Massage and Mental Space - a weight lifted from your shoulders
I think we all get why our bodies generally feel good after a massage, barring people who don’t enjoy being touched, of course! And, yes, there are times when the therapist and you just don’t click. But once you’ve found someone whose massage style resonates with you, you may start to feel the added benefit of peace of mind, or a lighter emotional load. Why is that?
The therapeutic relationship sets the stage for total relaxation.
Hard to teach soft skills make relaxing easier.
Scope of Practice awareness and professional boundaries assure you will receive the appropriate care or be referred out.
Recognizing the power differential keeps client and LMT out of unprofessional relational issues.
Respecting confidentiality puts your mind at ease.
I’m going to skip the biology (hormone levels, blood pressure, fluid movement, etc..) today and talk about the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist.
Massage is a great way of helping to create much needed ‘mental space’. You can spend your massage time in quiet reflection while your massage therapist works their healing magic on your muscles! Peter Drucker expressed the value of reflection years ago even when the world was not so information-rich and time-poor. He said, "Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action." Taking time out the rush of your everyday life can pay off in spades where mental productivity is concerned.
Carl Rogers, an American psychologist, states that three characteristics that promote positive growth and change (and MUST be present in a therapeutic relationship) are Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Genuineness. Susan Salvo, LMT educator and author of Massage Therapy Principles and Practice, adds Respect to this list. When dealing with another person’s body in a therapeutic fashion, mere unconditional positive regard doesn’t quite reach far enough. Respect includes boundaries, both physical and emotional.
Soft skills represent the hard-to-teach ability to get along well with others. Someone with well developed soft skills will be empathetic, a good listener, have good personal space, shares ‘what to expect’ information in a comfortable way. This puts you at ease and sets the stage for emotional relaxation. It also keeps healthy boundaries in place as the relationship becomes more familiar.
As a licensed massage therapist and certified personal trainer, I hear a LOT of personal stories. Many of them are truly inspiring, some heart breaking, while others are completely forgettable recounts of that person’s day. All are kept confidential. I suppose like you would when a friend tells you something and asks not to share it. The difference is that the client NEVER has to ask. Physical stress and pain are highly related to emotional / mental stress. It’s often difficult to relax into a massage with the weight of a spousal disagreement or pending work projects pressing on you. This is why at the beginning of your session, I like to let you know that ‘...this is your time. You can chat or just zone out, I am perfectly happy with either.’
Of course, I’m not a Psychotherapist or a Medical Doctor. This is where Scope of Practice comes into play. Understanding that, as an LMT I can only provide therapy for the muscles and the systems they affect, will further relieve the client of any worries about boundaries (both physical and emotional) and their plan of care. I am comfortable referring a client to physiotherapy to address issues I don’t feel massage will ‘reach’ in the time frame hoped for. Referring to a Psychologist happens far less often as that feels more intrusive, but you can rest assured that your LMT’s goal is not to give advice or suggestions to the potential personal situations you express during your massage. Your therapist understands and respects this differential as well as their scope of practice. Although massage time does NOT double as psychotherapy, you can trust you have an empathetic listener who respects you; then you can let it go and focus on the massage. Or… you can just relax, reflect and enjoy your quiet time.