Having a distinct tradable skill as your profession is very useful. In my 20 years as a massage therapist, I’ve traded massage for house cleaning, audio book production, meditation training, the use of a car, and music lessons. It was this last that gave me an unexpected insight into an aspect of my work that I risk taking for granted.
One day as I was unzipping my guitar case at my teacher’s studio, he brushed past me and said nonchalantly, “You can just get undressed and I’ll be right back.” He laughed at my stunned expression, and said, “I’ve just always wanted to say that phrase casually in my work day sometime like you do.” I spent the entire lesson bemused. Of course it was the “out of context” aspect that really disoriented me, but it was a sharp reminder that nudity isn’t always a simple thing.
Of course as a trained therapist I’m meticulous about informed consent, and draping my clients appropriately. I’m sensitive and respectful, but my guitar teachers little joke highlighted for me that it’s easy for these qualities to become rote. Being around people with less clothes on than normal, is a part of my work day. It’s very proscribed and firmly boundaried, but it’s important for me as a therapist never to take for granted how others might feel about it.
The most important thing for a client or prospective client to know is that nudity isn’t required. Effective massage is entirely possible over clothing, or over the sheet. This is an option any client has with any therapist. I do say to clients that, all else being equal, skin-to-skin contact has benefits psychologically and for the nervous system, but if nudity is a source of anxiety, then those benefits will not apply.
Of course, my clients have self-selected; there are many people who simply wouldn’t consider massage. I would never say it’s the right thing for everyone. I do think however, that it can offer a safe, healthy and clearly defined context within which someone might choose to experiment with their own comfort zone around nudity and body issues.
Always, the only part of a client’s body that isn’t covered by the top sheet is the part of the body being massaged. As a physical therapist, the only opinion I ever have about someone’s body is the level of tension I feel, or the degree to which the body is in proper alignment. The human body is a gloriously complex and sophisticated thing. As a therapist, aesthetics are utterly irrelevant. My focus is the miraculous set of systems working together to keep us healthy.
Massage therapy is a uniquely personal process. Unlike many other types of therapy, you’re alone with the therapist for a protracted period, anywhere up to 90 minutes, and most of the time you’re without clothes, which can carry a meaning of vulnerability. I feel honoured that my clients offer me that trust. It’s not always simple. Sometimes clients have taken the process in degrees. Having seen me a few times, their comfort and trust levels will change, and that’s always gratifying for me, and I think, for them.