September 15, 2013

How to Be a Sobbing Mess

I was struck by your comment about seeing that moment of letting to and feeling safe. It's been a difficult year for me and I find myself craving the relaxation and tenderness of a massage. But I also know that the tenderness would open up the floodgates, so to speak, and I'd be a sobbing mess within minutes. Right now, not letting go is the only thing keeping me together.

What are your thoughts regarding clients crying? Have you had that happen to you? What is the best way for a client to handle the situation?

I responded:

Oh, of course! It happens all the time. There's nothing to handle, except of course you'll want a big box of kleenex to hand. (It's a sadly unprepared massage therapist who doesn't have a box of kleenex in the office!) It's not a problem. You cry for a while, maybe say whatever you have to say, sniffle & blow your nose, and the massage goes on.

What the does the massage therapist do? Sit quietly, maybe hold a hand in both of ours, maybe rock them a bit: it really doesn't matter. We listen. We do need to remember that we're not trained as talk therapists, and we're not healers, whatever our clients may say. Our job is easy. As Kristen Burkholder says, "Keep your heart open and your mouth shut."

I think some people are worried that they will dissolve into tears and howl for hours, if they get started. But however big a deal it is on the inside, on the outside it's usually just an upwelling of tears and a sob or two. I work in-home, so people can howl all they want, but mostly they don't. The tears come and go.

People warn me, sometimes. "I might cry this time." But often those aren't the people who do: often it takes people by surprise. I don't think it's always even very emotional: sometimes it seems more a purely neurological response, something the nervous system does in response to touch, as part of a long-delayed transition from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic state. In any case – it doesn't come as a surprise to me, or to any experienced massage therapist. And it doesn't wreck the massage; not for me, not for you.

In general, I would say: if you need to have a good cry, the sooner the better.


  1. Could be wrong but I think it is the Para Sympathetic nervous system that is the rest and relax rather than Sympathic which is the flight or fight.
    But not really that important as to be aware of of a difference.

    1. Oh, thanks, Shane! Yes, I had them backwards. Fixed now.