Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Preventing or Avoiding Sexual Advances in a Spa, Massage Setting (50+ Ways of Handling Client Advances)

PREVENTING/AVOIDING SEXUAL ADVANCES DURING A SPA OR MASSAGE SESSION
“50+ WAYS OF HANDLING CLIENT ADVANCES”
by Eunice
yunesa@yahoo.com


This article/report is not an all encompassing, everything-in-it method of preventing or avoiding sexual advances in a spa or massage session. The methods and ways described herein are intended to at least minimize, if not totally eradicate a common malaise of our industry, having to deal with “sexually charged” clients. Like anything else in life, there are no guarantees and the practitioner is cautioned to use their own judgment about their individual circumstances and act professionally and accordingly. Trusting one’s guts and intuition may prove life-saving in some cases. As in all my writings, it is presented in a contemporary style to address mainly the practitioners and spa, massage clinic and wellness center owners or operators and a minority of the inquiring public.


Let me be clear that there is no one way to totally avoid sexual advances or offers of such. Massage is by nature an intimate and pleasurable experience but it is not intended to sexually gratify a person. Some spa and massage therapies require the client to be semi-nude and sometimes naked. Even in the most professional setting the massage/ spa professional is exposed to being vulnerable to temptations which might lead to awkward situations. We can combine several of the pointers mentioned and act with due diligence. Practitioners in the spa, massage and wellness industry should perform their tasks that only true and unadulterated professionals do.

Recently, I have been asked again a truly valid question, one relating to handling clients who are taking advantage of their practitioner (whether this is a spa therapist or massage therapist). There are some ways of handling this, but let us first take into account what one validates (on a professional perspective) as “taking advantage or inappropriateness” means. Ano ba talaga ang maco-consider nating inappropriate? These are some examples (and by far, not a complete one) of inappropriate behaviors:
1. When approached or asked by a client or practitioner requesting any sexual contact of any kind.
2. When a client is trying to touch the practitioner inappropriately or the client asks to be touched in private areas including but is not limited to the genitalia.
3. Asking the practitioner to do something sexual apart from professional massage/spa therapy.
4. Making direct and/or indirect movements and comments that make it uneasy for the practitioner to work professionally and proceed with the session.

How do you, as a professional, handle these types of clients? These are just some tips and pointers in handling these types of clients, how to prevent sexual harassment during a session, setting boundaries and how to free yourself from being perceived as a prostitute instead of a real, honest-to-goodness” spa or massage professional. I said some as you can adjust the pointers listed here depending on your specific condition. I am aware that there might be many questions and a combination of answers out there and we are at our liberty to implement these pointers as befits us:

1. Most of the time, simple statements like “I cannot perform more than just massage or professional therapy because I love my job” or “The only extra service we provide is a smile and a hot cup of ginger tea (called Salabat in the Philippines) or rice tea, which would you prefer?” or “if you cannot respect me in this way, I would be forced to terminate the session and you will be charged in full sir/ma’am _______ (the client’s name).”

2. Always address them with sir or ma’am, so even in addressing clients you have already set your boundaries. Never call them just by their first name or nick name. Overly sexual comments and requests or suggestions of the client should be handled by comments such as “we only provide professional therapies and anymore of those comments and requests will force me to stop this session immediately and you will be charged in full price”. These statements should be memorized and taken to heart by the practitioner.
3. Your establishment should have a clear and strict work ethics and guidelines which are to be implemented not just written- again, these ethical guidelines should be implemented all throughout the rank and file including management. No exceptions. An example of this rules and regulations: sexual advances towards clients by any employee will not be tolerated.

4.Immediate termination of employee/s will follow any complaint that is investigated and where legitimacy of the claim is determined.
5. In cases that you cannot control or your safety as a practitioner is being compromised, you can end the session immediately and ask the client to dress up and pay for the session and then to leave the premises.

