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April, 2016, Vol. 16, Issue 04
The Importance of Therapist Care
By Robert Henderson
Are you having trouble establishing borders with your clients or having difficulty in being able to separate your energy from that of your clients? It's an issue that sometimes troubles therapists, but through years of successfully treating fellow colleagues for it, I have found different ways to work through it. But before sharing the answers, the condition needs a little causal explanation.
The ability to set clear borders between yourself and your clients and to be able to separate your energy from that of your clients depends on three similar, but very different phenomena:
Your sense of self and knowing what is yours are two of the functions of your first chakra and were formed in your earliest childhood. One of the developmental needs in earliest childhood is to develop a sense of self, a sense of who you are, a self-identity. You get this from your parents, from your parents giving you a sense of who you are and how good and worthy you are, for example by welcoming you strongly into their family at the time of your birth and by telling you what a wonderful little bundle of joy you are. The energy with which your parents do this for you feeds your first chakra which then uses the energy to develop its sense of identity. The more energy your parents give you, the more your first chakra is fed and the stronger your sense of identity becomes. Some adults with a strong sense of identity are strongly connected to their family and where they come from. They are said to be strongly rooted, or grounded.
In some instances, however, a child is not given enough of these formative energies by their parents in order to develop a strong enough sense of identity. Perhaps the parents themselves were not very proud of their own families and so did not place any value on the welcoming of their new child into their family. Perhaps the parents were going through a bad phase in their relationship at the time or were simply too tired to sufficiently re-assure their child how wonderful he/she was. It takes energy to tell a child how wonderful it is. You can say to a child‚ "You're a great kid!" but if there is no feeling, or energy, in the words, then the child feels nothing. It is left still needing. There can be many reasons why a parent is not always able to feed the energetic need of their child's first chakra in its attempt to develop a sense of identity, but that doesn't stop the first chakra needing to be fed.
When the first chakra is not fed with what it needs in order to develop its sense of identity, it is left with no choice but to take what it needs and it takes what it needs from its environment, including from the people in its environment. The first chakra begins to take energy from people in its environment and to use that energy to feed and develop its own identity. It takes on the energy of other people. Instead of forming its own autonomous identity, the child's identity becomes more closely dependent on the people around him-her.
This pattern develops into adulthood as the person who is very sensitive to other people, to the emotions and pains of other people and to the needs of other people. In the profession of massage, this makes for a very sensitive and sympathetic therapist, but nevertheless a therapist who subconsciously needs his clients to re-affirm who he is, as without his clients, the therapist would lose his identity and any sense of who he is. This is the hidden reason why some therapists find it difficult to separate their own energy from the energy of their clients: they subconsciously need and use the energy of their clients to make the energy which forms their own identity.
Learning and then knowing the difference between what is yours and what is not yours is a natural function of the second chakra and can be seen in the developmental stage of this chakra, related to childhood, when a child begins to meet other children at home, in kindergarten or in the playground. This is when a child begins to learn that the cute, cuddly toy that another child brings to kindergarten is not for him; it is not his toy, but a toy belonging to someone else. This is when the child is taught: "Give that back, it's not yours." The difference between what is yours and what is not yours then becomes integrated into the second chakra, where it remains throughout adulthood.
Rules surrounding ownership of property is a function of the third chakra and one of the rules is the setting up of boundaries, or personal space, into which another person is not allowed to cross. Infants, babies and young children are not aware of boundaries or personal space, nor of the rules governing boundaries or personal space. Such awareness comes in later years, when the child's center of will and reasoning, the third chakra, awakens, roughly around age eleven. Look out for the‚ "Keep Out! Or Else!" sign on your child's bedroom door. That's their third chakra awakening.
When everything in childhood has worked out reasonably well, then the individual developmental needs relating to a sense of self, knowing what is yours and what is not yours and the setting up of borders or personal space are easily fulfilled. If, however, there are unfulfilled developmental needs remaining in the first chakra, from earliest childhood, then the subsequent developmental needs of learning the difference between what is yours and what is not yours and the setting up of boundaries between the two become clouded.
This is why, when helping someone who has difficulty in separating their energy from the energy of their clients, three areas need addressing in that person: the third chakra, the second chakra and most fundamentally, the first chakra. If, however, you don't believe in this approach to healing, there are alternative options.
The need for a firmly-established, self-standing identity is the most important part in the healing of the overall condition. As this relates to the relationship between the therapist and his parents in infancy, see if it is possible for the therapist to re-visit his infancy with his parents in an attempt to heal any weakness in family bonding or parental re-assurance necessary for a strong self-identity that may still remain. This can be achieved through a variety of professional therapies, such as family constellation work.
Find something you are good at and devote time and resource into that thing so that you become good enough at it to feel good about yourself while doing it. This then becomes something you can stand beside and say‚ "This is mine. This is me. This is something I have achieved and am proud of." Something that becomes strong enough for your to build your identity on. Try avoiding something other people suggest you do. If you are in a relationship, try to avoid doing something your partner already does or suggests. Find something that comes from you and not from anyone else. Something you can call ‚Mine'. Maybe something you did as a hobby when you were a teenager.
