Note: We’ve run into a minor glitch on our website and my replies to your comments haven’t posted to the website lately. We’ll have that resolved in the next day or two.
I got an email from one of you and would like to make it today’s subject:
“The whole ‘no expectations of results’ that you mention would also be a much-needed topic sometime to post for all us bodyworkers… I think it’s too easy sometimes to get caught in that trap as a massage therapist (and anyone in the “healing” professions for that matter) and take things personally and too hard. We definitely can’t forget about everyone’s personal responsibility and what they do to help themselves, or not help themselves in their own life.”
I like that this therapist put “healing” in quotes. It is important to establish the ground rules of the meaning here, as it’s much more than semantics. I believe it is without question that we are not healers; the only healer that exists for anyone, both physically and emotionally, is him or herself. What we are is facilitators: ideally, we remove physical circumstances that are currently in the way of the client’s body healing itself. It is simply what we’re good at. To think of ourselves as ‘healers’ puts us on a conceptual plane that is above the one the client is on. It suggests a grandiosity. We then tend to not work so much ‘with’ our clients as ‘at’ them. (By the way, that ‘healer’ way of looking at clients is guaranteed to sap your energy.) The main point here considering our topic: being a healer would of course include serious expectations built-in. If I’m a healer, the client better heal, or I’m not much of a healer. A facilitator helps make things happen, makes goals more achievable. That’s what a competent massage therapist does.
I believe there are two main aspects to this issue of expectations: 1) What is the massage therapist responsible for, and; 2) How does the ‘ego’ function best for the massage therapist?
‘Ego’ – For this discussion, we’ll define ‘ego’ as the totality of the concept one has of oneself, how one sees oneself and how one feels about oneself in the world. Basically, ego does not function well when it requires perceived validation from the world around it. That’s not to say it isn’t nice to get validation from the world; it’s wonderful. It lets one know one is probably on a good course (but not necessarily: ‘they’ could be wrong). Approval by those around us is fine, but it’s not necessary. One way this concept has been put is: be in this world, but not of it. Function in the world by making choices, not by ‘acting accordingly’.
For myself, I’ve come to understand that the ego functions best in massage therapy as a coordinator of information, sort of a mediator between what I’m feeling and sensing, and what I end up doing with my bodywork. It works best to do this with no judgement, not even with an opinion. Some would say this is ‘egoless’, but that’s a different interpretation of the word. In our perspective here, it is impossible to be egoless, just as it is impossible for me to not be me. So you could say the ego functions best as the aspect of me that notices things about the client (from what I’m feeling to what I’m intuiting), notices my technique choices, notices the client’s response to what I do. It coordinates what I feel with what I do.
Responsibility – What is a massage therapist responsible for? A pitfall here would be to think that a bodyworker has the responsibility to be effective with his/her client, that the client should improve as a result of treatment. This inevitably leads to the therapist taking responsibility for the client’s physical complaints. And that, of course, is a recipe for expectations. When you think about it, taking responsibility and having expectations is rude: it’s like the therapist saying, “I can handle your problems better than you can,” and that’s just plain rude. Rather, respect the client and their complaints.
So what is a bodyworker responsible for? I feel number one is show up with, and to, the best of your ability for that session. Be present, pay attention. Show up on time, prepared and clean. That’s pretty much it; if you’re in business for yourself, be able to make change for $100 bill.
In terms of what the client does or does not do with our work or in their whole healing process, that is their business, not ours. Their responsibility is not our responsibility. Again, I’ll make the point that it is rude to judge our clients’ decisions on what to do with our work. I understand clearly how difficult this can be when one feels confident in one’s work and understanding of the situation, and of the client’s circumstances. Remember that it’s about them, so respect their choices.
So, my position is we can forget about the clients’ “…personal responsibility and what they do to help themselves, or not help themselves in their own life.” In fact, I believe it’s best if we do forget about the client’s decisions regarding themselves. To re-emphasize, their decisions are their business, and to recognize them is to have a judgement or opinion of their decisions, which will lead to expectations of them (unfair), and that road leads us to resent the client. I’d like to emphasize that it’s not easy to let go of these thoughts and attitudes, and I face this regularly in my work. But it is worthwhile to be conscious of such thoughts and attitudes, understanding that they are not serving us as massage therapists nor our clients.