To Tell or Not To Tell

By Kenn Howard
[A Question of Ethics]


Dear Kenn,

One of our clients brings his wife to the salon where I work to get massages. He’s done this a couple of times. But then, last month, he brought in a different woman—younger and very attractive. We all think we should tell his wife. Should we?



Dear Lainie,

Behold adultery, the ancient and forever crime of passion and bad judgment. 

Your desire to minimize the hurt in this situation is admirable, but misguided. Regardless if the client is having an affair or merely bringing his young niece in for some much-needed bodywork, it is not your concern. Your goal as a therapist is to provide a safe environment for clients and deliver good work.

For argument’s sake let’s assume your client is cheating on his wife. One of our goals is to create a safe environment for our clients. It sounds like this man believes that you have done that. Otherwise, why would he bring this other woman to you for massage?

Next, his wife is in a precarious place and she doesn’t even know it. How do you create a safe environment for her? You are interpreting the safe environment you create as implying that you have the responsibility to protect her—as a professional, you have pledged yourself to the safekeeping of your clients.

This obligation applies, however, only when you are working with your clients and only as concerns your professional relationship with them. If you decide you want to provide a safe environment in every aspect of your client’s life, you will have no time for your own life. In a real sense, you are not your brother’s keeper—or your sister’s.

Difficult and uncomfortable as it may be, it is not your obligation to spill the beans here, and, in fact, you are bound by the ethics of our profession to keep silent.  Uncomfortable and awkward as it may be, your obligation is to protect your client’s privacy, even if he is cheating.

Now let’s assume that whatever is going on here is kosher, the woman in question has a respectable relationship with your male client (niece, wife’s sister, whatever), and there is nothing illegal, immoral, or out of line. But because you don’t know who she is, you choose to go to the wife and tell her that her husband is cheating. Now what? The wife’s confidence in her husband is shaken and you’ve broken your ethical contract with your client.

Now you are the one who has done damage. True, your intentions were commendable, and you had the wife’s best interest in mind, but that doesn’t matter.  You’ve created a nasty mess, all based on your good, but misguided, intentions.  When the dust settles, no matter how many apologies or explanations you offer, you’ve created a train wreck. And you will lose two, maybe three, clients.

As much as you think you can help, you will need to do one of the most difficult acts our profession demands: nothing.

  Kenn Howard is a massage therapist, NCBTMB-approved provider of ethics workshops, and instructor of ethics for the past 14 years. Contact him at