In Part 1, I shared a story from “The Stranger” blog from a woman who felt uncomfortable and confused after receiving breast massage during a bodywork session. Here I offer the world an idyllic “redo” where both parties are safe and protected. Breast massage is such a valuable therapy for breast pain, lactation, breast surgery and breast cancer rehabilitation. (I surmise it might be cancer preventative, but they say I'm crazy.) It would be a tremendous loss if this treatment were not available to women because some practitioners were not properly trained to employ it professionally during a session.
Here are some things that could have happened to make this particular situation less murky for the client while simultaneously offering better legal protection for the therapist: The therapist can include a section in the massage consent form that states,
“During massage of the shoulders, chest and ribs, it can be valuable to work on the breast tissue to help relieve tension and restriction in this area. Breast massage can support relaxing the fascia of the chest muscles and opening the shoulder girdle to reduce upper back pain. Are you interested in receiving this treatment? If so, initial here.”
This gives the client the opportunity to ask questions and become educated before she is in a vulnerable position.
Before commencing with breast massage, I will ask for verbal consent twice more: “I’m noticing some congestion in the muscles that lay under the breast tissue. Are you comfortable if I work on the breast tissue to drain this lymph fluid?” Second question: “May I uncover your breast to work on this area?”
And finally, I give them the Exit Strategy, in case they change their mind mid-treatment: “I know breast tissue can be very tender sometimes. If the treatment becomes uncomfortable at any time just let me know and we can stop and use a different approach.”
These same rules easily apply to massaging other sensitive areas like the glutes and the abdomen. (Ahem, I teach this stuff in my continuing education classes and tutoring sessions if you would like some practice. Just sayin’.)
As a client, it is always so important to state your needs and ask questions when things don't feel right. It is your body and it specializes in telling you what it likes and doesn't like. Please listen to what it is saying and advocate for yourself. You are not "bothering" anyone or "criticizing" or "hurting their feelings." You are partnering in creating an amazing healing session that is custom made just for you. Good therapists crave this feedback during a session. Great therapists extract this information and craft it into an elixir of healing and empowerment. Be their ally. Speak up.
What I want most is to hear the therapist’s side of this story. I am starting a blog project (blogect?) in which I send my case reports to the client involved and ask them to write their experience. I think this could be a valuable addition to the massage therapy literature. Please sign up for my newsletter if you would like to receive these reports. If you have your own stories to share, please post them in the comments, or drop me a line. I might publish your report in my blog. Remember - you would not be learning about this right now if this woman didn't have the guts to write to Dan Savage, and I love her for that. Write your own stories. Spread the education. Attend a Bodyworkers Confidential and Massage Your Practice gathering to discuss this debacle with your colleagues.