The Drama Triangle – The rescuer massage therapist

The therapeutic relationship is a very complex relationship that requires that we become more aware of the dynamics of relating to each other. One of the ways is by studying and learning about the Drama Triangle.

It is really the underlying dynamic in most relationships but because of the power differential that occurs in the therapeutic relationship, the drama triangle can be more evident in a client/massage therapist relationship. There are three positions of the drama triangle -the rescuer, the victim and the persecutor. There is usually a combination of them at work in a therapeutic relationship or any relationship for that matter. One position leads to the next. The rescuer can become the persecutor or victim and any combination of roles.

As massage therapists we are often taught to ‘fix’ a clients pain and injuries. Many massage therapists come to the profession wanting to ‘help’ others. Clients come to us looking to be fixed and taken care of. One of the roles on the drams triangle is the rescuer. We think we need to get the client out of pain.

People who are in pain or sick or injured quickly take on the role of the victim -wanting someone to fix the condition for them. This is the basis for modern medicine. Needing to be fixed they will find a rescuer to help them. As massage therapists we often take on the role of rescuer but we can also move into any of the other roles with clients and also within ourselves. Becoming aware of how we rescue (help, fix) is not an easy process. It doesn’t just stop overnight. When the process occurs internally taking on various roles at different times, it is usually can lead to feeling stuck in building a practice or finding a massage job. We blame the economy or bad spa owners for our lack of success.

Rescuers need to rescue to feel good about themselves. They need victims to be successful. A rescuer thinks everyone needs their help even those who are not directly asking for it. Rescuers don’t know how to take care of themselves so they focus on others. Rescuers usually have deep unconscious beliefs about themselves that they are not good enough so they rescue to feel good about themselves. Rescuers see others pain so clearly because they are filled with pain of their own. It easier to help others with their pain instead of addressing their own pain. Rescuers are not usually aware of their own pain or even think that they have any issues to work through. They are so busy helping they can’t see their own pain. They say things like “I just want to fix this psoas” or “if only I knew more anatomy, I could fix this”. It is a very unconscious process meaning that most are not even aware of the dynamics and their own part in each interaction. Rescuing others tells the other person that they are not good enough or smart enough to help themselves. Rescuers often end up undermining others and reinforcing the victim stance. It is hurting more than helping. Rachel Remen MD explains this beautifully in her article “In the Service of Life”.

The early child/parent relationship sets us up for the drama triangle with parents often taking on the role of rescuer. The child isn’t old enough, smart enough and needs to be protected from the world. When are early childhood needs aren’t met ( which they rarely are ever totally met even with the best of parenting) we often are left waiting to be rescued. We fear asking for help because we may be further abandoned and hurt. We begin helping others so that they will become dependent on us and not leave us.

The thing is that every person has within themselves the power to find the answers to their health problems, business building problems or whatever they are faced with. You and you alone are your best source of advice if you can only begin to access your true self and listen to yourself. As a massage therapist our role is to be present for others as they uncover their own answers and true self. The thing is that you have to know your own self first before you can do this with a client.

People don’t even become aware of their rescuing habits until it becomes too painful to bear anymore. This is usually when a career in massage comes to an end but it doesn’t have to end if one can find the courage to begin to get off of the triangle.

The way off of the triangle is to start learning to feel the pain of abandonment and/or the pain of not getting one’s early needs met. It means learning to take care of yourself in every aspect of your life from being financially sound, healthy, eating the right things, exercising and taking car of your internal needs for acceptance, love, appreciation and recognition. It is about becoming more aware of what you are feeling when a client arrives at your door wanting to be fixed. Staying present with the feeling means that you can have the feeling and not act on it but use it to become aware of what you are thinking or what belief you have about yourself that is creating this need to rescue.