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I have been having some really great discussions on here and on Facebook and my websites about the therapeutic relationship and what happens when you become friends with clients or engage in other dual relationships with them -nothing illegal like dating clients or sex of course but trading services like accounting or tax help and seeing clients socially.

I never was taught anything about this and in fact when I started out 22 years ago, massage was more of a lifestyle choice than anything and being friends and even dating was totally OK back then. Dating clients is now illegal here in WA and a few other states. Now with massage moving ahead and becoming a profession with all of the things happening like the BOK, licensing reciprocity being talked about, the FSMBT, the troubles with NCBTMB and such we are being seen more as health care providers and massage professionals.

I was just wanting to hear others stories and experiences of becoming friends with clients...

What were you taught about socializing and becoming friends with clients in massage school if anything?
Do you engage in social relationships outside your massage business/job with clients?
How has it helped or hurt your practice/job?
What effect does it have on your massage work with that client if any?
How do you manage the power differential factor that occurs in the massage/client relationship and the possibilities for transference and countertransference when you work with them doing massage and when you see them socially?
What boundaries if any do you set up to preserve the therapeutic relationship?
Do you feel like you are friends with clients even though you may not see them socially?

That's probably too many questions. Of course you don't have to answer them all and can add your own thoughts on the topic. Basically what I am wanting to know is how many people see their clients socially successfully and if there are massage therapists who also choose not to see their clients socially. I am wanting to learn what is being taught in massage schools about all of this.

Thanks very much
Julie Onofrio

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Comment by Gloria Coppola on February 8, 2010 at 10:46pm
Angela,
Be up front and honest with him about how you feel. You have got to do what feels right for you.
If you know he has/had feelings and you start trading that might make you feel uncomfortable and create tension in your relationship. I would just be "real". Good Luck
Comment by Julie Onofrio on February 8, 2010 at 2:19pm
I can't really answer for you. It is really a personal thing. You just have to see what feels right and be able to be upfront about your concerns and address the issues as they happen.

Julie
Comment by Angela Lind on February 8, 2010 at 12:15pm
I have a special situation of this.

Is a man around my age that he was my client for 2 years. I remember the first day I met him and went to his place. He was very respectable but hours later when I finished the massage, he called me and ask me out for a date. I told him that I don't date my clients, that also its part of the rules of my profession. He respected that and he become only my client for the next 2 years. 2 years later, he told me that he really loves my massage and that he is interested in becoming a massage therapist too. He studied massage therapy and now he is a licensed massage therapist. He hasn't been my client for almost a year and he has been asking me for my advice on this profession because he is just starting out.

He has been working very hard as a massage therapist and he is now in pain. He is asking me to trade massages and I don't know what to do. He was my client for 2 years and now seeing myself trading massages with him and becoming friends its kind of weird. I don't know what to do. He is very nice guy and he has given me referrals, promote my business too. So I kind of feel compromised, so I don't know what to do.

What do you think Julie about this? would be OK to become friend with him and trade massages? (Not dating! just as friends!)
Comment by Las Vegas Massage In Summerlin on February 5, 2010 at 11:43am
Gloria:

I think we need to really have a keen sense of the intention and boundaries. I do have a few that have been clients and then became friends. It has been wonderful. They are supportive and refer many clients to me. They respect me professionally at all times. They even comment that they appreciate the fact that the relationship is professional when they come to see me and not casual.

;)
Comment by Gloria Coppola on February 5, 2010 at 10:05am
Hi Julie!

In school we were taught not to date our clients. Makes perfect sense.

As for friendships we were advised to use caution. We did not get a lot of fear based projections thrown at us. We were taught STRONG boundaries, a sense of self and how to commune with others in this field.

I feel it depends on your location. Some small town therapists cannot help but have their clients as friends in some cases. Larger cities you probably won't have this as frequently.

Can we be friends with our clients?
I think we need to really have a keen sense of the intention and boundaries. I do have a few that have been clients and then became friends. It has been wonderful. They are supportive and refer many clients to me. They respect me professionally at all times. They even comment that they appreciate the fact that the relationship is professional when they come to see me and not casual.

I have had people who wanted to become friends and knew that it would not be appropriate and would probably create professional problems. I remain friendly to them but do not engage on a personal level outside of the practice. They also respect this.

I do not feel that we should go out drinking and partying with our clients. I feel we must always maintain professionalism. A cup of coffee or lunch, a walk in the park is quite different. I will say however, that I don't bring these relationships into my life like "best friends" divulging personal issues. We keep it "light".

