Handling Challenging Situations and Misunderstandings as a Massage Therapist – Part 2

Last time, I talked about an interesting case of a significant misunderstanding that had occurred in my massage room and that forced me to amicably part ways with the client, due to different cultural views. In this post, I’ll cover a similar situation that happened, but with communication outside the massage studio being the primary cause of the issue rather than anything that happened in the massage room itself.

The First Red Flags Go Up

The client, whom I will refer to as M, had first gotten in touch with me via text message saying that he was a cyclist and asking if I offered sports massage. (It’s ironic that there seems to be a theme here with cyclists for these two posts, but most of the ones that I’ve worked with have actually been great people.) I replied that I did not and directed him to other therapists in the area who do. However, he was quite insistent on coming to see me, since I had excellent reviews. I told him that I could only offer Swedish massage in the areas he needed work, and he said that that was fine. When I brought up some of my policies, including drape, he asked that I not use it, to which I had to reply no. (If you read my last post, you will know that Texas legally allows drape-free massage, as long as both parties agree to it in writing, but that I don’t offer that in my practice.) He then began offering me large sums of money if I would acquiesce to his request. Now surprised and somewhat offended, I rejected him outright and told him exactly why I would not be taking him as a client.

He quickly got back to me and apologized for having behaved the way he had, saying that he didn’t know any better and asking me to give him a chance. I’m generally forgiving, so I agreed to see him on condition that I still drape him, though I would try to make it as comfortable as possible. The session came and went and while he was pleased with my work (so much so, apparently, that he paid me an exorbitant amount for the time I had spent on him), he indicated that in the future, he hoped for more work that was similar to what his former therapist had given him – something that I did not feel I could physically provide, and I told him such. He reiterated that maybe it was for the future, and left.

The Situation Grows More Uncomfortable

A short while later, I received very flowery and effusive text messages thanking me for my work. At least, according to his later explanations, they were meant to be thanks. The sad result, however, was that they made me very uncomfortable. I covered a few of the messages that he sent in a previous post about massage vocabulary, but suffice it to say that the most alarming of them was the one that described him wanting me to “envelop” him with my “soft and sweet sexy hands.” I consulted with other therapists and my husband about the texts and they all agreed that M had gone too far and that I either needed to tell him that he would no longer be welcome as a client or that I needed to set some very strict ground rules for our future interactions.

I chose the former option, and for some very good reasons. First off, I had been made uncomfortable twice already:  the first time with the text messages attempting to bribe me into foregoing use of a drape, and the second time with the most recent messages. Being in the same room with him now would be very awkward and would potentially affect the quality of my work on him. Secondly, it was evident that, while my work was something that he definitely enjoyed, it wasn’t quite what he was hoping for; and I knew that I could not offer him any better than I had already given. Those two main factors caused me to tell him that it was better to end our professional relationship. The responses I received from him after I told him of my decision further cemented my resolve that I had made the right choice. Rather than graciously accepting my decision, even if he was disappointed with it, he literally begged to be allowed to see me again.

Having the Strength to Say “No” and Stick by Your Decision

When I told him no and explained my further reasoning, he went so far as to have his former massage therapist get in touch with me to try and reassure me that he was a great guy and meant nothing by his texts. I gave her the details of what had transpired and why I had made my decision, and she responded, “You are either too sensitive or he was too happy,” despite the fact that he had once done something similar to her. She had allowed him to come back as long as he paid a fine and never did it again, but I simply wasn’t comfortable with that option, especially since that was not the sole reason for my decision. If I couldn’t give him the kind of work for which he was hoping, then it would not be fair to keep seeing him as a client, and I would have encouraged him to move on anyway.

Even after all that, the pleading did not entirely stop, but it did slow down to once every few weeks and then once every month or so. I eventually stopped reading or responding to messages from M, as it was too stressful for me to continue dealing with him. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to do this as therapists, to protect our own health and sanity, though we wish we didn’t have to. It’s another part of dealing with challenging situations in the profession of massage therapy.