Thursday, June 26, 2008

Worst Ever

Someone once asked if I have bad massage clients. My simple answer is no. I have had bad experiences giving massage though. Most of those sessions were not awful and in total make up much less than a percent of the work I do. I feel especially lucky about this. From what I understand this is not the case for every therapist.

Before I go on I want to be clear that I am not talking about bad massages I have given. I weigh those much more heavily because I can do more about them. I also count them differently. To be honest I can not count them very well at all. If someone has a bad experience I assume for the vast majority of the time they won’t bother to tell me about it. I have made educated guesses and assume that it is much more often bad for my clients than it is for me. In my defense I believe the frequency of this is still much less than one percent and gets smaller every year. I would be profoundly grateful for anyone who would speak up and tell me how I could have made it better. When I worked at Stone Spa I would ask the front desk to try to read the level of satisfaction in my clients when they checked out. I no longer have a system like that but it seems less of a problem as I have become more sensitive and all of my clients are hopefully some species of informed referrals.

The worst massage I ever had to endure giving was very early in my career. For a short time I worked at an awful spa. The owner was so determined to make as much money as possible that when a therapist called in sick she would make the cleaning staff work as massage staff. Clients would sometimes leave that place worse than when they entered. The owner was usually on site. To say that she was willful would be saying it kindly.

One day the owner took a client who requested a female therapist and talked her into working with me because there were no alternatives at that time. The woman came back to my massage room obviously upset. I asked her what had happened and she told me. I told her she didn’t have to have the massage, that the owner could badger people sometimes and that I would make sure she got her money back. It was a big gesture and might have involved me paying for the massage or even terminating my employment. What happened was worse.

She decided to have the massage. She may have been forced into the decision but had made the decision her own. And so I was trapped. The idea of refusing to work on her did not occur to me. Even now I’m not sure that would have been the best path. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to have a massage from a man. Some of them make me sick to think about. You can bet I was thinking about them during that massage. A massage is a very vulnerable thing and to feel unsafe or uncomfortable on any level is all wrong. I wanted to cry or throw up. I felt like I had become an unwilling party to violating this woman’s will if not her body. I talked her through every option, offering to just massage her hands or feet if it would make her feel more comfortable. She asked for a normal full massage. I don’t know if was being brave, stubborn, thrifty, or was just defeated. I could tell it was still a big deal for her. It was one of the worst hours of my life.

She relaxed, and was appreciative and seemed happy enough with me and my work when she left. I think she could tell that I was working hard to make it as right as I could for her. Later I told the owner if that happened again I wouldn’t be able to work there anymore.

There is a feel good here. It is not equal to how bad it was but it’s something. I acted in the best way I knew how. I am proud of that. And years latter I told this story to someone who I thought knew all about me, and it changed her understanding of me. The change was favorable and that has meant a lot to me.

I’m not sure what else to say. I wanted to talk about the bad because I have been talking so much about the good. I want there to be some balance and integrity even in this file designed only for things that make me feel good. I had noticed that three of the previous six posts had the word “good” in them. It seemed excessive. I love you my friend. Thank you.

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