may not wish to weigh in on.
Religion, Politics, and other Hot Button Social News:
This actually varies between massage therapists. According to the State of Washington’s Department of Health; massage therapist ethics actually covers this topic and suggests that massage therapists should try to not discuss such topics with our clients/patients. Uncomfortable topics or debates do not belong in the treatment room. As health care providers it is our job to stay professional and focus on the human being on our treatment table. It comes down to what type of relationship you want to have with your client/patient while in the treatment room. If both the massage therapist and client/patient feel comfortable discussing such topics without getting into a heavy debate, by all means discuss away, however, keeping in mind that the treatment room should not be a soap box. The main reason we have treatment rooms is for privacy and safety. If your massage therapist is silent when asked about their views, it’s a safe bet that maybe they do not wish to weigh in on the subject. Side note: who wants to discuss something as inflammatory during a time of relaxation? I know I personally don’t! Enjoy your massage and leave the politics outside the treatment room.
The Appearance of a Client/Patient's Body:
I have had several patients comment, albeit in a lighthearted fashion, about their own body. Saying something like, “just work around the fat”, is not something a massage therapist is even thinking about. We are professional health care providers. We work on all types of bodies; it is part of the job. We are working to make you feel better at any stage in your life. We will encourage you where encouragement is needed. As a female and someone who receives massages often, I can understand feeling insecure. We ask to remove certain articles of clothing and personal effects to better treat you and access areas such as the neck and upper back. The treatment room is a safe zone and judgments about a person’s body don’t even cross our minds. We may think of ways to improve your quality of life, but it is not meant to make you feel bad about yourself. LMT’s provide strict objective observations and honestly would probably only be shared if you the patient ask us the therapist point blank.
Talking about sex with your massage therapist while in session, unless it has something to do directly with pain or treatment, is absolutely taboo. It is highly unethical to discuss this topic with your massage therapist. This category definitely falls under the “Do Not Discuss” list. Period. To even ask a massage therapist or even hint at wanting them to perform acts outside of their scope of practice is not tolerable. If the matter is pushed further the LMT will terminate the session (regardless of how much time is left) and ask you to leave or they will call the authorities. Same goes for the massage therapist, if they violate a patient/client they will lose their license and the incident on their permanent record. So, be safe and just don’t even bring up the topic unless it pertains to your treatment in which case you bet it’s going in the chart notes.
Socializing on a Personal Level/Social Media:
With the rise of Social Media and technology making it even easier to keep in contact with people in general you would think that friending or following your massage therapist is acceptable. Unfortunately, it can lead to larger problems and even has potential to get a massage therapist terminated from their job. Some clinics have a zero tolerance to this rule and with good reason. Tweeting or messaging your massage therapist regarding your treatment or even scheduling is not professional especially when the massage therapist is employed and has front desk person who handles their schedule. Liability and even a breach in HIPAA are things that massage therapists have to keep in mind and are very serious concerns. Some massage therapists give out their personal cell phone number to clients; usually when they are self-employed; which is totally acceptable. That may be the only way to reach your massage therapist for scheduling purposes. Clinics such as Massage Envy or other franchises have very strict policies to not only protect their employees but their guests as well. Another way to look at it is why would you friend your doctor or dentist on Facebook? Same reasoning can be applied to massage therapists.
Asking for a Diagnosis or Note for Time off from Work:
It is out of our scope of practice as massage therapists to diagnose or prescribe medications. We do have knowledge in pathology, anatomy, physiology, etc.; however, we can only highly recommend or suggest certain things to our patients/clients. Example; I can recommend certain stretches, exercises, or even frequency of massage visits to my patients to aid their treatment, but I cannot prescribe my patients with medical drugs or write them a note for time off work due to an injury. Doctors have that title for a reason and they have more extensive knowledge. Some health care insurance policies require a doctor’s prescription or referral for treatment massage. In my opinion as a treatment based massage therapist, I love working with Chiropractors. Most of the time insurance companies just need a note of referral or prescription from a Chiropractor and then the insurance benefit will cover the massage treatment.
Why don’t Massage Therapists like or use the term “masseuse”:
Masseuse is a tainted word that implies the use of sexual services. Massage therapy has a dark history (foreign parlors certainly do not help) and it has taken many years, studies, and research for massage to be seen as a medical treatment. LMT’s are still fighting to educate the general public as to why we cringe whenever someone calls us a masseuse.
One of the biggest reasons I love being a LMT is because of science. Licensed massage therapists have to know anatomy, physiology, pathology, kinesiology, etc. We are not required to know or retain as much as doctors, but we know enough to communicate with other professionals and effectively treat patients/clients . Do not suffer in silence. If your massage therapist is doing something that you either don’t understand or are not comfortable with (this includes the pressure) please say something so that the situation can be corrected and you can enjoy your massage.
I can say with full sincerity that massage therapists are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and they have all realized their calling to help those who need it. Any judgments we make of our patients/clients are purely based on knowledge and experience. It is required of us to remain objective with our findings; it is engrained into our minds while we’re in school. With all of this said, yes there are still bad apples in every industry. My advice? Using a search engine much like the one AMTA or DOH has on their websites and look for a local massage therapist. If you would like to find a massage therapist that is covered under your medical insurance, call your insurance company and ask for assistance or a referral.
Jennifer Roldan, licensed massage therapist at Northwest Wellness in Federal Way