Consent as a verb in touch therapies
Updated: Jan 25
We have entered a wonderful new world in many ways where we are examining and reframing concepts and patterns that we have taken for granted for so long. As a community, touch therapists have held sacred the ultimate goal of creating safety and nourishment for our clients and many have done our best to facilitate that over the course of our careers. We all have blind spots and habits that rest on lifetimes of colonialism, patriarchy, and medical supremacy that unwittingly affect our ability to offer the best care to our clients and help them feel safe, secure, honored, and in charge of their healing process. Sometimes our expertise gets in the way of listening authentically to our clients voice, both verbal and non-verbal. We know so many assessment and treatment techniques to fix what ails people and in that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we are treating a whole person who has their own inner guidance, touch history, and needs which might change day to day.
How do we begin to reframe the way we approach touch and make sure that what we are offering our clients is what they actually want and need? How do we begin to undo the damage of medical supremacy within our relationships with our clients and within the context of providing care overall. Many clients don't question our approaches, methods, language, etc. because of that medical supremacy. They have learned to defer to the experts and trust those in that role of authority without pausing to consider what their own internal voice is saying. Asking for permission to touch is a starting point. This is something that I didn't learn in my training in 2001. It was assumed that if someone was on your massage table that consent was already given. As an instructor of massage in 2020 however, we teach and lead our students to ask for permission to touch their clients as well as to ask for permission to uncover and touch new parts of the body. In addition to the various ways we check in with clients throughout the session with regards to pressure and pace, there are so many other ways we can promote a dialogue with clients about how, when, where, and with what intention we offer touch. We offer this invitation to dialogue both because it helps our clients to get the care they need and deserve but also because it gets both us and them asking important questions about autonomy and self determination within the healthcare context.
Having been in the alternative healthcare world for a number of years at this point I have seen how alternative and complimentary models of care have pushed the more conventional models of care into more holistic and patient centered approaches. Patients no longer willingly go with whatever the expert says and are highly likely to get second and third opinions and shop around for providers. I believe that in some part this change has been informed by us out here on the margins of healthcare asking these important questions and offering our clients the ability to reshape what their relationship to care and support looks like. In alternative models of care the client is choosing what, when, how, and with what intention they are receiving care. Over those same years I have also seen a push from the alternative medicine community to orient the client/practitioner relationship closer to the top down / expert driven model of care we see in the more conventional relationship between physician and patient. I see this in attitudes from advanced practitioners and instructors in how they relate to clients. I think we lose something really important about who we are and why we do what we do when we start to orient care more from the point of view of what we think is needed rather than from the orientation of the client.
As my practice has evolved over the years I've actually learned more and more what I don't know and the limitations of my intellectual and analytical understanding of the body. When I am able to come into the client / practitioner relationship with an open heart and a mind full of curiosity my biases, patterns, and what I think I know are less of a barrier to understanding the unique experience of this person whom I am offering touch to on this particular day which is unlike any other. I am able to find new patterns and new possibilities for resolution. I am able able to build trust and resonance. Perhaps most importantly, I am able to be alive and in wonder of the work I am offering.