A therapist often experience that friends and family want free massages or special discounts. It’s natural to ask your friends for help when you have a problem or need something, and what’s more logical than asking the massage therapist who happens to be your daughter, your best friend or even a cousin? We all do it, asking the family computer expert to help us fix our computer, our best friend carpenter to help us with the carport, our uncle electrician to help us with that socket that’s been teasing us.
It can become a problem and damage the relationships. For where is the limit? Giving one massage as a birthday gift, will it be valued the same as a gift bought? If you give one free massage to a friend, will they then expect future massages to be free, or perhaps never buy a massage from you?
There’s also the intimacy especially with family. Will a brother or mother be comfortable lying on the table in the nude (draped or not draped), and become vulnerable and open to you?
There’s also the question of family and friends wanting to pay us back and give us something for what we give them, and us having a problem accepting that appreciation. Money does tend to make things awkward and uncomfortable. There is that old saying that you never should lend your friends money, and giving massages can fall under the same. They become indebted to you even if they perhaps didn’t want to be so.
How do we say stop and set up the limits?
The best thing here is of course to set the limits and rules from the start. To tell friends and family right off, if you want a massage it’s either a gift or you have to pay for it. But that doesn’t address the issue of us wanting to help and heal our friends and family when they’re in pain or just need that break from stress and worries.
I don’t have any set answers but can only share what I personally do. Some of my good friends are massage therapists, so there it’s easy and we just do massage exchanges.
I have two really good friends that I give free massages and use as guinea pigs when I learn new skills, or want to experiment with techniques. In return they take me out for lunch, dinner, the cinema or other fun things together. I love to massage them and give them that special treatment, I love that I have some I can count on to try out new techniques and hone new skills with, and they certainly enjoy being at the receiving end.
Other more distant friends I might invite to become practice models, but other than that they’ll always be paying for the massages. They’re not close enough that I’m comfortable about giving them free massages. There are therapists who had friendships has been destroyed in the past over things like this, where a friend got hurt over having to pay after receiving a free massage, or felt entitled to free massages just because of the friendship, no respecting the actual work and skill going into the massage.
With family it’s a bit different. I had one Christmas where I gave several members a massage as their Christmas present. I had asked them if they were interested and it turned out to be a big success. The massage given was adapted to the situation and our comforts. Using techniques and draping that made sure we all were comfortable with how things were done.
I urge you as a therapist, to sit down and establish your rules and what you are comfortable with. Set up the limitations, the circumstances and so on and make it clear so everybody involved know what to expect and what to honour. I think giving free massages to friends and family is a good thing, but it needs to be clear that it’s a gift and it needs to be clear what’s expected in return to make it even and balanced. Only offer a massage when you really feel like giving it and say no if you feel pushed or just aren’t in the mood for a massage.
You as the friend or family of a therapist I urge to truly appreciate what it is the therapist does for you when you receive a free massage, and honour the gift and the friendship. It’s time taken out of their schedule where they could have had another client. For me, one hour massage would typically earn me 40-50€ (after taxes etc.), so that’s pretty much equivalent to me giving you the money in the hand. Understand that massage is the profession of the therapist and their way of making a living. I’m pretty sure you’d be annoyed if your friends came to you and expected you to work for free for them. Repay the gift by doing something good for the therapist, even if it’s just inviting them over for an evening for a nice home-made dinner and red-wine.
Do you have any good or bad experiences with friendships and massage? What do you do and how do you balance these things? Do you get massages from your friends? How have you worked it out?
Please share your stories and views below in the comments. I’m very interested in hearing from you.