Massage Therapy- The Codependent Profession?

I know that is a little harsh calling the massage profession codepedendent. I really think it applies to any and all helping professions and am seeing now how many people have issues around co-dependency.

I also hate the word codependency and wish there were another word for it but it pretty much does describe the phenomenon. The act of labeling the profession as such is also part of the problem. Rather than focusing on what kind of relationships we want to have, the focus is turned to the dysfunction which further promotes the dysfunction.

Codependency is defined by various psychologists and authors:

Robert Burney author of “Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

Codependence is about having a dysfunctional relationship with self! With our own bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. With our own gender and sexuality. With being human. Because we have dysfunctional relationships internally, we have dysfunctional relationships externally.”

Melodie Beaty author of “Codependent No More

“A codependent is someone who has let another persons behavior affect him or her and is obsessed with controlling that other person’s behavior”

Ann Wilson Schaef in her book “Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science” refers to this definition proposed by Cermak.

Timmon Cermak in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (1986) argues that codependence can be defined within the DSM-m criteria for mixed personality disorder. He proposes five diagnostic criteria in the style of DSM-m. According to Cermak the essential features of codependency include (1) consensual investment of self-esteem in the ability to influence/control feelings and behavior in self and others in the face of obvious adverse consequences; (2) assumption of responsibility for meeting other’s needs to the exclusion of acknowledging one’s own needs; (3) anxiety and boundary distortions in situations of intimacy and separation; (4) enmeshment in relationships with personality disordered, drug dependent and impulse disordered individuals; and (5) exhibits (in any combinations of three or more) constriction or emotions with or without dramatic outbursts, depression, hypervigilance, compulsions, anxiety, excessive reliance on denial, substance abuse, recurrent physical or sexual abuse, stress-related medical illness, and/or a primary relationship with an active substance abuser for at least two years without seeking outside support.

How does this apply to the massage profession?

In general, I often see many massage therapists (including myself) who are wanting to “caretake” others at the expense of themselves. It shows up in many ways, shapes and forms. Everything from giving away massages for free or ridiculously low rates, going over the time allotted for a session, giving advice, working on people who aren’t very nurturing to work on just for the money, not wanting to market your business, giving up easily, and the list goes on.

It is also interesting how the profession itself acts to reinforce the codependent relationship. Ann Wilson Schaef describes how it is happening in the psychology profession:

“We have been trained to believe that we should be able to use our training and knowledge to control and manipulate clients in order to get them to do, see or feel, with what our greater knowledge and understanding is good for them.

We are taught that it was alright to use techniques, exercises or wise leads to pull out of people information that we knew and believed would be helpful for them and that, as professionals, we should know how and when to do that. Only recently, I fully understand the violence of this behavior: it truly rapes their souls, their beings and their process.

We were taught that dependency upon us was inevitable and helpful and that it was our responsibility to control the level. Of course, we were also going to be financially (and I believe, in most cases emotionally) dependent upon the client.

Finally we were supposed to have the knowledge to interpret the other person based, of course upon our knowledge and theory, which gave us an accepted position of “rightness. We were to set ourselves up as a power base, if for no other reason than we know more about the clients than they did about us. The very structure and makeup of the profession has perpetuated the disease process.”

While I know she is talking about the psychology profession, I believe the same could be said about the massage profession.

How I like to look at it is that we are all dysfunctional in some way or form. We are human and it is part of being human.

Codependence isn’t a thing that should be made to go away, but rather should be embraced and learned from. It is a great tool on the path to becoming aware and becoming our true selves. It is a process of becoming aware of just what we are thinking about unconsciously that brings us such pain and suffering that can lead us to peace and happiness.

We have the power to choose how we see things and the meaning we give to anything and everything that we experience.

We don’t have to be the codependent profession. It can be another way. But first we have to be able to acknowledge the codependent side of us just like we acknowledge the other parts of us.

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