6. Therapists should leave the area or room and should not return until
the client/guest has departed the premises.

7. The client’s name should be entered into the prohibited client database to prevent any subsequent appointments being made by the client.
8. Likewise, if you are the client, tell your therapist that you are only interested in professional massage, nothing more.
9. Move out of the room and let them cool off for the meantime.
10. Any sexual contact and indulgences between a client and a staff is equivalent to being fired on the job.
11. Create an environment that is conducive to a healthy, relaxing and satisfying experience for the client. Examples: do not display or post nude and sexually explicit photos, displays, etc. inside your spa, massage clinic or wellness center; if your spa has a video or movie lounge do not include videos that are rated X.
12. Never ever include any sexually appealing advertisements for your establishment or practice. I have seen ads that goes something like “young, pretty, sexy, discrete masseuse for hire”, “presentable, class A, awesome beauty, flawless, available for stag party”. Words such as sexy, hot, macho, meztisa, irresistible, heartthrob, etc. should not be used at all costs. Hay naku, ang ipinagtataka ko lang, why is it important to be sexy and with awesome beauty? Is it not enough to be decent, clean looking and professional? So, if you want to be taken seriously in your practice, never ever- and I say it again, never advertise like those mentioned above.
13. It should be stipulated in the employee’s manual that therapists are not allowed to date or to have any other external physical relationships with any client while that person is a client of your respective spa, massage clinic or establishment until after a period of six months since the client received the last service. Definitely, NO dating with clients. As a practitioner, you are not there to look for a boyfriend, you are on the job to make a living and not be looked down upon.
14. The room should never be too darkly lit. To be technical about it, under Philippine laws, in PD 856 Chapter XII Section 5.4.1 states a room shall be provided with illumination to permit effective inspection and cleaning in accordance with the DOH (Department of Health) general illumination standards. The massage room shall be provided with a minimum of 10 foot-candle or kilowatts (107.6 lux) have a minimum while a sauna bath room should be provided a minimum of 5 foot-candle or kilowatts (53.8 lux) illumination. In 5.4.2. All lightings shall be reasonably free from glare and distributed so as to avoid shadows. But if you will ask me, I would prefer lighting which can be adjusted so when doing massage or spa therapies it will not have too much glare and when cleaning the room one can have enough illumination.
15. It is also the responsibility of the practitioner to communicate clearly with the client allowing the client to be at ease and know that they are professionally (not sexually) handled.
16. During a massage, the practitioner should minimize, if not refrain from making direct contact with “stimulating spots” like the inner thighs, groins, nipples, etc.
17. No touching of private areas and genitalia.
18. An experienced massage therapist should be able to guide the recipient through the massage or spa process so that there will be little confusion about some of the basic areas that may cause embarrassment or confusion. Like, if there are client concerns regarding a body scrub or body treatment, the concierge, practitioner or therapist should explain to the client that he/she will get undressed, get the armpits and butt rubbed, etc. will make the client prepare psychologically on the procedure.
19. Presence of mind on where the practitioner rests their hands while the other hand might be working. Example, if your right hand is doing a massage your left hand should be assisting the movements of your right hand and should never rest in any private area of the recipient or client. Hindi dapat nakadantay sa maselang bahagi o kahit sa malapit sa maselang bahagi ng katawan ng client ang kamay ng isang therapist.
20. The amount of clothing worn during a session is dependent on the type of treatment or therapy to be administered. Therefore, do not expect that you will be asked to take all your clothes off if you choose Thai massage or Shiatsu. Normally these massage modalities are performed with the client’s clothes on. It is also common to be completely undressed during a Swedish massage BUT don’t despair, as your therapist will professionally drape areas which are not
being worked on. The bottom line is that, the client should be able to wear what makes them comfortable but not to the point of distracting the therapist’s work or disregarding the policies on clothing (if there are any) of the spa, massage clinic or wellness center.
21. Shorts can be provided by the spa to all clients and can be worn during the session.
22. The therapist should also instruct the client about what to expect before they begin to undress.
23. The therapist should leave the room when the client will be undressing and return afterwards. Generally, no less than 5 minutes and should knock before entering.

