Massage Therapy

What is the difference between appropriate touch and inappropriate touch in massage

Hostile or aggressive touch occurs when a potential for conflict or power struggle exists. Professionals who use touch need to be aware of the underlying energy directed toward the client to prevent this intention in the touch. The obvious is easy: if you are angry with a client, it is best not to touch at that moment and vice versa; if a client is angry with you, it is best not to touch until the energy changes. A more subtle aspect is the undercurrent of conflict. Say, for example, that the client is late for the appointment, or the practitioner is hurried or angry about something at home and inadvertently is more aggressive during the massage than necessary.The perception of holding power over another underlies hostile or aggressive touch. Careful attention must be paid to this idea of power in the therapeutic relationship between the professional and the client. In the professional relationship, a power difference between the professional and the client exists simply because of the knowledge base that defines the profession. Knowledge is power, and most of the time the professional knows more about the service rendered than the client does. In body therapies, often the client’s physical position creates an environment that fosters a power differential. Clients usually lie down or are seated, and the professional is physically above the client, generating the impression of authority.Touching is an action energy focused outside the body that has the ability to exert power. When a person is touched, energy is received and internalized; it is not overtly an act of exerting power. Although the ability to receive touch is powerful, the difference in the power base between those who give and those who receive touch must be considered. This interplays with the appropriateness or inappropriateness of touch. Careful attention must be paid during professional touch if the issue of power is to be managed appropriately.Erotic or sexual touch. The intention of erotic or sexual touch is sexual arousal and expression. The issue of erotic touch cannot be sidestepped in the study of massage therapy or any other body-oriented treatment in which touch is a primary aspect of the therapy. Complex physiologic, mental and spiritual aspects, both of the client and the practitioner, influence the ideas of erotic touch.Inherent in many forms of massage and bodywork is the pleasure of being touched. Pleasure is an important therapeutic tool. These chemical responses to massage are one of the main reasons for the therapeutic benefit of the methods. Constant attention must be paid to the appropriate understanding and interpretation of the feelings generated during professional touch so that pleasurable touch does not evolve into or is misinterpreted as erotic touch.Not only in body-oriented therapies but also in psychotherapy and other health care disciplines, it is not uncommon for professionals occasionally to have sexual feelings in the context of the professional environment. Professionals are people with complex, intertwined needs, desired, and means of expressing themselves. However, it is inappropriate for professionals to foster any type of erotic feelings with a client, either within the therapeutic environment or outside that environment. Erotic feelings should never be acted on with clients.
Body area of touch sensitivity. Different areas of the body reflect different tactile issues. Research literature shows some agreement about areas of the body that are more sensitive, or “charged,” in terms of emotion or erotic interpretation. The more emotionally or physically charged a body area is, the more the person may feel insecure, anxious, fearful, threatened, connected emotionally, intimate, or aroused when touched in that area.Some body areas are considered taboo or “no-touch zones” in terms of professional bodywork touch. Orifices, including the anus, genitals, mouth, ears, and nose, have the highest level of taboo in most societies. The ventral, or front, surfaces of the body, including the breasts, are more charged than the dorsal surfaces. We see this pattern in massage; much of the massage session is devoted to the back of the torso and the legs while the client is lying face down, with the front of the body “protected” by the massage table.The trunk of the body is more “charged” than are the limbs. For this reason, a client may feel more comfortable having the legs and arms massaged then the torso. However, this does not always hold true; often the least intrusive form of touch is laying a hand on a person’s upper back near the shoulder, whereas having the hands massaged can feel very intimate and connected.The head is an area sensitive to touch. Although children often are touched on the head and face, adults seldom are touched casually in these areas. Adults often respond emotionally to touching of the face and head.Areas of a person’s body that have undergone trauma, such as through accidents or surgery, carry more emotional charge and therefore are more sensitive to interpretation of the appropriateness of touch.The appropriateness or inappropriateness of touch, then, is about when, the way, and with what intent we touch.

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