Photo of a woman having her shoulders mssaged
Asking questions of your massage therapist beforehand, can help you feel more confident

Massage therapy – do you feel comfortable?

15 February, 2013

Last year a male massage therapist, was in the press as he’d been taken to court for ‘inappropriate behaviour and sexual assault’ whilst giving treatments to some female clients including a member of Paul McCartney’s staff.

The therapist, Daniel Pytlarz, was acquitted of all charges, but did spend 9 months in prison following his arrest.

The story provoked a number of important conversations around the issue of being comfortable during a massage. So I’d like to clarify a few things and provide some advice to help you, as a client, feel more comfortable, during a therapeutic massage session.

Massage has had a bad rep in the past, being linked in with the sex industry.  Even when I first qualified 13 or so years ago my friends all joked about putting my card in phone boxes.  This is the image the industry had, and the professional organisations and companies have worked hard to shake off this idea so that massage can be recognised for being a professional and therapeutic treatment.

The guidelines, training and image have all been tightened over the years to ensure that this tainted view does not remain.  It doesn’t help when a cases of alleged abuse hit the press, and of course the previous ‘non-therapeutic’ massage ‘with extras’ is still available, but it is easy to distinguish between them.

My main reason for writing this article is to offer some simple guidelines for you, the client.  For me, all the media coverage around this case highlighted the vulnerability of both client and practitioner during a one to one treatment, but there are some simple questions and answers you can ask that can protect you (and the therapist).

Always ask questions

Start by quizzing yourself. For instance

  • What do you expect when you go to see a massage therapist?
  • What instructions do you want from your practitioner?
  • Are you happy to see a male practitioner (whether you are female or male)?

I know some truly great male massage practitioners, though they often find they are passed over in favour of a female practitioner.  Some women feel safer knowing that they are being treated by another female, and that is something that all practitioners respect.

Even so, when you book to see a practitioner (male or female) there are few things you should ask them:

  • What sort of training did they receive and when?
  • Are they insured?
  • Are they a member of any governing body or professional association?
  • What type of massage do they offer, and what do you expect from it?
  • Have they done any advanced training or specialise in any certain area?

Having insurance is a legal requirement and a clear sign that they are professional but also protects you should anything go wrong at all.  Being a member of a professional association is not a legal requirement, but this shows again that they are a professional and also means that they are bound by that association’s codes and practices.

They also would need to be insured and properly trained to join the association in the first place.  The codes and practices, as well as good training, guides the practitioner about advising a client and protecting them from any misunderstandings or anything that might make them feel uncomfortable.

In my own practice, for example, I am proud, for instance, to have the very best training, be fully insured and member of a number of the top governing associations.  This includes Association of Reflexologists, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) and Complementary Therapists Association (CThA).

What type of massage?

There are numerous types of massages available.  The most common are deep tissue, holistic, aromatherapy, manual lymph drainage, remedial, sports, Indian head and hot stone (see the Learn More section of this website for information on these therapies).  They all vary in techniques, but there is a common thing – they all involve touching parts of the body.

Most practitioners I know, male or female, follow the simple things outlined below. These are designed to make the client feel as comfortable as possible and explain things as much as possible.

1. Explain/communicate what to expect during the course of a treatment

2. Explain which areas of the body will be treated and ask if there is any part of the body the client would not like to be treated. This area would then be avoided and a note made on your consultation records. If avoiding this area could potentially impact the result/benefit of treatment, the client would be advised accordingly, but the practitioner would never pressure them into having something they didn’t want.  During the height of the Pytlarz story, I heard one radio station mention that massaging the thighs is illegal in the UK, however that is not true at all.

3. If a treatment requires touching the client in or near an intimate area due to damaged muscles/ligaments (i.e. close to groin area), this would be explained to the client in advance.

4. The client should sign a relevant document, such as the consultation form, stating that they are giving consent to the treatment and that it has been explained to them. Some practitioners also ask the client to sign the form again at the end of the session, which says they agree that no intrusion into their privacy/dignity occurred and that the treatment was within the area indicated.

5. All clients have the right to stop the treatment at any time, for whatever reason, and this should be explained before the treatment commences.

6. Most massages require clients to remove their clothing.  This should be explained clearly to the client, including which items of clothing need to be removed, how to position themselves on the couch, and which towels they should use to protect their modesty. Most practitioners would, under no circumstances, ask a client to remove underpants for the purposes of a massage treatment.

7. The practitioner will always leave the room and allow a reasonable amount of time for the client to undress down to their underwear before the start of a treatment, and also to re-dress at the end of the session. They will always knock before re-entering the room.  The practitioner will not remove client’s clothing for them, including bra or underpants.  Any towel adjustments will be explained and done with agreement only.

Following these guidelines means both client and practitioner are protected during the one to one session and creates a space for a safe and comfortable treatment.

If you have any questions about your treatment or what it involves then always ask your practitioner.  Get as much information as you can before the session starts and during your initial consultation.  Ask exactly what the treatment involves and what they plan to do.

A competent practitioner should explain to you which areas of the body will be treated and if they plan to work near any sensitive areas.  If you feel uncomfortable or are in any discomfort then tell your practitioner straight away and stop the treatment altogether if necessary.  This should all help to keep therapeutic massages professional – and out of the media for the wrong reasons.