Inappropriate Behavior
in the Massage Room  ...what to do and what not to do!

For most massage therapists, inappropriate behavior and the term "Happy Ending Massage" literally makes them physically sick.

However, with proper massage therapist education, we (client and therapist) can be prepared for the day that this type of behavior becomes a reality.

Over the last few years we have all read about public figures and celebrities who reportedly were sexually inappropriate with a massage therapist during a session.

If you are a potential client, these stories may make you think twice about getting your first massage. If you are a potential therapist, these stories make make you think twice about going to massage school to study massage therapy.

Although in-room (hotel/motel) massage can be a little tricky, setting the stage for all professional massage therapy sessions is critical.

Steps to ensure it doesn't happen for the therapist:

  • Have client complete an intake form which includes a signature after a statement such as:

"I understand that the nature of massage therapy/bodywork is for the purpose of health improvement and relaxation. I have stated all known medical conditions and will inform and update my therapist of any changes to my medical health as necessary. I understand that my session will be terminated due to any form of inappropriate behavior. We are committed to professionalism and expect the same from our clients. We will not tolerate any inappropriate acts."

  • At the first session (if not all), have the client pay for the massage beforehand. Explain that this is your policy for all first-time clients.
  • Clearly explain what you will be massaging. For example:"I will be starting the session with the head, neck and shoulder massage, then moving on to your arms, then the front of your legs. 

We will then turn over onto your stomach. I will then massage the back of your legs and end with 20 minutes of back massage." Ask: "Does that sound ok?" -giving them an opportunity to still back out of the session or walk out of your practice.

  • When interviewing at a spa or other establishment, ask specifically about their policy on sexually inappropriate behavior. Being associated with an employer who does not have a strong policy on this issue and your right to "walk away", will only hurt you and your reputation when the situation arises-and it will.
  • Remember, if you do not get support from an employer during an uncomfortable situation, gently (not threateningly) remind them that they are creating a hostile work environment for you. 

Also, remember that your clients come to you for massage because they have a working relationship with you, not the business in which you are associated. Your physical and mental health is much more important, in the long run, than money. Your regular clients will search for you if you leave the establishment.

  • Suggest your client undress to underwear.
  • Know your "Right of Refusal" laws. Clearly discuss these with your employer. Unacceptable behavior should not be tolerated by you or your owner/manager. Make sure their personality is strong enough to stand up for you and your rights. Perhaps, create a "Right of Refusal" sign for your massage room and place it where it can be clearly read by the client.

Steps to ensure this doesn't happen for the client:

  • Check to make sure your therapist is licensed. You can usually do this on your state government website.
  • Make sure the therapist's office has a business license or establishment license. This can either be inside a private practice office or within a spa or clinic setting.
  • Ask for references.
  • Ask lots of questions when you call to make an appointment. Go back to the "Find a massage Therapist" page to get a list of questions.

This book, Ethics for Massage Therapists teaches ethics and standards of practice for massage therapy. Topics include industry standards of practice, laws, morals, rules, and regulations and how to handle yourself in a professional manner at all times.

Signs of Inappropriate Behavior

  •  Heavy breathing
  •  Moving hips 
  •  Requests to be completely nude
  • Requests only a thin sheet
  • Moans or groans throughout massage
  •  Wants "butt" work
  •  Awkward jokes 
  • Requests to be undraped
  • Trying to touch you throughout massage-sometimes, as if by accident

What to do if it happens

  • Speak up and be very firm as to the nature of massage therapy. I even go so far as to state that I am a Christian wife and mother, and would never tolerate any type of inappropriate actions in a massage session.
  • Notify police if the client becomes physically or verbally abusive or refuses to pay (if payment was not received beforehand).
  • Terminate the session as soon as you feel the behavior has escalated to an uncomfortable, inappropriate level.
  • Notify other massage therapists in your area. If this individual is a predator, you may be saving someone else (the therapist or other women or children) a possibly horrible situation. You don't have to name names, but descriptions are fine.

Maintaining professional boundaries and professional integrity, whether working in a spa, clinic, or private practice setting is the most important aspect of creating and maintaining a thriving massage therapy practice that will endure the test of time.

Ending inappropriate behavior immediately ensures protection of yourself and your practice.

Go back to Massage Therapy Techniques from Inappropriate Behavior

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