By Terri Klein
A colleague recently told me about an experience she’d had with a new client who arrived bearing a gift certificate for a massage. The woman held herself rigidly throughout the initial introduction, was perfunctory in her answers about stress and relatively noncommittal about how much pressure she preferred; she reported no recent injuries. But shortly after the treatment began the woman broke down sobbing and asked my colleague to stop. After she had dressed and regrouped, she met my colleague in the hall and apologized, explaining tearfully that she had recently lost her husband; he had committed suicide, leaving her and her young children stunned and lost. Though she had known of his struggles with depression, his final act of desperation had caught her off-guard. The funeral had been less than a month ago, and well-meaning friends had purchased the service for her thinking of it as a much-needed treat, but the massage had released a rush of emotions that she had been working hard to control while addressing the needs of her children. She had been overwhelmed by her response.
As massage and wellness professionals we are all too aware that sadness and grief can infiltrate the body and lay hidden, causing stress, pain and physical imbalance that only makes itself known years later. We also know that if this physical tension is properly released, it can help move the client through their healing process more quickly and easily, allowing them to access their own positive energy and strength again. Unfortunately, without knowledge of our clients’ emotional status we are working blind, unable to provide the full support that they need. Because my colleague was unaware of the fragile condition of her client, the session ended with both of them upset and nothing positive accomplished; long after the client left my friend was berating herself with the knowledge that if she had just known the situation, she’d have been able to help.
The list of therapies that massage professionals can provide to help de-grief our clients is long and well-documented; though many of our clients may only have a simplistic understanding of our services as stress-relief or muscle work. They are unaware of the availability of compassionate touch therapy, vibration therapy, and the success that has been found with reiki, lymphatic massage and polarity (among others) to unlock blockages and restore a sense of well-being to those who are in psychic pain. We would be doing our clients a great service, and improving our own ability to heal, if in addition to asking about allergies and previous massages, we take a few moments to go beyond the standard stress question and gently ask our clients how they really are – whether they are dealing with any recent losses. In doing so we will be able to explain how far beyond simple stress relief our skills can carry them, and what kind of relief we can provide.