“Keep your relationships with your clients clean and simple!” we are told. With good reason: it can ruin the therapy, be bad for business and compromise the therapist. Does this apply in London to massage therapy as much as talking therapies though?

My clients may see me as their friendly masseur, but expect me to behave wisely, and always with my attention on their issues when we meet. Time spent together out of session is an opportunity for all sorts of mistakes and broken confidences! But should I act like talking therapists and avoid even a cup of tea with my clients?

I think back on 2 different times I relaxed my rules, and socialised with clients.

A few weeks ago, I went to a client’s birthday party in a London bar. I was welcomed, and enjoyed fun conversation with clients and their friends in camaraderie and goodwill. I am confident that these relationships are not harmful. My clients may choose in future not to use my therapy, but the goodwill will persist. I don’t think there is a risk of confidences broken or unrealistic expectations created.

How unlike a previous experience!

Some years ago I treated a client at his house. During the session he sounded off on a political issue, letting off steam, which I accept is a kind of release and I made no comment. Later he invited me for supper with his partner and a mutual friend. He did not pay me immediately, but started cooking, and then launched into a forthright attack on my professionalism for not agreeing with him when he sounded off.  I kept to the position that my role as a therapist is to enable release, not to agree or disagree with the client. He said as a therapist I should support his political views when a client and spend the next 2 hours berating me for not doing so. I had walked into a trap, and although he breached codes of hospitality, it would be wrong for me to challenge him too abruptly or to ask for payment and leave early.

At that time I considered him a valued client – he used me regularly, and said he found my treatments helpful. Now I would protect my peace of mind and would have left early, and said I did not feel safe in that environment. I have not heard from the client since, so I lost the business anyhow.

So even for the massage therapist that keeps their behaviour impeccable, socialising with clients can be fraught with dangers to business, relationships and well-being.

But therapists cannot live in a vacuum, and need social contact. It is unwise, however, to rely on clients for social nourishment. One day I may never hear from them again and it is probably not a rejection of me personally, but they may have found a therapist that supports their needs better, or even they moved away and didn’t think to tell me!

So if you invite me to the pub, please don’t think my caution is personal, and don’t think I am leaving early just to avoid paying for my round!