Client Diversity

A Safe Space for All

By Laura Allen
[Heart of Bodywork]

ABMP’s Code of Ethics includes the following statement:

“I will demonstrate compassion, respect, and tolerance for others. I will seek to decrease discrimination, misunderstandings, and prejudice. I understand there are situations when it is appropriate to decline service to a client because it is in the best interests of a client’s health, or for my personal safety, but I will not refuse service to any client based on disability, ethnicity, gender, marital status, physical build, or sexual orientation; religious, national, or political affiliation; social or economic status.”

The code of ethics of other massage organizations and regulatory boards includes similar statements. Our obligation really couldn’t be clearer: don’t discriminate. The people who seek our services should be able to assume that we honor the inherent worth of all people, and that we will be professional, compassionate, and nonjudgmental of their individuality.

In reality, their individuality is none of our business—with a couple of caveats.

A client with a disability may need special accommodations, such as help getting on and off the table or other considerations. Occasionally, a client may not be a good fit for you physically. In my younger days, I could work with bodybuilders and athletes twice my size who wanted very deep massage. Twenty-plus years into my career, I may refer them out to other therapists—with their permission—if I feel my ability to help them isn’t congruent with what they are seeking. I never want a client to think I’m not willing to do my best for them, but after three surgeries on my arm and nerve damage to my hand, I know my capabilities aren’t what they used to be. I’ve never refused the initial session, while making it clear to them that they may benefit from a therapist with more strength. That’s not discrimination; that’s being honest and client centered.

Otherwise, the client’s personal status is just that . . . personal. If it doesn’t affect the massage you are about to give them, it isn’t your concern. Their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, politics, preferences, qualities, character traits, and lifestyles are not your concerns. The treatment room should be a haven where our differences don’t make a difference. Every client deserves to be treated with the same consideration. Every client deserves a safe space and an ethical, nonjudgmental, and compassionate therapist who doesn’t discriminate.

Laura Allen has been a licensed massage therapist since 1999 and a provider of continuing education classes since 2000. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including the fifth edition of The Educated Heart, which Nina McIntosh entrusted to her before her passing. Allen resides in Western North Carolina with her husband, James Clayton, and her two rescue dogs, Fido and Queenie.