Learning to touch for massage therapists is usually one of the most basic level classes in massage school. How you touch others and the quality of your touch along with your own history of touch will influence your success as a massage therapist. Being a massage therapist is much more than just doing a massage. Your role as a massage therapist requires that you be as present as you can for the client who is on your table. You will need to know what you intend to communicate through your touch and find out if you actually do communicate that through your touch.
Through massage school you may become aware of some of your past issues with touch. It is one of the most important parts of massage school. Touch is the only two way sense – when you touch someone you are touched back. What you feel when you touch others as a massage therapist will affect how your touch is perceived. People don’t really care what technique you are doing. All they know is how it feels to them. It may remind them (consciously and more often unconsciously) of how they were held and attended to as a child. It may remind them of what they were lacking as an infant. It may remind them of people in their past. If there was physical, sexual or even mental/emotional abuse it is most likely a part of their physical body.
Knowing your own past touch issues is important when working with all types of clients. It can help you to be more present with people no matter what their level of touch receptivity is. How touch was used or withheld in your family, what the rules were around touch all influence your image of yourself and your self esteem. Infants who are not touched enough will respond by becoming avoidant to touch and will often grow up with defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the pain of not having their early needs met.
Take the time to look into your history of touch – being touched and giving touch.
Touch can be used to punish or hurt. Touch can be used to nurture, reassure and support. It can be used to stimulate and excite as in shaking someone to wake them up or tickling. And of course there is sexual touching which is not a part of massage but is an important part of your touch history.
Your clear intention is really the most important thing you can bring to the massage profession. It can only come when you have personally worked through your own touch issues first before working with others. It actually will be a constant learning process as your massage practice develops and matures.
Learning to touch and use touch as a framework for communicating with clients in the healing process you will encounter various elements of touch.
Trust is necessary for clients to be able to get on your massage table and is the foundation for the therapeutic relationship that occurs with the massage therapist/client. Your awareness of yourself and your personal and professional boundaries are what create the framework of trust for clients.
You may also be using all of your senses to work with clients sensing your own feelings first and becoming aware of your own body as you work on others. You will be learning to touch various body parts and various levels of tissue of the body which requires you to be aware of your own body. The depth, quality of touch, type of pressure and applications of massage requires this.
Getting feedback from clients is often a challenge because many will not know what pressure or technique is best for them at first. They also will think that you will know best but encouraging them to find out for themselves can create an even more powerful massage session.
Presence is the ability to stay present and aware of your own feelings while you are working on someone else and not let those feelings affect your work or get in the way of what the client needs or letting those feelings take your attention off of your clients needs. It also requires that you trust more in the healing process and have a deep understanding that you are just a guide on the journey with the client.