Body Workers Need to be Mindful of Touch Boundaries

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 1st, 2009 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

I had two experiences today, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, where body workers crossed boundaries that I had set with them about where I am and am not comfortable being touched without first being consulted. These particular boundaries are not becuase of physical pain but because of personal preference.

In one case, I had spoken with the body worker many times about the same issue, yet she did the same behavior again today – more aggressively than ever before, in fact. Mind you, she is otherwise an extraordinarily sensitive body worker and as gentle as body workers get when it comes to physical pain, so I really don’t get this selective amnesia.

My massage therapist, in contrast, is incredibly mindful, respectful, and precise. When I tell her once about a boundary, it’s the last time she touches me there, period, no questions asked, no matter what the boundary. I have had two other body workers who have been equally on top of it.

When body workers do not keep in mind and honor client boundaries, they undermine the work they are doing to help their clients heal. Speaking for myself, here are some of the consequences I have experienced:

  1. I feel that my space is being invaded.
  2. I feel unsafe.
  3. My body tightens.
  4. I am snapped out of my relaxed state.
  5. I feel anxious about bringing up the matter, especially if I’ve already brought it up.
  6. I end up in some shade of fight-or-flight mode, instead of in the open and receptive state necessary for effective body work.
  7. I feel emotional and physical discomfort or pain.

The thing is, there are so many options of how to work with clients. Body workers can utilize creativity and flexibility, rather than insisting that clients go along with a prescribed way of doing things.

A practitioner can work energetically above an area instead of touching the physical body, for example, or demonstrate a movement on her own body and ask the client to do that movement himself. While these alternatives may not be as effective as hands-on work that is wanted, it is exponentially more effective than hands-on work that is unwanted.

I wrote a detailed article about this issue almost 15 years ago in Massage magazine. Once my scanner works again, I’ll post it on the website, in the media section.



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