I have seen over my almost 25 years, that most people like the "friendliness and personable" relationship. It has worked in my advantage.

I read these articles and books that say ABSOLUTELY not and I do not agree 100%.

Use common sense. If there is a true connection and you feel the boundaries and respect can absolutely be maintained, then I personally feel you can have a professional- friendship- relationship.

If you cannot, then you will create problems for yourself definitely. I know therapists who have dated many of their clients. Needless to say they lose business and referrals.

As for them canceling and worrying about billing them???? I have never had the problem thank goodness!! I have actually had a friend have to reschedule(in an emergency) and offer to pay, however, I declined because of their consistent continued support and referrals and they never abuse the relationship.

Now, family -that is a whole other issue!! I do not see that working. There are usually monetary issues. There is generally less respect for the professional relationship. So if you are going to have family members as clients, that is probably where some of your monetary issues will pop up and possibly other things at family gatherings. I try to help family members when needed, but I don't bring them on as clients. You might find it challenging to accept payment or to ask for your full amount. Or, they may impose upon you and ask for discounts. I do maintain professionalism with them at all times during a session.

Now, friends becoming clients is another issue. I remember starting out and practicing on my friends. When it came time to open my business many of them still wanted "freebies". It actually strained the friendship and needless to say most of those have dissipated over the years. Actually only a couple are still in my life. However, they became LMT's because of our relationship and we get to exchange when our paths cross in life.

It is a fine line and I don't feel everyone may be able to maintain these boundaries. You have to be VERY clear of your own boundaries and intentions. I never engage in personal matters during our client/therapist relationship. It is about them! I never share deep personal information with them either. Friendly chats and chuckles work well. I do not engage socially on a regular basis either.

Unfortunately I have seen LMT's go out dancing, drinking and????? with clients. This is NOT professional or ethical in my opinion. This is where problems will pop up. I always tell students to NEVER represent the PROFESSION as a whole unethically or unprofessionally.

Once we enter this field our standards need to stay intact 24/7, in my opinion.
Remember you represent the massage field, not just yourself!
Use discretion. Be mature about your decisions.
Comment by Misty Van Staaveren on February 2, 2010 at 9:08pm
What were you taught about socializing and becoming friends with clients in massage school if anything?
In school, we were taught that we absolutely DO NOT become friends with a client. Causes too many boundary issues, payment issues, etc. Just don't do it!

Do you engage in social relationships outside your massage business/job with clients?
No, I haven't, can't say that I won't, but I haven't yet.

Do you feel like you are friends with clients even though you may not see them socially?
I have a few clients that I am "friendly" with. We know brief areas of our families, lives, etc. I wouldnt' say that they are my friends but I do feel like we relate more personally than other clients. These are also my oldest clients, who worked with me while I was still in school, so they have been with me for awhile too as I continue to grow.
Comment by Joseph Matties on February 2, 2010 at 2:50pm
We haven't learned anything about any of this yet in school. I'm only half way through though. I know we were told not to hook up with anyone in class though. We were told that if we love someone that much in class it can wait till after we graduate. lol.
Comment by Julie Onofrio on January 31, 2010 at 3:08pm
Nicola - Yes that is another side to this all- doing massage on friends and even family members. Thanks

Laura - Are you writing a book on ethics? ha! in your spare time?

Terry - Did you that in massage school or just figure it out on your own? Is it more just for the business or because of the therapeutic relationship?

Thanks
Julie
Comment by Nicola Hogan on January 31, 2010 at 6:03am
This is interesting to ponder as some of my clients were friends first. And I always remain a professional manor with them. I put on my professional massage hat, if you like, and they know that they receive a professional remedial massage treatment, where they feel completely safe. I like to keep the boundaries clear and generally dont socialize with my clients. However, I have experienced occassions where I have taken my kids to the park or play group and a client is there with her own children. Of course we dont talk 'shop' and I have never given out my private number.
Comment by Laura Allen on January 31, 2010 at 5:40am
Many of my friends patronize my business--and some other therapist there massages them, not me personally.

It is against the law here in NC to date a client until six months after the therapeutic relationship has ended. That was added to the books after a therapist was accused by a woman of breaking up her marriage. Apparently she and her husband were officially separated when the incident occurred, but she had the attitude that he would have returned to her had it not been for the massage therapist he started dating, and she filed a formal complaint.

I always advise therapists not to cross those lines. I devote quite a bit of time to that in my ethics classes. Combining friendship and a therapeutic relationship is a deterrent to prosperity. If a friend calls and cancels on you at the last minute, are you going to send her a bill? Friends will treat you like a friend--not like a professional massage therapist.

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