When talk intrudes. Or: Why we want to know your goals

July 17, 2016  |  no comments yet

Image by Gabor Kalman at sxc.hu OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s right on our intake form:

What are your goals/expected outcomes for receiving bodywork?

Your answer helps us create treatments that move you toward those goals. Knowing what you want provides direction for us throughout each session. Being asked about your treatment goals lets you know I am joining your team to help you achieve them. The question even helps some clients formulate goals, which can promote better results.

Recently, I tried a new massage therapist (hereafter called “MT”). When I scheduled the appointment, I said I wanted my legs, feet, arms, and hands worked on. When I arrived, the table was set to accommodate my request. I explained what I liked for pressure and where the MT needed to be more careful.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but the MT did not ask my goals or expected outcomes for the treatment.

The MT was a friendly professional with many years of experience. Clearly, the MT’s intent was to do a good job. The MT’s hands were skilled. The techniques felt good. The room was comfortable and the MT made sure I had the right bolstering and blanket coverage.

There was more silence than conversation. The particular comments and questions prevented me from fully letting go.

As the session began, the MT said one of my tattoos was “cute”. My mouth said, “Thank you.” My mind chattered, “This is why I never comment on a client’s appearance. I don’t want a client wondering whether I’m thinking about how they look, which I’m not.”

The MT saw the number 269 in my tattoo and said, “What’s this number? I used to work on a dairy farm, and the only cow who would come see me was number 269.” In a startling coincidence, the 269 tattoo was the I.D. of a cow eventually rescued from a factory farm. In 2012, vegans worldwide got tattooed or branded with the number 269 to show empathy toward abused, exploited nonhuman animals. You can imagine that this topic did not relax me.

Neither did the questions about how long I’d lived in the area, how I liked living in town, etc. This conversation might have been fine before I got on the table, but not during my treatment. I answered kindly but tersely. I did not encourage more talking.

I could have told my MT that I’d rather not talk. I could have explained more about what I wanted. After thinking about it (taking up even more time I would rather have spent relaxing), I decided that having that conversation during my treatment would probably create even more tension.

If I’d been asked, I’d have said that my goals for the treatment were general relaxation, nervous system soothing, and relief from the effects of stress and anxiety. It’s impossible to know whether knowing that would have motivated my MT to refrain from off-topic conversation.

I’d never assume a client wants to chat. Nor would I introduce topics unrelated to a client’s treatment that could take their mind places they might not want it to go. During my treatment, I never experienced the relaxation response, or activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest” versus “fight or flight”). I had so wanted that floaty-drifty-yet-aware feeling.

That’s why we ask about your goals. It’s why I don’t chat. If a client makes conversation, I will respond and then gently escort their attention back to relaxation.

Unless, of course, my client requests conversation. Some clients enjoy sharing aspects of their lives with me. Perhaps they’ve noted we have things in common. A client might be going through something they need to express. Even then, I keep my words brief. I avoid giving advice. I focus on my client’s needs. I don’t enter into conversation to entertain myself.

I trust my clients and follow their lead. That seems likeliest to progress us toward their goals.