How do you deal with the embarrassing stuff?

By Abram Herman
[Tell Me...]

Avoid or Acknowledge?

There are many embarrassing situations that can occur during a bodywork session—draping disasters, passing gas, and more—and while it can be uncomfortable to talk about them, knowing how to deal with these issues professionally is essential. Unfortunately, the potential awkwardness of such discussions can often cause educators to rush through or, at worst, avoid these conversations. “I asked the flatulence question as a student,” says Alice VanderHorst, of Michigan. “I was looked at with disdain, and the instructor actually said she’d never had that problem arise.”

Despite what the instructor may have said in Alice’s class, everyone in our profession will probably have to face an awkward or uncomfortable situation at some point in their careers. Fortunately, the fact that these situations are so common means that there are good suggestions for appropriate responses to be gleaned from your colleagues. 

Some therapists, like Kelli Burke, of Illinois, opt for an up-front approach: “One of the items [on my sign-in sheet] reads, ‘Bodily noises happen. Don’t sweat it.’” Others choose to deal with embarrassment after it happens, using a professional and understanding approach. Charlyn Bauer, of Missouri, aims to put her clients at ease by acknowledging the situation and letting the client know that it’s normal. “I always want clients to know we are professionals, and the situation will be handled appropriately,” she says. If you know your client well and have a good working relationship, you could even choose to handle the situation with a little bit of humor (in an appropriate manner, of course). When Jeffrey Ruiter, of Hawaii, has particularly gaseous clients, he often tells them, “It’s just your own personal aromatherapy.”


Education is Prevention

Beyond these unintentional side effects of bodywork, some embarrassing situations can arise from a client’s lack of knowledge or misunderstanding of pre-massage instructions, as Amanda Blackmon Muscato, of Georgia, found: “I had an elderly lady come in for her first massage ever. When I came back in the room she was butt naked, face down on top of the blanket, with her head resting on the foot bolster.”

Clients can also sometimes fail to disclose important details, as was the case for Crystal Lenzen, of Minnesota. “I started massaging the face and scalp of a client once,” she says, “and just as I began the massage, I lifted off her wig.”

Many of these incidents can be avoided by communicating with your clients, particularly if they are new to you or have never received bodywork before. Utilizing thorough intake forms, discussing what will go on during the session, and asking clients if they have any questions before you begin can help alleviate anxiety for massage neophytes, and head off some embarrassing situations before they become a problem. However, not all of these incidents can be avoided, so always be ready to respond professionally and sympathetically should you be surprised by an uncomfortable situation.


It’s not a good massage until somebody farts.

Ruth Werner,Oregon


I tell my clients that [farting] is as natural as burping. We have a little giggle, then continue with the session.

Nancy Bakker,California


I call farting the un-favorable compliment. If you can relax enough to fart, that’s awesome!

Juliann White,Colorado


If a client farts, I usually grab an essential oil, rub it in my palms, and breathe it in—ASAP!

Sally Shupert-Cavalier,


We all know clients pass gas when they doze off. It’s just something you grow to accept as one of the undesirable aspects of our profession.

Jeniene Nieboer,Michigan