What's Your Ethics IQ? Part 1

By Anne Williams and Karrie Osborn
[Classroom to Client]

A well-educated, conscientious massage therapist understands the importance of maintaining the highest ethical standards. Adhering to these standards can provide you not only with the foundation and heart-blood of your work, but also the best odds at having a successful, sustainable practice. When clients feel safe, when they know you’ll listen but not offer advice, and when they know the person they’re entrusting their most sacred self to passes no judgment on them, they are clients for life!
Your ABMP Code of Ethics outlines the principles that define appropriate therapist behaviors; these principles encourage excellent service and provide a roadmap to follow when faced with challenging or confusing situations. For example, some clients behave inappropriately without knowing any better. When this happens, therapists with strong ethical principles are clear in their behavior and communication with clients and can guide them toward appropriate behavior as part of the therapeutic relationship. It’s a win-win. And, in cases where it becomes clear that clients are seeking sessions for illegitimate reasons, ethical principles help therapists determine when that session should be terminated.
No matter if you’re just getting ready to graduate or in practice for 30 years, building your ethics IQ is always important. In this first installment of “What’s Your Ethics IQ?,” it’s time to test your general understanding of ethics in the treatment room. Take a look at the questions here. Answer what you can, research what you can’t. We’ve given you a head start on a few. Good luck! (For the rest of the answers, visit our digital edition at

Time to Test Your Knowledge
1. Define the term ethics.  
2. Why are ethics important in a massage practice?
Ethics encourage excellent treatment, ensure the rights of clients and therapists are protected, dictate the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship, and create an environment where clients feel safe.
3. Define the term values.
4. List two commonly held values of massage professionals.
5. Define the phrase character traits.
6. List two character traits that might positively influence the practice of good ethics in a massage business.
7. List two character traits that might negatively influence the practice of good ethics in a massage business.
8. Define the phrase client rights.  
9. List at least two rights of clients in a therapeutic relationship.
10. Define the phrase therapist responsibilities.
11. List at least two therapist responsibilities in a therapeutic relationship.
12. Define the term law.
13. List one difference between ethics and laws.
14. Define the phrase ethical dilemma.
15. What are two possible ethical dilemmas that might arise in a massage practice?
16. Define the phrase code of ethics.
17. Define the phrase standards of ethical practice.
18. List at least two therapist behaviors that desexualize massage.
• Wearing attire appropriate for the work you do, whether that be a uniform with a nametag, a variation on medical scrubs, or a polo shirt and khakis.
• Making sure your torso is properly covered throughout all aspects of your sessions.
• Keeping the therapeutic relationship cordial, while still delivering outstanding service (clients want to be nurtured—you can do that and still be professional).
• Avoiding terms like “honey” or “sweetie” with clients.
19. Define the phrase ethical violation.
20. List three ethical violations therapists should avoid.
21. List two behaviors of a therapist who fails to practice confidentiality with clients.

Anne Williams (anne@abmp.com) is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012) and Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006). Karrie Osborn is senior editor at ABMP and collaborates with Williams on various education projects, including ABMP Exam Coach and ABMP Student Life.