Learning how to navigate through the verbal parts of a bodywork treatment takes skill, experience and constant flexibility and many practitioners find it challenging at times. We received many emails in response to our January article 'To Talk or Not to Talk: Treatments & Advice.' Below we share one of them (along with a response), because it held many questions that were asked multiple times.
Every time a practitioner has a treatment, they are going to need to speak with the receiver. First, there is the greeting and a usually brief discussion of the client's situation. During the treatment pertinent information, questions or suggestions may surface. Afterwards the receiver often has questions and it may be beneficial to give some advice. However, sometimes discussion during a session begins to dominate and it can feel like getting caught in a web. You as a practitioner might struggle to know how much to respond and what to say, and loose energy managing the process instead of focusing on the treatment.
Of course, it is important to listen to our clients and offer useful information and advice when we have it. That is very healing in itself! But if you find yourself tired or confused regarding how much to interact with your clients at this level, it is a good idea to do some work in this area. Even very experienced practitioners need to sometimes work on the balance of touch and talk and do not always get it 'right.'
Learning how to navigate through the verbal parts of a treatment takes skill, experience and constant flexibility.
A Practitioner's Questions
Here is an email about this topic from a shiatsu shin tai practitioner in England:
"Recently I was treating a lady that was suffering from depression, and she found the treatments very helpful. She said that she was feeling a deep happiness and a quiet mind that she had never before experienced. In these treatments she would often talk with me about her personal experiences with depression and the life factors surrounding it.
Feeling inspired after reading your article 'To Talk or Not to Talk,' I decided to try something different when she came for her next session. Before starting the treatment, I suggested to her that in order to overcome the depression it would be better that we not discuss it and instead focus on the treatment itself. Afterwards, she wrote me to say that I had been unkind with her. She said that she needed kindness, understanding and an empathic response. She did not want condemnation when she was already suffering. I realized I had been doing a kind of counseling with her and did not want to go further in this direction. She decided to stop the treatments.
I know that the main part of a treatment is done by our hands, but how should I proceed if a client wants to discuss things extensively over and over. Then afterwards they often ask what I found, and ask what to do to improve their health. Sometimes I do not find it easy to express myself about what I noticed during a treatment. For instance, recently I found a lady's belly very bloated, and she asked me what I had found. I tried to explain that the energy was stagnated and that it might be some old things going on in there. Then she asked me 'What can I do?' I gave some vague dietary advice. After saying that, I started to question myself."
It is normal that sometimes a client will not like being told to limit discussion during sessions. You are serving your clients to risk this, and saving yourself the loss of energy that occurs when we enable them to stay in their story. It is important however, to broach the topic with sensitivity and compassion! It can be very helpful to present your request in a positive light, such as "It is important that I not speak too much during a treatment so that I can focus on listening to your body" instead of "Don't talk during a treatment because you are just perpetuating your story." Read about and practice how to set non-negative boundaries if this is a challenging thing for you. You are serving everyone involved to keep the focus more on the bodywork, instead of the talking.
Feedback After a Treatment
If it does not come easy to share with someone what happened during a treatment, you do not have to. You can remind them to pay attention to sensations in their body over the next few days and explain that is the best way to proceed after a treatment. It takes discipline to educate a client in this way. You teach them over time that you are not there to give extensive verbal diagnosis, therapy and advice, although you may very well do this to an extent sometimes. You are there to facilitate more freedom in their body so that their innate wisdom is flowing more and can guide them more clearly. Again, this takes practice and ongoing development on your part to find what works best for you. It is important to balance the expectations and needs of the client with your boundaries.
Regarding advice & lifestyle tips: share only advice that you are confident about with a client. If you do not know much about food and diet, do not give guidance in this area. If you have extensive experience with exercise or meditation, you may have some tips that would be helpful. Collect a list of resources for nutrition, exercise, therapy, etc. that you can refer your clients to in the areas that you lack skills/background to provide guidance.
Another tip regarding advice: it is usually better to give less information rather than more. Offer them small, doable suggestions that they can be digested with ease. If they resist or start into a story about why they did that already or why it didn't work, let it go. They are not able to take it in. Let the treatment itself do the work and have faith they will be able to take care of themselves better as their system becomes more clear.
If you get too caught up in long explanations and extensive suggestions, you may find yourself in a complex maze of dialogue that is not feeling particularly effective. Counselors and therapists train for years how to assist others through verbal means, because it takes lots of training and practice to do it effectively. You have probably trained for years to use touch to assist others, so that will most likely be your most potent tool.
Remember that the treatment itself is clearing the body of restrictive forces and reestablishing the flow of life force, which in turn increases the ability to access the most accurate guidance. Remind yourself and your clients of this when necessary. Often clients are in such physical and emotional need that a practitioner feels compelled to help them with many aspects that could be contributing to their suffering. But it is not your job to solve all your clients' problems and figure out intellectually why this or that is happening. It is your job to give the treatment and empower them with a more clear and aligned body. Our primary training as bodyworkers is to use touch to facilitate freedom and power in someone's body. This has unique potential that other methods do not have; it can be wonderful to trust that and watch it unfold.
It's like the adage 'give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.' Giving someone bodywork is like teaching them to fish instead of giving them a fish. We clear restriction, misalignment and jumbled up information in a very practical way so that a person can function better. A shiatsu shin tai treatment naturally gives someone more freedom and power to access their true, unfettered self. Then they can perceive, listen and respond to their innermost wisdom and have the will to make the changes that will be beneficial to them.