24. The practitioner should also say something like “Ma’am/Sir ______ (name of client) are you ready?” before opening the door.
25. To quote again PD 856 Chapter XIII Section 5.8.2 a massage room shall be provided with sliding curtain or wing type wooden door or equivalent materials at the entrance. Doors with locks are not permitted. If you will ask me, my personal favorites are the sliding doors or the accordion type doors. Some form of privacy is needed though when the client dresses and undresses.
26. The therapist should instruct the client to position himself/herself under a sheet or towel during the massage session.
27.The therapist should work on a client with the same gender.
28. The therapist should always cover the genitalia area at all times.
29. The therapist should ignore minor comments regarding giving “extra service”, “happy ending”, “pocket massage” and provide professional answers instead of joking about it.
30. Respect the boundaries set by the client and establish your own conscience-boundaries.
31.No therapist should take their liberty or make assumptions relative to what parts of the body can be touched. As a general rule, it is never appropriate to touch the genitals during a massage or spa session. The client should never expect to be touched sexually and the therapist cannot touch the client in a sexual manner.
32. Let us briefly touch the topic about breast massage. While there are documented benefits of breast massage, it should not be included in a full, complete or total body massage. Breasts (including nipples) are off-limits unless a very special request is made by a qualified therapist or physician. This means that breast massage can only be included if and only if, it is indicated in the patient’s (notice I used the word patient instead of client. guest or patron because of the medical condition that a patient really needs to undergo breast massage) plan of care and only after receiving informed voluntary consent from the client and their qualified health care provider (most often, a physician). But normally, breast massage should be restricted.
33. A professional massage therapist, whatever gender, should know how to deflect sexual advances by a client. If a subtle response does not do the job then a forceful statement or ending the session will be the correct alternative.
34. A client, who respects their practitioner, should feel confident to tell them that they feel they are being touched inappropriately. If it is just an incidental/accidental contact or just a slip, the therapist should immediately apologize and continue with the client’s discomfort noted accordingly.
35. The relationship between a client and a therapist should always be bounded professionally and not personally. Therefore, therapists are not allowed to give their personal mobile numbers or private contact telephone numbers without asking permission from management or having to consult with their direct superior. In the meantime, if the client is persuasive let them know that they can call the establishment during business hours so their concerns or any questions, if there are any, can be addressed.
36. If you will allow any relationship between the therapist and a paying client beyond the massage table or spa premises to a more social or even romantic connection is like inviting a host of ethical dilemmas. Examples of preventing social relationships include: do not go out on a date with a client, return a client’s phone call only within the premises of the spa or business establishment and during business hours.
37. Although I do not personally agree, installing a security camera (focused only on the massage table area and not the dressing area) inside the room to be able to monitor the activity in each room can also minimize ‘sexual harassment” for any or both parties, practitioner and clients.
38. All clients should be draped, whether they like it or not, except for the head and the area that the therapist is working on.
39. The genitals, breasts and nipples (especially for women) and the gluteal cleft (puwet or pwet) should always be covered professionally. In some cases, a portion of the gluteal cleft might be reasonably exposed if being worked upon.
40. The front desk people, concierge or receptionist should be able to screen clients before any procedures and ask relevant questions as well as professionally answer any concerns the client might have. It is very important that these people (front liners) project professionalism, care to the health and well-being of the client and reputation of their establishment. They
should undergo training and briefing on how they should handle client calls, answer specific questions, provide relevant data, etc. Inquire about this with your spa consultant.
41. If your establishment is accepting out-call or in-room services, be sure to bring a companion or the company driver to drive you to the location. The HQ (or headquarters) of your central information center should know the exact address, the time that you arrived and what time you will be done with the session/s.

42. Upon arrival, you should phone-in and let the HQ know about any changes in the service/s to be done, do this where the client can hear you.
43. Be firm in saying “NO” to any sexual requests and favors. Let the client know that you have a firm foundation in your profession. This will help reputable clients feel safe and non-reputable individuals know that they picked the wrong place and the wrong person.
44. Educate friends, relatives and significant others in the wholesome benefits of massage and spa therapies. Treat them to a spa day; buy gift certificates for them so they can experience the feeling and satisfaction of a client after a session. Thereby, dispelling the myth that massage (or any spa therapy for that matter) is a sexual experience.

45. If you are working in a spa, massage clinic or wellness center, bring them at work and give them a tour on the premises.
46. Never talk about a client unprofessionally between your colleagues. Examples of these conversations, include, but are not limited to: “her butt is perfect”, “ay, ang guwapo ng lolo mo ang sarap pagpantasyahan”, “makalaglag panty naman yang lolo mo” and other comments.
47. Before any procedure/s, let the client sit and fill-up an intake form that details some of the common medical histories of the client including allergies, medical conditions like high blood pressure, etc. This will at least prevent (if not, turn-off) the client from assuming that the establishment is tolerating sexual services. It sometimes helps to interview the client after the intake form is filled-up and just ask some follow-up questions like what prompted him/her to have a massage? Is there any particular area that the therapist should focus on like the upper back or head? What are the painful areas? Etc.
48. It depends on the modality or the service/s to be rendered but a clear intent should be set from the beginning to work with the client’s quantitative goals. For example, a client came because of chronic shoulder pains. In order to establish yung ating quantitative goals, we should ask how long this has occurred, clearly explain the recommended therapy/ies to be made and how many times in a particular period (whether weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.), the cost and the
expected results- assuming that the client really wants and can afford the program, you have to meet the goals of the client.
49. I could not stress more about the practitioner’s demeanor and attitude in setting an appropriate tone that would dispel any misconceptions regarding “extra services”. The client watches how you handle him/her and any insinuation that you are open to an offer might give the client “lakas ng loob” to ask the practitioner for an extra service. So watch your language and movements.
50. Professional boundaries should be established before, during and after the session/s. It’s okay to be friendly and cheerful but do not overdo this and be careful about joking with clients.
51. Be aware of where you place the client’s hands while working with other parts of the body. Do not place nor rub the client’s hand on your breast or inner thigh and other areas that might signify that you are open for a sexual discussion or activity.
52. There are some body treatments or other types of waxing like bikini wax, Brazilian waxing, etc. that would really entail the client to be nude. In such circumstances, maintaining professional boundaries firmly in control is the best option. This is the time where you as a professional can prove that you are a grounded and mature professional.
53. Always practice “distancia amigo” or distance while performing massage or spa therapy. Meaning, always practice reasonable physical distance and focus less on your client’s sexually charged areas.
54. Be aware and monitor your own breathing techniques and right body mechanics while performing massage and other spa therapies.
55. There are some forms of massages that are oriented to sexually energize a couple or an individual. Some of these are: tantric massage, yoni massage, sensual massage, couple’s massage, etc. but as of this writing, these massages are rarely done in a spa, massage clinic or wellness center. It is more often in the privacy of the client’s home. To a client who is seeking these types of services, it is very important that you stress to your client that your sessions are not to stimulate arousal and is therapeutic in nature. Therefore, you will neither tolerate sexual advances, innuendos or sexual comments. Tell them that “my work is to bring healing and a sense of well-being and relaxation.”
56. Inform your direct superior at once regarding any untoward incident so that necessary precautions and the spa, massage clinic or wellness center’s protocol can be implemented as per definitive guidelines.
57. Train your staff to give professional remarks, intelligent and respectful answers and proper decorum. Your spa consultant can guide you through this.
58. Timed-sessions inside your spa rooms or installed wall clocks and your therapist knowing the duration of the treatment/s to be made will minimize sexual interferences.
59. Decent looking uniforms should also be worn during his/her duty hours by the practitioner.

