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Massage Today
May, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 05

Using Transactional Analysis to Speak "Client"

By Gerry Pyves

One of the most valuable things I learned when I trained as a Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist was to learn the difference between my "self" and the "other." This is particularly important in a therapy like massage which offers so many opportunities to "merge" with our clients.

By "merge" what I mean is to confuse what I am experiencing and thinking with what the client actually experiences. This sounds a bit obvious, doesn't it? However, one of the most common mistakes I witness in my training of massage therapists is precisely this problem. Many therapists pride themselves on their "sensitivity" and their "psychic" abilities, even. They simply love to prove their abilities by telling clients exactly what they notice about them and what their "energy" is doing.

Most of this is simply projection. We feel uplifted so we say to the client, "I notice how uplifted you are." In the power relationship of massage, the client is bound to agree. Occasionally, a client with a strong ego will simply walk out and not return as a result of such insulting and manipulative behaviour.

Treatment Integration

We must ensure it is the client's own experience they are describing in their own words. To do this, I invite the client to spend a few minutes lying on the table at the end of the treatment. This is so they have time to integrate the effect of the massage. Sometimes this is the most powerful therapeutic time of the treatment. Clients often report that they "let go" even more than during the bodywork itself. I leave the room so they really are in their own space for this phase.

massage therapy - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The second part of this "integration phase" is when the client is dressed. Here, I still avoid chit chat and deflect the inevitable, "what did you notice?" game by simply asking the client to: "Walk around the table and notice how your body wants to walk after this treatment. Tell me anything you notice that feels different from this before you got on the table - if anything."

What is remarkable is that clients never say "Wow, I feel so myofascia-ed!" or "I feel like my iliopsoas is now so much longer!" Only massage therapists and professional bodyworkers talk such language. If clients really do speak this way, then they have been educated. What clients actually come out with, without such professional brain washing is, well, absolutely anything!

Learning From Our Clients

That is what makes it so exciting to actually listen to clients - I never know what will actually come out of their mouths. One client may walk like a zombie carrying lead weights on his feet and say, "I feel so light and free." They could not look less free or light if they tried. But who am I to say what my client actually feels or experiences internally? What is certain is this: everything I learned about the power of touch and massage came from the mouths of my clients. None of it can be found in the massage text books which, of necessity, only speak "bodywork." Yet, to really understand the immense power of massage, we really need to turn each client we massage into our teacher, by truly listening to their words.

Unethical Conversations

Many therapists I know actually give a non-stop verbal commentary on what muscle is being released as they work. Now this is beyond the scope of practice, because it is hypnotherapy. Telling another human being what is happening in their body while they are in a semi-relaxed state and giving them suggestions is hypnotherapy. It is not ethical, in my opinion.

Only one person truly knows what the client is feeling in the treatment room, and it isn't the massage therapist. If you want to be a psychic, go get a velvet tent and a crystal ball. Otherwise let your clients have the space to find their own words for what they are feeling. When my clients "walk" after the treatment and are integrating their new body structure through the walk, I must bite my tongue and let them explore this new state of being.

What if they say, "nope, don't feel any different?" If there is not a convenient 8th floor window to throw yourself out of, you might just stay around and learn something. These "failures" are sometimes the most powerful teachings of them all.

You will not learn about massage from training courses. You will only learn about it from actual clients. if you bother to really listen to them and really want to know about them. All about them, not just their "physical" state. Know about them as human beings. You are not a bodyworker. The only place to find bodies without energy, emotion, mind and spirit is in the morgue or in bodywork text books. What you are, is a "human being worker."

The Best Marketing Tool

One of the great advantages of giving the client the chance to define their own reality in their own words, is how your clients walk out of your treatment room extremely clear about the value of coming for treatments with you. When they meet their friend for coffee after the treatment and they ask, "what have you been doing?" Your client replies, "I have just had a massage treatment and I feel six inches taller, so much lighter and ready to take on the world."

What just happened here? You just got yourself a new referral is what happened. Just from learning how to speak "client."

Gerry Pyves lives in West Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. He holds an MA from Oxford University and qualified as a massage therapist in 1984. He became a UKCP registered Transactional Analysis psychotherapist in 1999. He is the founder and creator of NO HANDS® Massage. He is currently looking for instructors to teach NO HANDS® in the U.S. For more information, visit


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