Massage therapy in reel and real life
The portrayal of massage therapists in Hollywood has often been a thorn in the industry’s side. Stereotypes and misconceptions abound. An online search for “movies about massage therapy” pulls up all sorts of fantasy and porn that continue to taint our reputation. Memorable, loveable (but not exactly accurate) characters, who double as masseuses on TV (like Phoebe from Friends) easily become synonymous with the profession as a whole.
Sometimes, Hollywood gets it right. Although we are infrequently portrayed in dramatic roles, we’ve had some intense debuts. Check out this list and garner a few CEUs by hosting a screening with colleagues. Start your own niche massage movie club and host at your home, clinic or local library.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ portrayal of a “masseuse” in Enough Said, proved that serious research had been conducted by the writer. From oversharing clients, bad breath exhales, on-the-table marriage proposals and internal debates about client confidentiality – it hit home. Just as lovelorn Dreyfus begins to fall for James Gandolfini, her newest client, Catherine Keener, inconveniently happens to be Gandolfini’s ex-wife. For anyone who works as a massage therapist in a small town, client crossovers either in the waiting room or within client loads (i.e. ex-wives) are an unavoidable situation.
In Touchy Feely, Rosemarie Dewitt’s role as a massage therapist who becomes averse to touching skin is a startling career changer. She suddenly can’t connect with her partner through touch without being repulsed, jeopardizing both her relationship and job in one frightening spiral. Reiki healer Alison Janney becomes a sounding board and saviour, illuminating the importance of healing ourselves before others.
David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars features a creepy John Cusack as Julianne Moore’s massage therapist. Their intersected lives go beyond the petrissage in the twisted plot of an aging actor (Moore) desperate for recognition and continued fame. Her needy relationship with Cusack demonstrates how clients sometimes rely on their therapists as an emotional outlet more than the physical outcome.
At First Sight introduced audiences to a blind massage therapist (Val Kilmer) and invisible client/therapist boundaries. Mira Sorvino plays a wound-up New Yorker who is instantly seduced by Kilmer’s confident hands and independence. She pushes him toward a procedure that could restore his sense of sight with unexpected consequences.
Tui Na (Blind Massage) is based on the book by Bi Feiyu (Massage, available on Amazon) about Wang Daifu, an agitated blind practitioner of Tuina in Shenzhen, China. Daifu loses his life savings on the stock market and is forced to return to his provincial hometown. Career frustration, his brother’s gambling troubles, a demanding fiancé and colourful co-workers take drama to the next level.
Set in Toronto, The Five Senses revolves around touch, taste, hearing, smell and vision, “and the impact that each has on a group of individuals searching for an intimate human connection.” Touch is represented by Gabrielle Rose, a grieving massage therapist who is reminded of her deceased husband with every client that she touches. The technical importance of touch and emotional resonance are powerful forces in this film.
In The Client List (inspired by a true story), Jennifer Love Hewitt is desperate for money when faced with the foreclosure proceedings of her family home in Texas. Though she is trained in shiatsu and deep tissue massage, the money that offering “a little more” pays becomes too attractive, until the doting mom is charged with prostitution.
Red carpet treatment
On the flipside, what if you’re the massage therapist to the stars? What if the A-listers come to you? Depending on where you are employed, hotels where celebrities are regular guests may ask you to sign a confidentiality agreement and social media policy.
Julie Simcox, spa director at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa in Blair, Ontario mindfully suggested this: “I think for celebrities we have to be mindful of what name they book in with us under, as it could be a pseudonym and we have to go by that name.”
It’s about respect for their experience and satisfying the same need that brings each client to a spa: anonymity; sanctuary.
Regardless of where you work, there’s an obligation to protect the confidential information of clients. Social media policies like those at Langdon Hall remind employees that they “are prohibited from referencing guests by name or divulging details, both explicit and implied, of their stay.” The restrictions are serious and disclosing contact information, address, occupation and business have consequences for not only employment, but professional misconduct within the College as well.
Though it may be tempting to brag about who you treated in casual conversation, or, “accidentally” on Instagram, just remember, “The College of Massage Therapists of Ontario is committed to protecting the privacy and confidentiality of information it receives or creates in the course of fulfilling its regulatory functions.”
The College fulfils this commitment to privacy and confidentiality by complying with its statutory obligations under the Regulated Health Professions Act and the Personal Health Information Protection Act and by voluntarily adopting the practices set out in its Privacy Code.
Whether you use social media platforms on an official or unofficial basis, be certain your posts are constructive and responsible.
Even if you haven’t signed a social media policy, be mindful of sharing information that could be detrimental to the company you work for, even after termination of your employment. If you rub authority the wrong way, you might just find yourself with time on your hands – instead of massage oil.
Jules torti, RMT, has been in practice since 1999 and a freelance writer since age six. In between massage engagements, she travels to Africa to be with chimpanzees and writes about her zany travels for Matador Network.
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