by Selena Belisle, Founder/Instructor, CE Institute LLC
Professional massage experts agree that all therapists should refrain, under all circumstances, from initiating or engaging in any sexual conduct, sexual activities, or sexualizing behavior involving a client, even if the client attempts to sexualize the relationship.
I Met My Soulmate Situation
What experts “disagree” about is the “meeting of a soulmate” situation when working with a massage client.
As our culture works longer hours, a good deal of relationships start at work. So, this poses the question – what is someone supposed to do when two consenting adults would like to start a personal relationship above and beyond a practitioner/client relationship? What is someone supposed to do when they feel they have met their “soulmate” at work – and are in a forbidden practitioner/client relationship?
Apply the Following for Ethical Considerations
Some massage experts agree that it is okay to terminate the practitioner/client relationship to start a personal relationship. Ways to address this could include:
- Determine the “end-date” of the practitioner/client relationship to start a personal relationship. A specific date creates a clear defining moment of when the relationship changed for both parties, and with each other’s consent.
- Draw up a written contract that clearly states the practitioner/client relationship has been terminated for purposes of to start a personal relationship. Include details such as there is no payment exchange for massage or bodywork services in the new personal relationship.
- Consult a licensed attorney or whomever seems most appropriate for the situation when needed. This includes whether or not the therapist should inform colleagues or superiors of this decision to change the client relationship status.
What to Do When You Are a Massage Therapist Employee
Informing an employer that you wish to start a personal or sexual relationship with a client would likely result in a reasonable loss of employment. Also, not informing an employer could also result in a loss of employment if they found out. It's almost a no win situation.
Every individual situation is different, and each individual must weigh their own pros, cons and ethical obligations to make their own decision to determine if changing a professional relationship with a client to a personal one is worth it.
As a previous large employer of massage therapists, sometimes employing more than 40 at one-time, I've seen several instances where massage therapists have dated each other from work, which sometimes caused friction at work and was not a great idea for the staff as a team.
I also experienced one therapist tell me very professionally that she was mutually interested in dating one of her regular weekly clients, and they wanted to continue their massage sessions so this would not affect me. My response was I was okay if they wanted to start dating, but that would mean it would be the end of his clientship at our massage establishment, which they both accepted. We would no longer be able to service his massage appointments at our business to establish a clear line that the professional relationship has ended and a personal relationship has begun.
It is Never a Good Idea to Pursue a Personal Relationship with a Client
How you chose or navigate your own personal choices or interests with clients is a personal decision that each therapist must make for themselves. What is important to remember is your professional and ethical obligations to the client, including how a power differential might have influenced the interest or start of the personal relationship. It is NEVER a good idea for a health care provider to start dating their client. However this has happened with proper and professional discretion amongst a few therapists, with successful navigation when ethics and clear communications were applied.
Soulmates are supposed to a once in a lifetime person. Any massage therapist who is regularly dating their clients, regardless of professionally terminating the client relationship, would likely be seen as a sexual predator or someone who is abusing their power differential in the client relationship. While some may understand that someone has met a soulmate at work, dating multiple people from work would not be appropriate and is extremely ill-advised. In fact, it could be deemed unethical by a licensing board and result with a suspension, training requirements, fines, loss of licensure and become extremely damaging to your public image, nevermind a client who may have felt taken advantage of in the power differential. A therapist also risks personal lawsuit or criminal action if a client claims a sexual relationship started during licensed healthcare services.
Also, even just one inappropriate sexual engagement with a client at work or outside of the establishment would be considered highly unethical, if not illegal. A once in a lifetime exception, if there ever was one, would only apply when the professional client relationship is mutually terminated to consent to a new personal relationship that would strictly occur outside of the workplace to establish and maintain clear boundaries.
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