Should I Massage My Friends and Family?

It can be tricky to navigate dual relationships and that starts with the decision to treat friends and family, or not.

But let's back up.

A dual relationship is when you have more than one connection or relationship with a person. The average person has lots of dual relationships. We become friends with coworkers, Uncle Ted may also be our insurance agent, or your kid's baseball coach may also be your dentist. In general, these relationships are clear and we can navigate them with little worry.

Until.... we become massage therapists. Then we're the person responsible for setting the boundaries. We're responsible for maintaining a healthy therapeutic relationship and balancing the other side of the dual relationship. At the same time. So how do you decide if it's a good idea to massage your best friend? I suggest asking yourself a few questions.

How do you feel about it?

If you get nervous and squirmy at the idea of massaging your grandmother, you've got to decipher why. Maybe it's just normal nerves about working on someone new. Or maybe Grandma's always been really critical and kinda mean and you're not sure if you can handle her feedback about your work.

If you want to make a firm rule, do that. And when people ask, simply say, "I don't work on friends, but I'll get you the info for another local therapist who does great work." If someone presses the issue, you might choose to expand on that, "It can get really complicated to have a personal relationship as well as a professional, therapeutic relationship. So I prefer to avoid it altogether." But you don't have to explain. "No" is a complete sentence.

Will you make exceptions?

Soooo... you tell Grandma you don't work on family. Because Grandma is difficult. But then your very sweet cousin Bill hurts his knee at track practice and his physical therapist suggests massage. Bill is shy and won't go see a stranger for massage, but he wants to see you. You could make an exception for Bill, but if it gets back to Grandma discussion at the family Thanksgiving is going to be really awkward.

It's okay to massage one relative but not another. Just be sure you are honest about your reasoning for exceptions and feel comfortable explaining that if the situation comes up.

Can you trust the feedback, and your own reaction to it?

When balancing a dual relationship, egos can come into play. My big brother may not speak up if the pressure is too much and he wants to be macho. Or he may speak up, and I'll instinctively call him a wimp. Because he's my brother. That's not the healthiest interaction, and certainly it doesn't serve the best interests of the client.

If there is any concerned that you (or your client) can't let go of all that when you walk into the treatment room, don't do it.

Can you let go of personal feelings when you walk into the massage room?

If your best friend blows you off for dinner on Friday then comes in for her massage Saturday morning, can you still provide the best care? Or will you be pissy and give a less-than-stellar treatment because you are angry? Be aware of your own personality and honest about your ability to be a professional. And if you give her a great massage, will that make you resentful?

Do you have a mentor or peer to talk it over with?

It's a good idea to talk this through with a trusted colleague. An objective person can help you explore the pros and cons and may think of a land mine you miss.

FYI- It's okay to massage your friends and family.

Maybe a teacher in school told you it's never okay. They were wrong. It may be possible to massage your mom and have a perfectly healthy and beneficial therapeutic relationship and as well as a healthy personal relationship.

Dual relationships can be complicated, but healthy ones are not impossible. Consider if the relationship and outcome are worth the effort and decide accordingly.

What rules will you put in place?

If you've decided to massage your friend or family member, it's time to structure the rules you will enforce. Decide on pricing and scheduling, and let your new client know the rules before you schedule a massage.

Just like you would with any new client, tell them about pricing (are you offering a discount?), how they should schedule, and your cancellation policy.  You can read more about creating policies here in Dual Relationships and Pricing.

Evaluating your feelings and policies is an ongoing task.

Your feelings and policies should be revisited throughout your career. What was right for you 5 years ago may not be right for you now. You can reflect and make different decisions as you become more experienced and comfortable navigating professional relationships.

If you want to geek out and read tons more about dual relationships for massage practitioners, check out some of my favorite articles!

Respecting Boundaries — The Don’ts of Dual Relationships