Create Healthy Boundaries with Massage Clients

Emotional energy is subtle for massage therapists and can be the most unrecognized of all energy exchanges with clients.

Emotional energy is subtle for massage therapists and can be the most unrecognized of all energy exchanges with clients.

For this article, this exchange would be best defined as how much energy is used through receiving information about a client’s feelings, health, struggles, work, relationships, family and life.

The emotional energy aspect of this is the effect it has on the massage therapist to process this information and how emotionally involved the therapist gets in the exchange.

Clients may inadvertently trigger emotions in a massage therapist, and that needs to be noted. Clients may need us on an emotional level in a way that may be taxing on our overall wellness. It can be emotionally exhausting listening. Not having the energy to listen doesn’t mean we don’t care about our clients; it means we are human.

In some cases, people may want you to be not only a massage therapist but a clinical therapist or a friend. No matter how solid your boundaries are, over time—and other times quickly—a client can inadvertently tell us too much.

Deficiencies of emotional energy may show up for a massage therapist as negative feelings, lack of patience, and simply not feeling you have enough to give others. Negative feelings and emotions are gauges to let us know our emotions need attention. It is through these challenges and feeling overwhelmed that we learn to seek emotional energy maintenance.

For example, I had a client who would enter my office with a big frown or sad face for every single visit. Every day was a bad day. After the sessions, she still seemed sluggish and depressed. Her days were full of drama and chaos. She was emotionally exhausted and also exhausting to me. I saw her for quite some time with no change. Her list of maladies continued to grow as she went to therapists, doctors and numerous places to find people to tell her what was wrong.

She was quick to complain, but she didn’t make changes. She asked about stretches and exercises, but she didn’t take the time or effort to do them. I had to decide to maintain my emotional energy. I felt that I had embraced why she had come to my practice, and I reflected on our relationship. My massage and approaches didn’t seem to break through. Finally, I recommended her to another massage therapist.

As in day-to-day living, you should end a relationship that continues to cause you grief. It’s hard, but if you feel drained after every session, you should consider having the client see someone else. Trust that you’re allowing the client to find someone who may help them and that the person may not be you. Be aware of your emotional energy and don’t give too much away. It is excellent to lend an ear, though don’t feel obligated to resolve a client’s emotional struggles or life problems.

Another critical point: one of the biggest misconceptions by massage therapists is awaiting affirmative comments post-massage from their clients. Some massage therapists hope to feel fulfilled and safe once their client smiles and says, “That was the best massage of my life.”

The truth is this will happen sometimes, and it will feel good. But the other truth is it will not always occur, and that is when more work starts for the massage therapist. We need to realize it is not the client’s job to make us feel fabulous about our work.

Emotional energy balance isn’t attained through the massage therapist being fulfilled solely by the feedback of clients. You need to always be there for your clients during sessions but make no mistake: the client is not there for you. Remember, clients, are there to care for themselves.

I often think about this definition regarding energy maintenance: Economics is the study of satisfying unlimited human needs and wants with scarce resources. Human beings are insufficient resources and have only so much energy per day, like all things in nature. We are human beings, not human doings. We are not emotionless machines made of steel.

Honor, understand and respect your thresholds. In other words, know yourself, or you, the massage therapist, will quickly become burned out.

Save energy to deal with your own emotions and understand how you feel about the interactions throughout your day. Leave some room for your emotional healing, for family, friends and life. 

About the Author

Diane Matkowski is the founder and owner of The Massage Mentor Institute, offering business classes and mentoring services to massage therapists. Matkowski created The Shoulder Jam and The Hip Jam online CE seminars, featuring top industry educators. She has been a massage therapist since 1996 and runs her massage practice, Freedom Massage, in the Philadelphia area.

Emotional Energy Maintenance: Create Healthy Boundaries with Massage Clients