Professional ethics: your responsibility as a massage therapist

SMassage ethics - Sage Institute of Massageo you’re now a qualified professional massage therapist. You’ve got a job, a certificate on the wall, and paying clients queueing up to see you. Woo-hoo! And, have you noticed? People now want to listen to what you have to say! They respect you, and with this, your professional ethics kick into play. It is your responsibility to give only ethical and sound health advice.

Hmm. Scary stuff. Well, not that scary, just as long as you stick to a couple of sensible rules. Read on…

Your “personal code of ethics”: why is it that what you say matters?

Now that you are certified in the health industry, people will listen to you about matters regarding health. This means both healthy people and more vulnerable, unhealthy people. In other words, people with serious diseases – even cancer – may ask for your health advice. But, of course, if you are a small business or work in one, it is unlikely that you have a code of ethics written up and available for all to see.  You need to develop your own personal code of ethics.  One of the fundamental principles of this code of ethics is that, you should only give health advice on areas where you are qualified to do so.

During or after your session with a client, it’s totally reasonable that you may give your clients health advice on issues such as, for example:

  • when is the right or wrong time to receive a massage,
  • exercises and stretches to perform to help with your clients’ posture or health conditions, and
  • tips on taking care of their bodies, muscles and joints.

The above health information is “in keeping” with your line of work – areas where you have gained professional expertise. Sage has educated you with the latest evidence-based content and research, and of course that great 120 hours of hands on practical experience in the student massage clinic, so graduates are well equipped to give professional health advice in this line of work.

On the other hand, it’s important not to give healthcare advice on areas that you are not an expert in, such as serious medical illnesses, medications or vaccinations. These are outside the boundaries of your experience, and your professional ethics. If your client has queries around these issues, it’s essential that you refer them to a GP or qualified health practitioner who can respond appropriately in keeping with their areas of expertise and their code of ethics.

Personal beliefs versus facts

Your professional session times should never be used as an excuse to push your personal beliefs in things such as health or spiritual practices that are not scientifically based, in other words, pseudoscience. Start talking about such opinion based material to your clients and your professional reputation will walk out the door. At the same time, you’ll do the whole massage industry a discredit. Need examples?

  • Talking about a client’s “auras”
  • Suggesting their pain comes from ‘metaphysical causations’, e.g. “I think you’re stiff back comes from ‘financial problems’
  • Talking a client out of taking prescription medication
  • Recommending practices with no scientific validation, e.g. homeopathy, juice fasting, the latest fad diet, etc.

Social media (remember your professional ethics)

A Facebook page is a great way of attracting new clients, engaging with them and having some fun. But remember, you have a professional obligation to act responsibly and apply your personal code of ethics. It’s essential that you don’t pass on incorrect or unethical memes or content, as health information just because you think they will get likes and shares.

Here’s an example:
Just because someone on Facebook posts a meme that suggests rosemary oil will improve your memory by 75% or doctors are evil tricksters, it doesn’t mean that you should share it on your Facebook page to get more “Likes”. As a health professional, you have a responsibility to check facts before sharing.

Rosemary Oil Meme - Sage Institute of Massage

What’s the big deal? There’s a lot of misinformation and pseudoscience on the web. Some of it may look harmless enough or even like a ‘good news story’ but ultimately, sharing ill-founded material perpetuates the problem and can reflect poorly on your professional reputation. Think carefully about what you share and from which sites.

Here’s another example:
If you are trying to sell products, such as essential oils, focus on the positives, but don’t scare people into false negatives. In other words, suggesting that “medicines are toxic” or “chemotherapy kills” is simply fear mongering for profit.

Bottom line: If you want to post anything on health, it’s recommended that you back your information with valid references. Remember that it’s up to you to ensure that you apply your own personal code of ethics and avoid giving health advice that is outside your area of expertise.

Massage therapy – a valid complementary health practice

Choosing a career as a massage therapist is a smart choice. Along with its many benefits and joys, it is recognised as a successful complementary therapy and a respectable career. Just make sure you uphold your professional reputation – and the reputation of the industry – by developing and applying a sound set of professional ethics. Then, you’ll reap the benefits of the respect and gratitude you deserve.

Sage Institute of Massage – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

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