All in all, there can be combination of ways that can at least deter clients on asking more than what a professional really does. In other countries, different ways have been implemented in order to strictly enforce client boundaries. To give you an example, in Minnesota, a client is not allowed to date their therapist until after two years of his/her last session. In Indonesia, a chastity belt is being worn. Thanks to the proliferation of day spas that slowly, the industry is now being perceived as a wholesome, even family oriented environment. Hopefully in the future, there might not even be room left for any sexually explicit activities in our industry just pure unadulterated pampering health and wellness at hand.
A list of training centers, magazines, publications, books and literatures both local and international are all available in the book, “The Spa, Massage and Wellness Resource Guide and Career Book”. You can order it online via
www.Amazon.com or for local Philippine orders, email yunesa@yahoo.com. If you are looking for a career opportunity, not just a job in the spa, massage therapy and wellness industry, this book is a must read.

This article is written by: Eunice Estipona a spa consultant, mentor, advisor, speaker and lecturer. One of her advocacies is to make healing and information regarding the field of spa, massage and wellness accessible and affordable to everyone. If you are serious about turning your business or practice around, making the right decisions, getting an unbiased opinion and knowing where to get help, for lectures and other concerns she can be contacted at
yunesa@yahoo.com or +639184745685. To find out how she can help you take your business to the next level, visit her site at http://www.meetup.com/philippinemassagetherapy
These along with hundreds of resources found locally and abroad are contained in “The Spa, Massage and Wellness Resource and Career Book”, the first book of resource information to know more about the Spa, Massage and Wellness Industry in the Philippines and other countries including the United States, Australia and other Asian countries. You can view, read, download and print for FREE the book’s summary at this link http://www.scribd.com/doc/6425282/About-the-Book-Spa-Massage-and-Wellness-Resource-Guide-and-Career-Book

If you are a spa, massage therapy and wellness information seeker the resources contained in the book for you. This book is a collection of data and valuable information regarding the spa and massage industry in a global perspective with a focus on the Philippines. Her advocacy in writing the book is to make “unbiased” information regarding the field of spa, massage and wellness resources and career, accessible and affordable for everyone. If you are considering a career in the massage, spa and wellness industry, this book will prepare you and give you a glimpse of what it is like, the preparation you need to take: emotionally, intellectually and financially. In this book, you will learn more details in the spa and massage field and the possible paths you can take. You will also learn about local and international training programs offered and numerous employment possibilities. Giving you much needed information at your fingertips.
You can order it from www.Amazon.com or for local Philippine residents, you can email and get in touch with Eunice at yunesa@yahoo.com.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's crazy man. They should really try to do something to fix that.

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Jeremy Lanfranco (Malta Europe) said...

Very interesting article! I've been a self employed male therapist for 15 years. I've never had any sexual advances from men and only 1 from a female. I always work with a female chaperon in the room and that is something you have not mentioned in your blog. The only time I had a female ask me to finish her off was when my chaperon went to make her a cup of tea. So from that date on I make sure she stays in the room.