It might not be the most popular opinion in the service industry, but I believe that I deserve to enjoy my clients as much as they deserve to get a fantastic massage. I believe that it is my prerogative to cultivate a dynamic that is mutually beneficial between myself and those with whom I choose to engage in the therapeutic relationship. I work diligently to self track and hold myself to a high standard of integrity in practice so that I can make my work available to as many people as possible, but I do not choose to work with every client.
There will ultimately come a time in the practice of every massage therapist when they have to move a client along or intentionally disengage in a therapeutic relationship. This probably won’t come as a surprise, but BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO! This can be particularly challenging for a therapist who is uncomfortable with the power dynamic that exists in the therapeutic relationship.
There is a rather large power dynamic between clients and professionals in the field of massage therapy. It is essential to feel comfortable in a position of authority when you become a licensed massage therapist. But how is that valuable in practice?
Defining Power in the Power Dynamic
Lets first define “power” as the ability to hold responsibility in a relationship, while defining and maintaining clear boundaries. Let’s take this concept one step further and get really clear about the fact that we are talking about power “with” or in therapeutic relationship to another person, and not power “over” another person. In our line of work, we hold a large number of responsibilities when we agree to care for another. The ultimate goal is to hold space for healing to occur and to share power with our client by obtaining informed consent for treatment and empowering them to advocate for what they need. We can accomplish this by engaging the client in the decision making process about their massage therapy session.
Developing Comfort in a Position of Power Means
- Accepting a position of responsibility to take action with the best intention for the outcome of your client.
- Developing concrete boundaries for your business.
- Getting comfortable communicating the boundaries of your practice to your clients.
- Reinforcing those boundaries when necessary.
- Knowing when and how to let a client go.
Our primary objective as healers is to maintain a client–centered business and there are several reasons that you might ultimately want to stop seeing a particular client. Let’s also remember that most of the time the reasoning behind this situation is actually practical. Most of the clients that I have moved on from my practice where due for one of three reasons…
Reasons for Discontinuing Treatment
- My work does not meet the needs of the client.
- Client doesn’t adhere to my boundaries.
- My practice do not have space for an incoming client.
Lets call “breaking up with a client,” MOVING A CLIENT ON. In this line of work, most of the time we are referring a client who we can no longer have a productive relationship with to another therapist who can meet the needs of this client.
Methods of discontinuing the client/therapeutic relationship.
- Referring the client to another wellness professional.
- Letting the client know you will not be seeing them again.
- Declining treatment.
Referring a client to another wellness professional should, when possible, be phrased in such a way that the emphasis is on the needs of the client. For example, if you are treating Paul X, and cannot deliver the pressure the clients shoulder requires to release, you could say, “Paul, it has been a pleasure working with you. As you have discovered, your shoulder requires more pressure that I can provide to release. It is really important to me that you get what you need in your sessions and for this reason I would love to introduce you to my colleague Sean who specializes in deep tissue massage so that you can achieve even better results from your therapeutic session. Here is his number and be sure to be in touch and let me know if this is a successful match!”
In the case that you have a client who you are choosing not to see again for more challenging reasons, it is a great idea to be clear and definitive with your languaging as well as calm and neutral in your tone. For example, if you have a client who continues to show up 30 minutes late for a 60 minute session and does not want to pay for your time, you could say, “Tammy, I have communicated my policy regarding payment on more than one occasion. I live on my wages, and it is not working for me to continue to schedule appointments with you. It is time for you to find another massage therapist.”
Once in a great while, your practice might be full. You may come to a time in your career when you simply can not take on a new client. Make sure to keep a current list of local practitioners in your referral network for this purpose so that a case like this you could say, “Jennifer, thank you so much for inquiring about an appointment. I am not currently taking new clients at this time as my practice is full, but I am thrilled that you are seeking massage therapy and I have an excellent list of local practitioners that I would like to forward you.”
A Practice with Integrity
At the end of the day, it is not a common occurrence to have to move a client on. It is of value to take the time to discuss any and all challenging situations with another trusted colleague who has integrity in practice. The ultimate goal in the therapeutic relationship is to be able to offer a positive benefit to each client while enjoying a satisfying career. Moving a client should only happen when true necessity has resulted after doing your best to manage each situation with the best possible outcome for your client in mind. As you will learn in your massage therapy practice, managing client relationships is a valuable and necessary skill. Gaining this experience goes above the practical and spiritual lessons we learn in massage therapy school, and helps us become more well-rounded healers.