March 23, 2013

When You Can Object

Most of us, I reckon, have some opening spiel with our clients about letting us know if they don't like something we're doing. Mine goes like this. It's usually the last thing I say: the client's on the table, all covered up with the sheet & blanket. I've laid hands on their back. I lean down a bit and say, “If anything I do makes you uncomfortable, for any reason, tell me right away.” They make some little sound of acknowledgment, or a little nod. I go on, to drive it home, “Don't lie there thinking, God, I hope he stops doing that pretty soon. Just tell me.”

In other words, the answer to “when can you object?” is clean, simple, and categorical. Any time.

This is important. It's on my mind because I found myself reiterating it recently, with a client I've seen many times. Because it's easy for a sense that one shouldn't object to grow up, maybe even especially inside of an ongoing therapeutic relationship.

It got me thinking about various reasons you might decide you couldn't object. Here's three:

He knows what he's doing, and I'm here to avail myself of his expertise. A client of mine once said, when I was checking whether something was OK, “You're the boss!” and was, maybe, surprised by the forcefulness of my response. I said “No, you are the boss. You're hiring me, and you're the expert on your own sensations. I am not the boss.” I don't want any vagueness about that at all. The client is the boss, by virtue of paying me, and they're the owner of their body, by inalienable right. I refuse to be the boss of anyone else's body.

I haven't objected to this before, so I have no right to now. I don't know how common this is, but I sometimes worry about it. What okay one time might not be another. There are places that are sensitive and vulnerable, by nature, by culture, or by personal history. Every therapist knows this, and approaches them cautiously if at all: the abdomen, the inner thighs, the inside of the upper arms are common ones, but it can be practically anywhere. I've had clients who could not stand to have their feet worked, or to have their ears touched. There are certain positionings that for one individual or another are too much: I know someone for whom, due to old trauma, lying on her side for a massage nearly always brings tears. The first time we work a delicate area or reposition you, we usually check in ahead of time, and are alert for signs of discomfort while we work. But after we've decided it's okay, we may not be watching out, even though we know these things shift. You should always object if you're not liking it. It may take a while for you to figure out you don't like something, after all. And you don't have to object for all time. It is perfectly legitimate to say “Oh, not the calves, not today.” And it's still legitimate, even if you really liked the calves last week. That was then.

I can't object without impugning his motives. You may be thinking: I know he's not trying to grope me, I know this is my own discomfort and comes from my own history, so I shouldn't lay this old baggage on him.” This is nonsense. Saying “I'm not comfortable with this touch” is not an accusation, and no legitimate therapist would ever take it as one. If you do think your therapist is trying to grope you, rather than just objecting, you should end the session and go inform the state massage board. We don't want those people in the business. But if you're unsure, the best way to make sure is to say, clearly, “I'm not comfortable being touched there.” Any legitimate professional will stop at once, and be grateful for the feedback. They may explain why they were doing that particular move in that particular way, and they may ask for clarification about where “there” is, which is fine: but if they try to convince you that you should be comfortable with it, or try to keep doing it, red flags should be sprouting before your eyes like crocuses in Spring. Those are not professional responses.

I'm sure there's lots more reasons why you might think you shouldn't object, but this is one of those few questions that has a simple, clear, straight-edged answer. When can you object? Any time. You don't need a reason, or a precedent, or a principle. You can just say, “I don't want to be touched there,” or “I don't want to be in that position,” or “I don't want to be touched that way.” And if objecting doesn't feel entirely comfortable or natural to you, it may be all the more important to do it. You might even just want to practice – object to something even if you are comfortable with it. You can just cheerfully say, “I don't want my stomach touched.” And – without being offended, or asking for justification, or being perturbed in any way, I will simply not touch your stomach.

Of course, we will (hopefully) have asked you in the intake interview if there's any areas you want us to avoid, or any place you don't like to be touched. When I'm asking I usually add some examples: “Face? Feet? Abdomen? Glutes?” But you don't always know ahead of time, and before the first massage you don't really have any idea what my touch is going to be like. Even if you like heavy work on your feet, you might hate a light touch there. When you realize that I might actually do light tapotement (drumming) on your belly – I've been known to do it, it's a standard in tui na massage – you might decide in a hurry that it's not the touch you want there. You don't sign away your right to control how you're touched by signing the intake form!

Any time. And sooner rather than later, please. The massage doesn't work if you're not comfortable.

March 21, 2013

Why I Do That Parent Special

Okay, so I'm not a big HuffPo fan in general, but this article by Una LaMarche, How To Be a Perfect Parent in 5 Easy Steps... or Probably Never was so funny and so true. Here's step 5:
5. "If Mama Ain't Happy Ain't Nobody Happy" Sounds Like a Tyler Perry Movie But Is Also Totally True
All of the organic, fair-trade, pasture-raised artisanal Play-Doh and 800-count recycled hemp crib sheets in the world won't matter if you as a parent don't feel at least reasonably happy and cared for. This means taking time -- by force if necessary! -- to eat, sleep, and do things that matter to you, whether that's work or crappy reality TV or a manicure or a spin class. If you find yourself flailing, and contemplating buying Brooke Shields' "Down Came the Rain" for Amazon overnight delivery, as I did, get help. See a therapist, get meds if necessary. Or just schedule a night out with friends when you can bitch about your problems and get tipsy and feel like a free person again. Whatever gets you to a better place. Your happiness matters. It matters just as much as your child's happiness, because your child's happiness depends on you. Everything depends on you. NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING, JESUS.

Which is why I do that massage for parents of kids under Four special. Those first few years are hell on wheels.

March 2, 2013

How my Mother Saved my Life

Last year I was riding my bike up a narrow street, with cars parked on either hand. Suddenly a car door popped open, right in my path. Too late to swerve. I clenched the brakes, hit the door, and flew off the bike.

A moment later I was on my feet, fifteen yards down the road, jolted but perfectly fine. According to bystanders, I had flown over the door, gone headfirst toward the pavement, done an elegant shoulder-roll, and come up on my feet, and trotted to a stop. “That was pretty impressive,” said one of them. The onlookers seemed more shaken than I was.

A nice bruise developed on my hip: I think I slammed it against one of my handle-bars on my way off the bike. But no other injuries: not a scratch, not a scrape.

I was absurdly fortunate. People get killed that way. All I remember of my flight is seeing the pavement coming and ducking my head. A “tick” as my helmet tapped the ground, and then being on my feet. But it was familiar. I'd done it before, somewhere, sometime... when?

It was months later that it suddenly came to me: gymnastics. Grade school. I was always terrible at sports, in grade school, with the single odd exception of gymnastics, which I had some talent for. My mother had even taken me to extra gymnastics lessons, somewhere: I had a single vivid memory of mastering forward flips off a springboard, in a place that is otherwise unfamiliar to me: floor mats, sweat, sour dust, the leather handle of the horse, chalk on the uneven bars. Forty some years ago, I had learned what to do when hurtling headfirst at the ground. Duck your head, give way with the foremost shoulder, and let the roll happen. If you're still moving too fast when you come out, let another roll happen.

What strikes me now is that my body remembered what I had learned forty years before, called it up in a flash, and used it, while my conscious mind had so thoroughly lost the memory that it took months to find it again.

Thanks, Mom. I doubt I was properly grateful at the time!

I think there's two obvious lessons here: one is, see to it that your kids do some gymnastics, formally or informally; and the other is, what your body learns in scary circumstances, it doesn't soon forget.