The double edge to this suggestion is that some massage therapists who are having difficulty separating their energy from the energy of their clients are already devoting time and resource into their massage work because they feel they are good at it and because it makes them feel good about themselves. But, in massage, there is an enormously important difference between the statements: "In my massage practice, I love it when my clients tell me how good I am" and "I know how good I am and I don't need my massage clients to tell me."
The reason why this is so important is that your clients are not your parents. Your clients telling you how wonderful you are is not the same as your parents telling you how wonderful you are. They may feel the same, but they feed very different needs in very different parts of you.
Your parents telling you how wonderful you are feeds the needs of your first chakra, the chakra that is at the root of the self-identity issues that are clouding your ability to separate yourself from your clients. Your massage clients are not your parents, nor do they feed the needs of your first chakra. They are business-related people belonging to your adulthood and they feed the needs of your third chakra. They are the wrong people to look to in order to fulfill unmet‚ "I feel good about myself" identity needs.
Try to rely on your clients less and less for emotional feedback. See if you can take a step back from them, while at the same time, continuing your on-going study and development to become an even better therapist. Keep in this direction until you begin to feel‚ "I know how good I am and I don't need my clients to tell me." By this stage, you will have no difficulty in separating your energy from that of your clients. Don't worry if you think that by taking a step back from your clients it will make you a less caring, less effective therapist. It won't. It won't stop you being a good therapist and it won't stop you caring for your clients during the duration of their massage with you. All it will stop you from being is a dependent therapist. And don't worry if you lose one or two clients along the way. The chances are the clients you lose are the ones who have been the least good for you in the first place.
In parallel to the above, it can be extremely beneficial to seek help from a fellow bodyworker who specializes in energy work. Even if energy is not your thing, don't dismiss it out of hand. It has an important role to play in helping people. Ask your fellow therapists if they know any reputable energy worker. It can either be hands-on energy work, or hands-off. Give it a go. If you visit a skilled energy worker and say to them that you are having difficulty separating your energy from that of your clients, they will know what to do. This is their area of expertise and it is what they have been trained for. They will understand that the parts of you that need treatment are your first, second and third chakras.
It is not uncommon for a therapist to resort to methods of protection in an attempt to build a temporary border between himself and his clients which will help him to separate his energy from that of his clients. Methods such as building a wall of gold energy between therapist and client in the treatment room or the therapist placing himself in an imaginary egg of protective energy are two often used examples. Protection, however, is a form of self-limitation. If you use protection you cannot give of yourself 100% in your treatments. It shows that you are not free in your work. Energetically, this brings harm to two of your internal organs: the spleen, which governs your life-force energy and your heart, which at all times seeks total freedom of expression in your treatment work. The use of protection not only subtly harms these two organs, but it also blocks the energy flowing through their associated meridians. Protection is at best a short-term solution that gives you the space to ask yourself why you need protection and from what and then when you discover the answers, to take the appropriate course of action to address the issue underlying the need for protection. Once resolved, the need for protection is then negated.
Work on yourself to clear all the old hurts, pains and baggage out of your life, out of your mind and out of your body. Forgive and let-go everyone and everything that has caused you pain in the past or present: family, friends, schools, jobs, employers, relationships or any of your current colleagues who agitate you or make you jealous. Everything. The more you let go, the less you leave inside yourself for other people to cling to, including your clients and their energies. The more you purify your body and your energy system, the easier it is for the energies of your clients to pass through you. In the end it won't matter if you cannot separate your energy from that of your clients, because if you do take-on any energy from your client, your body and energy system will be so cleansed that it will automatically process it and release it, leaving you unaffected. It will no longer be an issue for you.
It can also happen that when a therapist embarks on a personal spiritual journey, such as taking up meditation, he loses the ability to easily separate his energy from that of his clients. This happens because spiritual energies, those belonging to the realms of the fifth, sixth and seventh chakras are energies which transcend the boundaries set in the three-dimensional world. When you begin to associate more strongly with spiritual energies, you move your personal awareness away from the three-dimensional realm and towards a higher realm that transcends space, location and time. In this realm, there is no border, or separation between energies. All is said to be One. As this realm is a very ungrounding one to inhabit, any therapist delving deeply into a spiritual pursuit needs to ground himself deeply at the same time, in order to achieve an inner energy balance. When balanced, the therapist will find that he can again successfully separate his energy from that of his clients.
In short, yes, it can be an uncomfortable phase in your massage career when you cannot establish a border between yourself and your clients or when you cannot differentiate your own energy from that of your clients. But don't worry. For many therapists, this is a natural part in their career or personal development and the phase will pass in time. If, however, you are in a hurry to pass through this phase, then you can try one, or any combination of the options outlined here. All will help.
Robert Henderson is a Thai yoga massage teacher and practitioner, specializing for the last fifteen years in energy work. He is an Instructor member of Thai Healing Alliance International (USA) and a Master Practitioner member of the Thai Yoga Massage Association of New Zealand. He teaches classes in energy work to the massage and yoga professions throughout Europe and is the author of the book, Emotion and Healing in the Energy Body.
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