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An issue of ethics: Summer 2006

If, in fact, we could say that massage therapy as a profession possesses a core value that might begin to define and distinguish our commitment to our patients and clients, I believe many of us might describe “caring” as that value.


October 1, 2009
By Cidalia Paiva

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If, in fact, we could say that massage therapy as a profession possesses a core value that might begin to define and distinguish our commitment to our patients and clients, I believe many of us might describe “caring” as that value. 

The word ‘caring’ and the verb ‘to care’ are all too frequently used as generic catch-alls by advertisers. For example, Goodyear claims to care for our tires, Pampers for our babies’ bottoms and State Farm for our families. I think many of us suspect that we have lost the meaning of this word and its vital concept and, in turn, its formative role as a raison d’etre for what we do; a continued source of motivation and inspiration for us every day, placing our hearts in our hands and practicing massage therapy with integrity in touch. 

The word ‘caring’ and the verb ‘to care’ quite literally mean to be concerned about others, so that when we say we care about someone we are, in effect, saying that we are investing in their well-being. When we describe someone as caring we mean to say that that person has performed some act that demonstrates to us that he or she is indeed concerned and invested in the well-being of this other person.

We might describe as ‘caring’ certain behaviors or gestures; your son’s teacher re-assuring him after school when you are late to pick him up (that you are coming and that he/she will be with him until you arrive); your neighbor picking up your morning paper along with his/hers and leaving it at your doorstep (saving you a trip to the ground floor of the condo building where you both live) or even a stranger watching you move a heavy piece of furniture who intervenes and offers to assist you. 

In the context of being a health care professional, ‘caring’ requires that we be concerned about others in a very specific way. That is, feeling and exhibiting empathy and compassion for the patient or client we care for.

So, in effect, when we treat that lonely old woman who has recently lost her only child and struggles daily with faltering health, we extend ourselves in care because we can empathize emotionally, psychologically and spiritually; imagining ourselves in her shoes; tasting with our minds and hearts her pain and suffering and experience, in that knowing touch, a desire to relieve that suffering because we care.

What all of these behaviors share or have in common is a movement and investment above and beyond our own self-interest, task or role or even what reasonably could be expected of us and extending themselves to another; yet we must distinguish here acts of ‘caring’ from the motive of ‘caring,’ for it is not the fact that we may behave in caring ways, i.e., such as the examples above, because sometimes in fact we can do very caring things for the wrong reasons, i.e., to benefit or prosper, to deceive or even manipulate. More importantly and most importantly, caring acts stem from a caring motive. Here we see ‘caring’ as a motive or ‘tour de force’ as apposed to simply an act.

‘Caring’ in this latter sense, as a moving and inspiring force or purpose is where and how I think it applies to our profession as a foundational value.

Although I certainly have not researched this belief and cannot provide statistical data to verify this claim (and acknowledge that there are exceptions), nevertheless, over more than 22 years in the field of massage therapy as an educator I can earnestly say that the students who choose to enroll in our massage therapy training program are generally and largely caring persons by ‘nature.’

When we inquire of applicants why they wish to enter the profession and what they feel they can contribute to the field, the first and most common response we receive is that the prospective applicant wants to help others.

The vast majority of prospective applicants seeking to enter the field of massage therapy feel a very real and genuine need, not just desire (because it is not just something they want to do, not just what they wish to do) but in fact what they need to do.

For many, if not most, the desire and need to extend themselves toward the other happens almost effortlessly as if it were in fact second nature or indeed as I have described above ‘nature’ and not ‘nurture’; although clearly even nature can be nurtured with self-awareness, knowledge and skills in developing a professional presence that will allow the caring nature to grow.

How does ‘caring’ manifest itself or show up in the therapeutic relationship? As stated above, in the intent to serve the well-being of the patient or client from a place of sincerity and goodwill. What exactly does this mean? That acts of caring are grounded in the intent to help the patient or client expressly for the sole benefit of him or her because we are sincerely invested in them.

We genuinely care and not primarily, at least, for any other motive i.e. making money, promoting our reputations or satisfying our egos.

‘Caring,’ in the above sense, does not mean that we cannot make money, build reputations or receive personal satisfaction or a sense of well-being from benefiting others. Psychologically speaking, and perhaps even financially and socially, ‘caring’ and investing in others can and does offer its rewards.  However, these rewards are not the end but rather the byproducts or ‘icing on the cake’, so to speak.  They are not the reason why we do what we do.

In fact, for many therapists ‘caring’ comes at a cost, sometimes the extra time and effort we don’t have but gratuitously give away to another simply because we believe they need our help and because we care for and about them. Time and time again massage therapists extend themselves beyond their own limits because of this precious value that we live each and every day called ‘caring’.

I am reminded here of a wonderful story shared with me about 18 years ago regarding a massage therapist in Ontario who travelled 20 miles once a week to provide massage therapy to a terminally ill woman in a palliative care facility. In my mind this is a remarkable example of ‘caring,’ not simply for the obvious reasons, i.e., a long drive in northern Ontario, the fact that it was obviously not cost-effective, given the circumstances (as well as the psychological and spiritual demands) but rather in the therapist’s description and analysis of the situation.

She explained to my colleague her own reflections regarding this situation; that she felt privileged to be able to care for her patient and to know that she could make a difference in her life and in her death. For this therapist, ‘caring’ for her patient was not a burden, but an act of love, not a job but a commitment to another human being in recognition of our common vulnerability and not a profession she was required to fulfill. In other words, for her, ‘caring’ was ‘caring’ and why she chose this profession and a life of service to others.

This example may be extraordinary but it is by no means unique. Every day, massage therapists across this country place their hearts in their hands and with knowledge, skill, commitment and perhaps most important of all ‘caring,’  give the gift of healing touch, feeling, believing, knowing that what heals the recipients of touch and the providers of touch is the intent and that the intent for massage therapists is ‘caring,’ the reason we do what we do as massage therapists and as human beings.


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