By Lana J. Russell, RMT
Just as massage clients may feel uncomfortable asking about appropriate attire during a massage, as a student it can be equally uncomfortable to ask. This is one of those questions in massage schools that no one wants to ask, but everyone sighs with relief once it’s answered. There are some basic rules to follow when it comes to boundaries on the massage table, which ensures everyone’s comfort.
Let’s say your massage client arrives for their appointment, and you ask what areas of their body are in need of attention. Showing your client the massage table, you instruct them to lay comfortably either prone or supine (face up or down) underneath the sheet. One helpful gesture is to always motion your hand under the sheet to demonstrate that the client should be covered. At this point it always helps to reassure massage clients to remove whatever clothing they feel comfortable removing. This gives your client options when it comes down to the base essentials such as underwear.
There have been instances in my practice as a massage therapist where clients have hopped on my table fully clothed. In this case, I have to adjust my massage technique around their clothing, as it is their comfort level that is important foremost. Now, in other cases I’ve had to instruct female clients with shoulder problems that it would be best if they remove their bras. Reassuring them that they will be covered the entire time, I explain that it helps me better address the problem area. So, as you can see every massage client requires a different protocol and approach. There is no single best answer to whether a client should be clothed or unclothed, but typically most massage treatments are administered with skin to skin contact.
In your massage school you will be taught extensive draping techniques. Draping is essentially the appropriate technique in covering your massage client with the top sheet. It may seem like just a sheet over the body, but different corners of the sheet must be pulled in certain directions to properly cover the body. Male and female anatomies are obviously different and this requires customized draping techniques for each.
After years practicing as a massage therapist, it can become routine instructing clients in preparing to unclothe. There’s still times when a massage client who is flustered and doesn’t fully understand your instructions, surprises you. This surprise may be someone lying above the sheets of your massage table in the nude. When you open your door to a client who is not appropriately situated on your massage table, it’s important to avoid making them feel uncomfortable. Simply approach the situation calmly, even apologize and explain again how you want them positioned for their massage treatment.
No massage client wants to start their treatment thinking they’ve done something wrong; it’s unnecessary stress. It’s also unnecessary stress for students just out of massage therapy school to awkwardly deal with such situations without preparation. A good massage therapy school will prepare you to handle such instances with grace and professionalism.