What Just Happened?

Emotional reactions on the massage table

By Darren Buford

Massage and bodywork evoke many responses from clients. While relaxation, stress relief, and pain management immediately come to mind, other reactions might not be what you expected—but that’s perfectly normal. Following are some stories from massage therapists who have helped their clients through an unexpectedly emotional session.

Brittni’s story
“Once I had a client cry about 25 minutes into her two-hour massage. I was playing classical music, and it just struck a nerve, and she started crying for her father who had passed away 10 years prior.
I told her, “I will continue with this massage, unless you want me to stop.” She didn’t want to stop. She just wanted to be heard and wanted me to know she missed him. It truly was a great experience. I continued massaging her, let her cry and get everything out, and we grew closer from it.”

Steph’s story
“It’s my job to allow whatever happens to happen, but guide it to a better place for the client with no judgment. For most people who end up having an emotional experience, it is due to muscle memory or some sort of spark that led to that memory.
And it’s my job to just listen, be there, and let them know, “I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere, and this is OK.” Most people just want to be heard in any way they can. I always listen. I have heard so many secrets and had lots of tears spilled on my table through the years.”

Bryan’s story
“I’ve had a few people start to cry on the table. As soon as I sense they are holding it in, I say, “You can let it out; you’re in a safe place.” They have recently lost loved ones, been dumped, found out a friend has cancer, and been cancer victims. One post-surgical, post-chemo treatment client cried and cried, and thanked me for letting her release her emotions and for my gentle approach. I just let them let it out, and I don’t probe.”

Sheila’s story
“Some massage sessions evoke an emotional response. And some are more overt and dramatic than others. When a client begins to cry or share an emotional event, I maintain the cadence of my treatment rhythm. I assure the client that this response is normal and that all feelings are welcome here. I use more integrative strokes, and coming down the arm I include a two-handed “sandwich” hold to the client’s hand.
 I like to share with the client and say, “There is an issue in every tissue.” This usually lightens the mood and the physiologic explanation about postures associated with emotion and the muscles they involve is helpful.”
Heather’s story
“As I was performing abdominal massage, my client quickly sat up and started having a panic attack. I kept calm and put a cool towel on her forehead and assured her she was safe here. She started crying and started to confide in me, revealing a bad childhood memory.
I told her this was out of my scope of practice and said her psychiatrist would be of more help. She thanked me the next day! She’s currently being treated for anxiety and depression, and said she will return for massage therapy as soon as she feels stable. I kept calm and helped her in the moment, but I didn’t try to be a mental health therapist.”

Darren Buford is editor of Body Sense magazine. Contact him at darren@abmp.com.