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Massage Today
July, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 07

The Existential Question and Talking the Walk

By Gerry Pyves

You don't need to be a psychotherapist to talk to your clients or find out why they are coming for a treatment. This is perfectly within your legal "scope of practice." By training to become a psychotherapist, I learned to say much, much less to my massage clients.

I learned to let the touch really do the work. I also learned to let the client define their own reality.

You can get plenty of "psycho babble" at every coffee shop in the land. However, I do need to know just why my client is here.

Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis called this, "asking the existential question." He asked himself: "Why is my client here and not having fun doing sex, drugs and rock and roll?" He also asked himself: "Why am I here and not somewhere else, having fun doing sex, drugs and rock and roll?" It was the sixties, after all. But you probably get the point.

If the client has a tight shoulder, what difference will it make to their life if it is alleviated? How important is it to them? What caused that structural problem? They are made of soft tissue that is more affected by energy, emotion and thoughts than any other substance on the planet. Do we just ignore this fact? If they have a knee problem, what was happening when they injured it? Were they under stress? Was life hard?

massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Is any of this psychotherapy? Of course not - it is simple human interest. It only becomes invasive if it is done invasively. If you cannot tell the difference between a client keen to share their story and one who is uncomfortable talking about themselves, then it is time to take up another profession. The art of all healing therapy is to know when the time is right to invite the client to share more about themselves.

Symptomatic Or Causative?

Asking questions is how we care for another human being. It is also discovering the essential causative factors of their symptomatic pains. To simply accept a tight shoulder as a structural problem is no better than calling poverty "a shame." These things all have causes and history. Like Sherlock Holmes, we must trace each symptom back to its historical cause, if we wish to be more than some kind of "Mr Fixit dullard." That is not healing touch. It is squashing human beings into a tiny "physical only" box.

Every human deserves to be seen and heard and to be touched. Do you really know why they have invested this money and this time in coming to see you? Do you dare to ask the existential question? Likewise, at the end of the session, do you dare ask, "Did you get what you came for?" In my previous article, I talked about asking the client to walk around at the end of the session. To do this well, requires three basic protocols.

Getting Out The Way

The first protocol is to get myself out of the way both physically and psychologically. Some clients are uncomfortable at first with the idea that they should know anything at all about their own bodies. The harder they find it to put words to their experience of walking, the more important it is to both therapist and client that they do this. If they want you to be the expert on their body, you better plan on moving into their house and living with them, and help them get dressed in the morning.

Listen To The Body

The second protocol is to encourage the client to feel how their body wants to walk. Most illness and tissue compression simply arises out of "the head" dominating "the body." If people rested when they were tired and ate when they were hungry and stopped eating when they were full, we would have a much healthier nation. The key here, is to follow the body.

We encourage the client to feel from the inside just how their body wants to walk. Some clients have had such massive structural shifts from the massage, that they actually walk like babies learning for the first time. The cerebellum has not yet caught up with the changes in muscle, tendon and ligament configuration. Some wobble as they walk. Some notice that they are more than mere structure. Some will connect with their energy or their emotions. Others will feel their spirit or discover a new clarity of thought.

The Rest Of The Day

The third protocol is to ask, "How will this walk affect the rest of your day, compared to when you came in?" If our touch does not make a difference to people's lives then we should probably do something else. Touch done well always make a massive difference - if only we let the clients really feel the power of beautiful healing touch.

Soft Magical Tissue

Once clients start to "talk their body's walk," they start to describe how their body is actually feeling. It is very different from some kind of intellectual chiropractic structural analysis. It is a feeling thing. Nothing connects us with the truth of our deepest inner feelings better than massage.

Find out why your clients have really come. Challenge them if they think they are just a mechanical problem waiting to be fixed by experts. We are not cars. We are human beings made of the most incredible and magical soft tissue that will find its own balance if touched with gentleness and respect. So please stop prodding and poking me. I do not need fixing. I need respectful, gentle touch. Then I will release my compressions - if I am ready.

Whose life is it, anyway?

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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