Massage Ethics

Massage Ethics are really what building a massage business or being a massage therapist is really all about.  To have a successful and rewarding (both financially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) studying ethics and learning more about yourself and your values can help you in doing just that.

Many professional associations have a so called “Code of Ethics” which members are supposed to abide by.  The thing is that they are so general in nature that they can be widely interpreted.  Here are some sample code of ethics statements of professional associations:

The AMTA Code of Ethics:

This Code of Ethics is a summary statement of the standards by which massage therapists agree to conduct their practices and is a declaration of the general principles of acceptable, ethical, professional behavior.

Massage therapists shall:

  1. Demonstrate commitment to provide the highest quality massage therapy/bodywork to those who seek their professional service.

  2. Acknowledge the inherent worth and individuality of each person by  not discriminating or behaving in any prejudicial manner with clients and/or colleagues.

  3. Demonstrate professional excellence through regular self-assessment of strengths, limitations, and effectiveness by continued education and training.

  4. Acknowledge the confidential nature of the professional relationship with clients and respect each client’s right to privacy.

  5. Conduct all business and professional activities within their scope of practice, the law of the land, and project a professional image.

  6. Refrain from engaging in any sexual conduct or sexual activities involving their clients.

  7. Accept responsibility to do no harm to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of self, clients, and associates.

The ABMP Code of Ethics is a little longer.

1. Commitment to High-Quality Care

I will serve the best interests of my clients at all times and provide the highest quality of bodywork and service possible. I recognize that the obligation for building and maintaining an effective, healthy, and safe therapeutic relationship with my clients is my responsibility.

2. Commitment to Do No Harm

I will conduct a thorough health history intake process for each client and evaluate the health history to rule out contraindications or determine appropriate session adaptations. If I see signs of, or suspect, an undiagnosed condition that massage may be inappropriate for, I will refer that client to a physician or other qualified health-care professional and delay the massage session until approval from the physician has been granted. I understand the importance of ethical touch and therapeutic intent and will conduct sessions with the sole objective of benefitting the client.

3. Commitment to Honest Representation of Qualifications

I will not work outside the commonly accepted scope of practice for massage therapists and bodywork professionals. I will adhere to my state’s scope of practice guidelines (when applicable). I will only provide treatments and techniques for which I am fully trained and hold credible credentials. I will carefully evaluate the needs of each client and refer the client to another provider if the client requires work beyond my capabilities, or beyond the capacity of massage and bodywork. I will not use the trademarks and symbols associated with a particular system or group without authentic affiliation. I will acknowledge the limitations of massage and bodywork by refraining from exaggerating the benefits of massage therapy and related services throughout my marketing.

4. Commitment to Uphold the Inherent Worth of All Individuals

I will demonstrate compassion, respect, and tolerance for others. I will seek to decrease discrimination, misunderstandings, and prejudice. I understand there are situations when it is appropriate to decline service to a client because it is in the best interests of a client’s health, or for my personal safety, but I will not refuse service to any client based on disability, ethnicity, gender, marital status, physical build, or sexual orientation; religious, national, or political affiliation; social or economic status.

5. Commitment to Respect Client Dignity and Basic Rights

I will demonstrate my respect for the dignity and rights of all individuals by providing a clean, comfortable, and safe environment for sessions, using appropriate and skilled draping procedures, giving clients recourse in the event of dissatisfaction with treatment, and upholding the integrity of the therapeutic relationship.

6. Commitment to Informed Consent

I will recognize a client’s right to determine what happens to his or her body. I understand that a client may suffer emotional and physical harm if a therapist fails to listen to the client and imposes his or her own beliefs on a situation. I will fully inform my clients of choices relating to their care, and disclose policies and limitations that may affect their care. I will not provide massage without obtaining a client’s informed consent (or that of the guardian or advocate for the client) to the session plan.

7. Commitment to Confidentiality

I will keep client communication and information confidential and will not share client information without the client’s written consent, within the limits of the law. I will ensure every effort is made to respect a client’s right to privacy and provide an environment where personal health-related details cannot be overheard or seen by others.

8. Commitment to Personal and Professional Boundaries

I will refrain from and prevent behaviors that may be considered sexual in my massage practice and uphold the highest professional standards in order to desexualize massage. I will not date a client, engage in sexual intercourse with a client, or allow any level of sexual impropriety (behavior or language) from clients or myself. I understand that sexual impropriety may lead to sexual harassment charges, the loss of my massage credentials, lawsuits for personal damages, criminal charges, fines, attorney’s fees, court costs, and jail time.

9. Commitment to Honesty in Business

I will know and follow good business practices with regard to record keeping, regulation compliance, and tax law. I will set fair fees and practice honesty throughout my marketing materials. I will not accept gifts, compensation, or other benefits intended to influence a decision related to a client. If I use the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals logo, I promise to do so appropriately to establish my credibility and market my practice.

10. Commitment to Professionalism

I will maintain clear and honest communication with clients and colleagues. I will not use recreational drugs or alcohol before or during massage sessions. I will project a professional image with respect to my behavior and personal appearance in keeping with the highest standards of the massage profession. I will not actively seek to take someone else’s clients, disrespect a client or colleague, or willingly malign another therapist or other allied professional. I will actively strive to positively promote the massage and bodywork profession by committing to self-development and continually building my professional skills.

