Massage Therapy Canada

Features Practice Technique
An Issue of Ethics: Spring 2007

A Part Of Each Other
We are each of us a part of each other.
We are connected by invisible.
But very real and inextricable ties.
We feel this bond in a physical body.
With a face, a smile and a voice we call by a name.

September 23, 2009  By Cidalia Paiva

A Part Of Each Other
We are each of us a part of each other.
We are connected by invisible.
But very real and inextricable ties.
We feel this bond in a physical body.
With a face, a smile and a voice we call by a name.

We are related never simply by blood.
Marriage, coincidence or circumstance. We are bonded by love.

By our acceptance of each other’s burdens.
And our reverence for our common vulnerability.
In our compassion for each other.
We affirm our dignity and our humanity.

When one life is broken or lost
We hurt and ache for our missing part
We are all human
None of us can go all the way alone
We need each other


The practice of massage therapy is first and foremost a relational experience. From the inception of the therapeutic relationship, client and therapist enter into and begin a professional journey of connection that is not only the vehicle or medium of the healing experience but often a pivotal part of the healing experience itself.

For us as social beings, being in a relationship is as natural and normal as eating and breathing.

As noted native Indian painter Roy Henry Vickers once wrote: “When an act of love occurs, healing is accomplished.” When any two people come together in respect, trust and caring (especially in a therapeutic relationship) healing invariably occurs.

Medical or Health Care Ethics will tell us what ethical principles and values must guide our lives. We know that as health care professionals we must not harm our clients and furthermore that we must prevent harm from occurring to them if we can.

We also know that we have positive duties to actually help or benefit our clients and to not simply refrain from harming them.

But these principles and values speak to the question “what” must I do in order to live my commitment to my clients, not to the question” how” should I live these commitments.

The answer to the question “how” lies in the heart of ethical practice relationship. Why? Because human beings are relational by nature. As philosopher John McMurray writes: “It is an illusion that we are individuals, isolated individuals; we are made of the same stuff. We were social when we were born. If only we could see for ourselves that we are bits of everybody it would be easier.”

We are born in relationship, we live in relationship, we thrive in relationship and we heal in relationship. In fact, many of us who chose a career in a health care field did so consciously and unconsciously; perhaps in search of relationship, recognizing at a deep intuitive level the innate healing power and wisdom of relationship for our clients and our selves.

Now the question remains: “What does relational ethics require of us?” In other words, how do we as therapists need to be in relationship with our clients in order to live our principles and values?


Respect is our pivotal building block, the foundation of all relationship. To make genuine connections with our clients or in fact anyone in our lives we need to meet them in respect. We need to treat all people as human beings worthy and deserving of our esteem and regard because they are persons with intrinsic value by virtue of their humanity.

Concretely, what does this really mean? What does respect look like in practice? One of the ways that we show our clients that we respect them is by treating them respectfully and fairly despite our differences. It is certainly easy and perhaps even enjoyable and rewarding to treat those clients we share much in common with, respectfully and fairly.  However, it may be quite challenging to treat those clients who are very different from us and who we may share very little in common with, especially if our value systems diverge and even conflict, with the same respect and fairness.

Moreover, if these people present further challenges to us in terms of personality structure it may become increasingly difficult to treat them with the same respect and fairness we may so generously and effortlessly provide to those who are more like us, whom we may share much in common with and whose
personality structures are appealing to us.

As researchers in massage therapy, another way we can demonstrate respect for our clients when we utilize them as research subjects or participants is by ensuring that the process of free and informed consent is indeed a process. We can do this best by recognizing that free and informed consent is just not
about getting permission to get on with our research but a very real and important ongoing dialogue between two people in a therapeutic relationship who respect each other.

The client may enter the therapeutic relationship with us with faith and hope but he or she will only remain in this relationship with us if indeed faith and hope also become trust. How do we create trust in the therapeutic relationship?  By showing our clients that we can and will respect their vulnerability and serve their best interests faithfully with commitment and consistency. They need to know and feel that they can trust us and count on us. We show them that we are trustworthy every time we set appropriate boundaries and honor these boundaries. We build trust with them every time we bring our full and abiding presence to the therapeutic relationship and focus our caring intent on their healing and well-being.

Theologian John Powell once wrote: “People don’t care what you know; (I think we can extrapolate here to how skilled you are as a therapist,) until they know how much you care.” Our clients want to know and feel that we care about them. We show them that we care about them when we are fully present with and for them, when our intent is focused on their healing, their well-being and their best interests. They also know that we care when we listen with empathy and when we choose to care for them with acts of kindness and compassion. Moreover, they know that we care for them when we treat them as whole indivisible people; physical, mental, psychological and spiritual beings in relationship and in community with each other.

Relational Ethics as the “how” to live our professional commitment to our clients is not simply an experience; it is a way of life founded in the recognition that all human beings and all human relating is connected. It is premised on the belief that the whole of us is healthier, and better in relationship because in our deepest being that is who we are and who we choose to stay true to with respect, trust and caring.


cidalia paiva, PHD

Relational Ethics Quiz
• Do I treat my clients with respect, including and especially those who are different     from me and whose value systems may diverge and even conflict with my own?
• Do I bring my full and abiding presence to the therapeutic relationship?
• Do I focus my intent on facilitating the healing and well-being of my clients?
• Do I set appropriate boundaries and behave professionally with my clients?
• Do I honor client privacy and confidentiality?
• Do I listen to my clients with empathy?
• Do I practice acts of kindness and compassion when the opportunity presents itself? 
• Do I treat the therapeutic relationship as a relational experience?

Print this page


Stories continue below