Just like with all other medical practitioners, you have rights when it comes to a massage therapy session. Some people may think massage just involves lying down on a table for an hour while a massage therapist does her thing. Well, there is more to it than that and you have the right to be informed. I recently had an experience that made me reconsider how important transparency, informed consent, and personal rights are to clients. Here is my story- I have a thing about ears. It’s weird, I know. Maybe blame it on trauma caused by chronic ear infections as a kid, but do not, under any circumstances, ever touch my ears. So I’m getting a massage one day and the therapist puts her fingers in my ears. I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t say anything because I thought, “Okay, just chill, it’s over, it won’t happen again”. And then she sticks her fingers in my ears a second time. This is a perfect example of informed consent and client rights. Had this therapist explained its therapeutic purpose asked for permission prior to treatment, I could have declined.
What’s Informed Consent Anyhow?
According to the American Medical Association, informed consent is “communication between a patient and physician” which “results in the patient’s authorization or agreement to undergo a specific medical intervention”. It includes presenting “the nature and purpose of the recommended interventions” and the “burdens, risks, and expected benefits of all treatments, including forgoing treatment”.
What Does this Have to do with Massage?
Your idea of massage and my idea of massage may be different. Everyone has their own idea of what massage is and their own experience with it because there is no one way to perform or receive a massage. There is no standard of education for massage therapy in the United States, so every massage therapist has a different education and interpretation of what massage should be. Massage therapists are also trained in different techniques and modalities (types of massage). This is why informed consent should be a standard practice with massage therapy. You, as a client or patient, have the right to know and understand what is about to happen to your body in that session.
What Does Informed Consent Look Like?
- A description of the therapist’s approach, their modalities, and techniques they plan to use
- Benefits, limitations, and contraindications of massage
- Possible outcomes
- The nature of the session, including disrobing and draping
- Scope of practice of the therapist
- A statement that client confidentiality and privacy will be maintained
- Session duration and fees
- Policies for cancellations and late arrival
- Collaboration with other healthcare professionals
You Have Rights as the Client
You have the right to end the massage at any time for any reason.
Don’t like my style? Did the massage trigger something that upset you? Are you sick? Just realized that you really don’t like massage? All of these and more are valid reasons for ending a massage. You should never lie on a table wishing for it to be over.
You have the right to provide feedback to the therapist about likes and dislikes.
Need more or less pressure? Need more time on your low back? Ready for me to move off your quads? Really like that technique done on your forearms? Are you feeling something wonky in your leg while I’m working on your glutes? These are examples of feedback. Feedback can be negative or positive. It can be about the temperature of the table or about the music. Feedback is whatever you feel like saying, because you have the right to say it.
You have the right to understand the techniques and approach that will be used in the massage.
Before a session we will discuss your goals and a treatment plan. I will make suggestions and provide my reasoning behind that treatment plan. And by treatment plan, I mean that I will suggest which areas of the body to be worked and what techniques I might use. I will also ask you if you agree with those suggestions and if you would like to add or decline anything.
You have the right to ask questions
Ask about anything and at any time.
You have the right to feel safe
If there is ever a time when you don’t, you have the right to file a complaint with the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and with law enforcement.
While massage may be a passive therapy, it does not mean that you must be a passive recipient. You have a voice and should never be concerned about upsetting the massage therapist. That time is all about you and your needs. You are always in charge of the session.