by Nick Lakoff, CMT
For this article I wanted to talk about a somewhat touchy issue that can occur within the client/practitioner relationship. The issue is this; what if you develop a romantic interest for your therapist? This is an extremely complicated question and one that I want to elaborate on in detail.
The massage therapist/client relationship is a very intimate one, even more than the doctor/patient one in most cases. There is partial nudity and prolonged touch which can sometimes bring about some confusing feelings and emotions from a client and occasionally the massage therapist as well. A massage normally is a very enjoyable experience and this can bring about feelings of fulfillment where there is possibly an emotional void that exists. Massage therapists are usually caring, sensitive, intuitive and giving people which are qualities that anyone would want in a mate.
The first thing that is important to understand is that this relationship is a power relationship which essentially means that the therapist is in a position of power and the client is not or less so. There are many examples that demonstrate this very fact. The first one is the fact that the therapist is fully clothed during the session and the client is not. Another example is that during the oral medical history the client reveals personal information and the therapist normally does not. Yet another is just the mere fact that the client views the therapist as a professional and can be easily swayed by them due to that perception. So from the very beginning this relationship starts on an unequal footing if you were to look at it from a romantic point of view. Statistics show that in the event that a couple is formed from a power relationship (between a health professional and a client/patient) a high percentage of these relationships fail because of this very fact. Transference, the transfer of feelings or emotions for a person to the therapist, is a very real possibility in these cases.
If you should find yourself in this position you might want to ask yourself a few questions about what you’re feeling in order to have a clearer understanding of what’s going on. The first is other than the basics what do you really know about this person and if you had met them in a different context would you have the same feelings you are experiencing presently? Second, did the therapist do anything to encourage these feelings other then do his or her job as a massage professional? The third question might be; what is your current emotional state are you sad, lonely, needy? These are all things you should to ask yourself and the answers will invariably lead you to understand that it’s probably not a good idea to pursue anything on a romantic level and because there is nothing there to begin with.
Most health professional associations have very clear guidelines as to what the professional can and cannot do in these situations as outlined in their deontology codes (rules for ethical, moral and philosophical conduct by a professional). For example the deontology code for American and Canadian Psychiatrists states that the doctor may not enter in a relationship with a client unless 5 years has passed in which there was no contact whatsoever, either personal or professional. Even then the practice is discouraged. Most massage therapy deontology codes recommend the cessation of the practitioner/client relationship at the very minimum.
If you still feel that you must make your feelings known here are a few pointers. If you do decide to take that step you must be willing to terminate your professional relationship with them or it being terminated by your therapist. By doing this you would lose your massage therapist and you might be sorry you did so later on, a good massage therapist is hard to find. Also consider that dating a massage therapist doesn’t necessarily mean your going to get massaged all the time. This is what we do for a living and it’s not exactly the first (or second or third!) thing that we want to do when we get home. Another thing to consider is that the therapist might already be in a relationship and if not they may still find your advances awkward and/or unwelcome. Lastly I would advise against revealing your romantic interest in the therapeutic setting. Choose a neutral setting in public like a coffee shop for example. People being human, relationships form in all sorts of different circumstances but it’s important that you go through the though process I’ve talked to you about before making your feeling known to your therapist.