I will never forget it. I was a teenager watching Oprah after school. Oprah told a story about how she was getting a massage, and suddenly, she started crying. I did not understand what she was talking about until I began my journey as a massage student and my teachers taught us about what to do if a client has an emotional release while receiving a massage.
What is an emotional release? Emotions and memories get tucked away in the nervous system. During a massage, holding patterns can be disrupted and release an emotion or memory. The result can be a subtle change in the client’s breathing, body temperature, color in the face; or a more outward expression of emotion with tears, sobbing, laughter, anger, fear, or criticism of the therapist. Recognizing these subtle or not-so-subtle reactions can allow us, as therapists, to guide our clients through this magical healing experience. After all, releasing this emotion that was stored in the body for months, years, or a lifetime can feel great after it is over. Navigating the client through the process, educating them about what has happened, and holding space for continued releasing can result in a powerful cathartic experience for the massage client.
I am ten years into my massage career and have navigated multiple clients through an emotional release. With input from members of my Facebook group, and referring to one of my favorite massage books, The Psychology of the Body, I have compiled a list of do’s and don’ts for handling an emotional release.
- Let the client take the lead – tune in to the verbal and non-verbal cues from the client to be a supportive witness and facilitator.
- Offer to stop working – ask the client if they want you to continue hands on work while they are releasing. If they say yes, keep in contact with the client with supportive holds. Options are heart, stomach, posterior neck, forehead, feet (if they need grounding), or whatever you see fit. If they ask you to stop working, remain in the room and quietly observe. Once the client’s demeanor has changed, ask them if it is ok to continue working.
- Tissues or no tissues – there are two different schools of thought. Some believe that offering tissues is a way of signaling for the client to stop crying, stifling the release. Others believe that offering tissues is a supportive way of saying, you are in this together and you are there to give them what they need. This is a call you must make in the moment. Let the client lead you.
- Grounding – keep the client in the “here and now.” During and after the release, one of the therapist’s duties is to keep the client safe and grounded. Stay keen to the cues from your client and keep them in the present moment. Simple holds will usually accomplish this.
- Aftercare – after the session is over and the client is dressed, meet with them in a quiet space where you are alone. Praise them for their accomplishment and educate them on what has happened, and that the release will continue after they leave your practice. Let them know that for the next few days, emotions may rise to the surface again. Instruct them to let the emotions come, and not to stifle them. They should avoid violent television, the news, and people or situations that make them fearful, angry, or anxious. Encourage them to eat good food, spend time in nature, be alone, or surround themselves with people they enjoy. They have opened a door to healing, and they can choose what they want to fill that space with. Hopefully, they choose the good stuff.
- Changes in pain levels – the client may also notice that physical sensations such as chronic pain may have changed or disappeared after the release. If the symptoms come back, that means there is still work to do – and that is totally normal! If this emotional holding was there for a long time, it may take multiple releases to heal completely and experience true relief.
- Do not solicit an emotional release. Never try to push the client to release by saying or doing things that will make the client emotional. The release will happen organically when the client is ready. Even if you think it needs to happen, you can’t force it. This could lead to further wounding and trauma for the client.
- Do not cry with your client. I know this is a hard one! I am a crier and it doesn’t take much to get me going, but it is important to stay grounded as a practitioner and not to get sucked into someone else’s journey. As a supportive facilitator, we need to remain neutral to allow the client to release freely.
- Keep boundaries clear – if you are too close on a personal level with your clients, it can stifle an emotional release. If you have a clear client/therapist relationship, it will be easier for the client to release in front of you. If your client is also a family member or friend, they may not feel comfortable to be vulnerable in your presence because the relationship is blurred.
- Avoid judgement, withdrawal, and psychotherapeutic intervention – stay within your scope of practice. If you find yourself offering questions, advice, and/or solutions, you are dabbling outside of your scope. If the client needs further intervention and support, refer them to a mental health professional.
The Psychology of the Body
by Elliot Greene MA NCTMB; Barbara Goodrich-Dunn BFS
Click here to order on Amazon
Join the Facebook Group to enjoy daily posts by Joyce about massage business, techniques, and solutions for the solo massage business owner.