Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired - Making Mistakes

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September/October 2014 Issue

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Making Mistakes

Accepting Our Limitations

By Cyndi Dale
[Energy Work]

All healers make mistakes. I’ve made many. Most have little sticking power, like the time I called a client by the wrong name (he really did look like my ex). But there are other slipups that could have hurt a client—or me. There was the time I didn’t sense a client was suicidal; fortunately, I later figured it out and called the police for an intervention. Then there was the time a male client I hardly knew flew in for a session—and was interested in more than energy therapy.
I’ve known bodyworkers who have inadvertently injured a client and physicians who have made wrong diagnoses. On the other hand, I’ve also met healers who have assumed responsibility for client problems they didn’t cause and put up with abusive behavior. These are a few of the endless mistakes a healer might make. The complexity of our profession makes it incredibly important to discuss how to prevent errors, as well as recover from them.

Accepting Our Humanity
The baseline for this discussion starts and ends with accepting our humanity. Most healers find this challenging, as health-care providers are often held to a high, if not idealistic, standard. It’s important to maintain integrity—to commit to our version of the Hippocratic oath. After all, people often put their lives or well-being in our hands. But frequently, the expectations put on healers are unrealistic, and can be difficult to live up to.
My mother’s attitude toward health-care providers exemplifies my point. As many people do, she unquestioningly believes medicine alone will cure her of all ills—even in situations better addressed through dietary, emotional, or other lifestyle changes. The worse she feels, the more she expects of her doctors (and frequently, the less she does for herself).
My mother is not alone. As explored in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock, patient expectations of health-care providers—defined as the anticipation or belief about what will be encountered—are rising significantly. Patients hold both objective and subjective desires, which are dependent on factors including culture, stress and anxiety, understanding of the problem, and education.1 I would add to this list communication abilities and the willingness to be self-responsible.

Three Types of Mistakes
How do we cope with this pressure, while accepting our limitations? We consider the three general areas in which we might commit mistakes: skill, knowledge, and rules.2 Being clear about what we could do wrong may keep us from actually doing it.

Skill-based errors occur when we don’t have the skills required to deal with a client’s problems or perform our job in a healthy manner. When we work on an ailment without proper training, we can potentially injure the client and damage our reputation or legal standing. Improper mechanics can also lead to self-injury. Our medicine bag of skills must include the ability to manage a client’s emotional and spiritual issues, establish boundaries (including fees and schedules), and negotiate reasonable client goals.

Knowledge-based errors arise when we lack the proper education, background, or knowledge to meet our clients’ goals. Mistakes in this area often involve talking ourselves into doing something we don’t know how to do, such as assisting with an ailment we’ve never worked on before or offering a diagnosis when we’ve no basis for our opinion.

Rule-based errors happen when we fail to adhere to professional standards or our own value system. Common protocol includes conducting sessions with appropriate touch and nonsexual interactions. Breaking these rules could lead to breaking the law. Not all rules are a matter of legality, however. Healers commonly suffer from caretaker burnout because they give clients more time than booked or add just one extra emergency client, despite exhaustion. Another typical mistake is to allow verbal mistreatment or other disrespect from a client, which in the end reinforces negative behavior and damages our self-perception.
Understanding these basic categories of mistakes can help us prevent an error before it happens.

Trusting Our Intuition
It’s also important to consult with another valuable practitioner commodity: our intuition.
Time and time again, I’ve been saved from a slipup because I’ve followed my intuition. I once sensed a new client wasn’t giving me complete information, so I suggested we table a healing until a later session. The next time she came in, she admitted that she had bipolar disorder and hadn’t told me. I might not have been as sensitive to her condition if I had treated her without this information.
Another time, I had the sense I was being played by a client. I finally asked him what he really wanted from the session. He admitted he was trying to get me to gossip about his wife, who had come in the week before.
My intuition also assists me with helping clients avoid mistakes. I once suspected a client’s symptoms suggested he had more than a cold and asked him to consider going to a doctor. The physician found a tumor.

Mistakes Lead to Enlightenment
When we do make a mistake, we can employ our intuition, value system, and advisors to figure out how to handle it. Sometimes, we only have to say we are sorry. Sometimes, we can provide another session and alleviate the concern. Other times, we might encourage a client to see another professional or allow us to consult with other providers.
The most important advice we can follow, however, is to learn from our mistakes. Dogen Zenji, one of the greatest Buddhist teachers of the 13th century, was clear that his life was a series of mistakes—but how wonderful, this state of affairs. Enlightenment follows our ability to embrace the everyday world. He said we are to love all it has to offer, even while we practice detachment.3 To cultivate the ability to show up for a client and remain present, to own what we must own and release the rest—this is the path to true wisdom.
When we learn from our mistakes and build on our successes, we have greater potential to become better people, and better practitioners.

1. Fatima Lateef, “Patient Expectations and the Paradigm Shift of Care in Emergency Medicine,” Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock 4, no. 2 (2011): 163–7.
2. Innovative Educational Services, “Prevention of Medical Errors—Massage Therapy Goals & Objectives,” accessed July 2014,
3. Masunaga Reiho, “The Standpoint of Dogen and His Ideas on Time,” accessed July 2014,

Cyndi Dale is an internationally renowned author, speaker, and intuitive consultant. Her books include the bestselling The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of Your Energetic Anatomy (Sounds True, 2009), The Complete Book of Chakra Healing (Llewellyn Publications, 2009), and Advanced Chakra Healing (Crossing Press, 2005). To learn more about Dale and her products, services, and classes, please visit

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