College of Massage Therapists of Ontario Code of Ethics (PDF)
Principle I – Respect For Persons
To value the dignity and worth of all persons regardless of age, race, culture,creed, sexual identity, gender, ability and/or health status.
Client autonomy is demonstrated by:
a) Ensuring that clients are as fully involved as possible in the planning and implementation of their own health care
b) Providing complete and accurate information in a sensitive and timely fashion to enable clients, or when necessary a client’s substitute decision maker, to make informed choices
c) Listening to and respecting a client’s values, opinions, needs, and cultural beliefs
d) Encouraging and being responsive to a client’s choice to accept, augment, modify, refuse or terminate treatment
e) Being informed about moral and legal rights of a client
f) Advocating for and supporting a client in exercising his/her moral and legal Rights
g) Safeguarding the client’s right to privacy and confidentiality by holding all personal and health in
formation in confidence unless otherwise required by law.
Principle II – Responsible Caring
Providing sensitive, compassionate and empathetic quality massage therapy.
Responsible care of a client is demonstrated by:
a) Listening to and respecting the client’s values, opinions, needs, and cultural beliefs
b) Promoting the client’s best interest and well-being, through the highest possible standard of professional practice
c) Seeking assistance when conflicts arise between the value systems of the practitioner and the client
d) Recognizing and referring the client to other health care providers when it is in the client’s best interest to do so
e) Being alert to and reporting, as required, any unethical practice by any member of the regulated health professions
f) Approaching and co-operating with substitute decision makers in assessing the client’s wishes and best interests in the event of incapacity
g) Protecting the client’s physical and emotional privacy
h) Collecting only that information which is relevant to the provision of health care.
Principle III – Integrity in Relationships
To practice with integrity, honesty and diligence in our professional relationships with ourselves, our clients, our
professional colleagues and society.
Commitments to Clients are demonstrated by:
a) Ensuring that we always act in our client’s best interest as defined by the client’s wishes and consistent with the standards of practice of the profession
b) Informing the client about health care services available to support them
c) Referring to other health care providers as necessary and appropriate
d) Obtaining assistance when value conflicts arise which threaten to impede client autonomy
e) Providing client-centered health care which includes the following:
i) Explaining to the client and advocating for his/her right to receive information about, and take control of his/her health care
ii) Providing information about the proposed treatment, alternative courses of action, the material effects, risks and
side effects in each case and the consequences of not having the treatment
ii) Assisting the client to comprehend information
iv) Responding to questions about our client’s health care/treatment
Commitments to Self are demonstrated by:
a) Being pro-actively committed to our own health and personal and professional development
b) Being competent, conscientious and empathetic practitioners
c) Being aware of our personal values and being able to identify when value conflicts interfere with client care
d) Keeping our professional commitment by integrating massage values and principles in our daily practice
Commitments to our Professional
Colleagues are demonstrated by:
a) Respecting our colleagues and working cooperatively with them
b) Intervening in situations where the safety and well being of a client is in jeopardy
c) Reporting to appropriate authorities any regulated health care practitioner who abuses a client physically, verbally, sexually or financially
d) Referring to other health care providers when necessary and appropriate
e) Co-operating with regulatory functions of the profession
f) Contributing to continuous quality improvement initiatives
g) Upholding standards and guidelines of the profession
h) Advocating with other health care providers to promote and support social changes that enhance individual and community health and well-being
i) Representing ourselves honestly, and performing only those services for which we are qualified
Principle IV – Responsibility to Society
To be accountable to society and conduct our selves in a manner that fosters and promotes high ethical standards.
Ethical practice is demonstrated by:
a) Pursuing continued career-long, professional learning
b) Advocating for and supporting a client’s ethical and moral rights
c) Participating in the promotion of the profession of massage therapy through advocacy, research and maintenance of the highest possible standards of practice
d) Being committed to promoting the welfare and well-being of all persons in society
e) Making every reasonable effort to ascertain that our clinical environment will permit provision of care consistent with the values in the Code of Ethics
f) Committing to continuous improvement and implementation of standards of massage practice
g) Collaborating with members of the other health professions to meet the health needs of the public
h) Continuing to develop ways to clarify massage therapist’s accountability to society.

Creating Your Own Code of Ethics

What does any of that really even mean?  The professional association guidelines are so general and undefined that anyone can interpret these in the way that suits them best.

The basics of ethics is uncovering your own beliefs and values and understanding what motivates your actions and thoughts.  In doing so you can create a massage business or find your ideal massage job that is a clear reflection of you and your values.   It is an ongoing process because most of our values are ‘inherited’ from our early upbringing and not really chosen by us.  They are taught to us by our parents and in school.

Massage clients also come to a massage therapist seeking help.  The dynamics of the helping relationship recreate the dynamics of the parent/child relationship.  It is important to be clear about what is what to become an effective massage therapist.  Situations will arise on a daily basis as a massage therapist that will constantly challenge your values and your core beliefs about yourself.  To help you unravel the underlying needs and perceptions participating in peer supervision groups or individual supervision classes can help you to do that.

Since we need to take ethics to meet continuing education requirements and to build successful careers finding the best massage ethics classes isn’t always so easy.  There are a handful of online classes that you can read some material and take a test.  While this fulfills the requirements for continuing ed having a live interactive class  or participating in supervision will help you in creating your own code of ethics and help you in learning to live by your values and create meaningful therapeutic relationships with you clients.  It is the therapeutic relationship that will help you build your career.