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As massage therapists concerned about the well-being of our clients, we all face a risk of going overboard in telling people what they should do.

Suppose one of your clients is considering leaving their stressful job, and wants your opinion on whether it’s a good decision. You think it’s obvious that they should quit. Do you tell them that directly?

Or a client mentions they’ve had trouble sleeping recently. You used to sleep poorly, and had great results from a natural remedy. Do you recommend that this person try it, or give them a sample from your own supply?

Advising a client isn’t as straightforward as advising a friend or other peer. You’re in a position of greater power and authority and clients may give a great deal of weight to your opinions, even when you have no expertise on the topic you’re discussing.

It’s not uncommon for a client to believe that their massage therapist has deep insight into them and what they need. In some situations, the ethically responsible response is to refer the individual to another practitioner. For instance, if a client looks to you for advice about a psychological concern, the best advice you can give is to look into getting psychotherapy.

In other circumstances, though, you may have a very useful role to play in helping a client to solve their problem. In fact, for certain clients, this type of support may make an even greater impact than their massage therapy sessions.

If the client hasn’t asked you for help with an issue but you think it’s important and relevant to your work with them, ask permission before initiating a discussion. For instance, with a client who complains of sleep problems, you could ask if this is something they are interested in talking through with you to try to find a solution.

If the client asks for directive advice, you can ask permission to redirect the discussion by offering to talk through the issue to help the client get clearer on what he or she really wants. The client possesses much more information than you do about the nature of their problem and the usefulness and feasibility of possible solutions. If the client thinks up the same solution you would have proposed for them, having the idea come from them makes it much more likely that they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and ownership over the decision and actually follow through.

Be wary of digging deeper into a client’s problem. Probing into a client’s psyche or personal history not only risks taking you into the territory of psychotherapy; it also keeps the person’s thinking focused on what’s wrong rather than what they can do about it. In contrast, solution-focused questions connect the person to their emotional and intellectual resources and problem-solving capabilities.

©The Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks
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