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Grace’s Story

Note to reader: This is a true account of an experience submitted by a client. The names of the people involved in this account have been changed.

September 9, 2009  By Massage Therapy Magazine

Note to reader: This is a true account of an experience submitted by a client. The names of the people involved in this account have been changed.

I stood in shock as I looked in the mirror at the bruises that covered my sides, underarms, chest and shoulder. “What had happened? Why had this happened? How could I have let someone do this? Was it my fault?” These were the questions that echoed in my mind as I thought about the painful deep tissue massage I had earlier that day.

I had been battling chronic back pain and muscle spasms for over six months. A minor car accident from years earlier had begun to show signs of damage. The X-rays revealed bone degeneration in my neck, T5 and L2 & L3 regions and my hip was slightly rotated.

In the spring I discovered the wonders of deep tissue massage after a colleague recommended it. Not only did my back pain subside but the added benefit of meditation proved to create a wonderful balance in my life. A bi-monthly massage was not just a luxury anymore, it had become a necessity.


Conrad, my regular RMT, thought a chiropractor might provide further relief. So, I began having regular adjustments in hopes of halting the degeneration and ultimately rectifying the situation. Several visits weekly to my chiropractor, Dr. Smith, along with several monthly visits to Conrad became part of my life. In the course of a few months I was enjoying a near pain-free existence.

In the early fall, Conrad announced that he was moving. He had been such a positive force of change that it would be hard to imagine finding a new RMT.

Focusing on continuing my progress, I wasted no time looking for a new massage therapist. Dr. Smith had several RMTs on staff and he recommended Brian.

The first session with Brian was vastly different from my experience with Conrad. However, I was open to seeing the results of the treatment. The session was fine but did not deliver the same peaceful meditative experience that I was used to. 

I decided to book a second session with Brian to see if he might be a good fit as my regular RMT. After all, it made sense to go to see someone in the same clinic as my chiropractor.

During the second massage, Brain began with little warm-up. Almost immediately he began to work on my side. His fingers dug deep into my side rib area as I struggled not to scream. I let Brian know that the pressure was too much. He said he knew it hurt and asked me to breathe through it. The pain was numbing. Brian moved to my other side and continued in a similar manner. As he worked up under my armpit, I found myself clenching my fists. “Surely this couldn’t be right?” The tears filled my eyes as I tried to pull away from the pressure. I kept my head down convincing myself that this was part of what needed to be done … after all, Brian was a licensed professional … he must know what he is doing?

Still lying on my front I felt him move his fingers around my collar bone. Grabbing, digging, penetrating, so deep that it took my breath away. But Brian didn’t back off when I squirmed. I bit my lip and prayed for it to be over soon. When he asked me to turn over I wiped away the tears. I wanted to get up and leave but I was too scared to ask him to stop. When the session ended I quickly dressed, cancelled my adjustment with Dr. Smith, and left the clinic in a panic.

Within a few hours the welts and bruising began to surface. I counted at least 12 bruises. The bruises stretched across six ribs each at least four inches in length. High up under each arm there were several round welts the size of ‘toonies.’ My collar bone had similar size bruising in various areas above and below the bone. I knew I would need to keep my shirt buttoned up high.

I hid the pain from my husband that night, but knew I would need to tell him. Would he blame me for what happened? Why hadn’t I had the courage to tell Brian to stop?”

By the next day, I was stiff and sore. I couldn’t bear to look in the mirror. Each time my clothing touched the sores it was a constant reminder of the violation. My husband’s reaction was expected. He was angry and struggled, trying to make sense of what had happened. The next day he took pictures of my sides, underarms, shoulder and chest.

Unsure about the extent of my injuries and unable to bring myself to talk to Brian, I called my regular therapist in desperation. Conrad was quick to point out that there can occasionally be tenderness or slight bruising after deep tissue massage – but this sounded extensive. He offered tips on how to treat the bruising and re-assured me that this was not my fault.

Conrad also suggested that I speak to the therapist so that he was aware of the outcome of his actions.

I couldn’t bare the thought of speaking to Brian, but Conrad was right. I needed to let him know what had happened. Over the phone I described the bruising to Brian. He didn’t seem surprised. During the brief conversation there was no apology, no remorse no consoling. Brain simply offered suggestions to reduce the bruising. Why hadn’t he asked to see the bruising or apologize? I thought to myself. The conversation left me feeling angry and confused.

The situation was further complicated the next day as my back spasms returned. I ended up having to visit Dr. Smith four times over the next 72 hours to calm the muscles. Up until then everything had been progressing so nicely with my treatment.

The doctor wondered what I could possibly have done but I was scared to tell him what had happened. 

The visits to the clinic were an anguishing reminder of what had happened in the room down the hall. The thought of running into Brian was horrifying. However, I needed to continue my treatments with Dr. Smith, especially now at a time when I was experiencing a setback.

After the back spasms settled I was scheduled for one of my last sessions with Conrad before he moved. Why was I feeling so anxious? I trusted Conrad. The memory of Brian was so fresh in my mind that I found myself shaking as I settled onto the table.

Conrad was unprepared for what he was about to see. He knew from my description on the phone, a number of days earlier, that there was bruising. So he expected some discolouration. But when he moved the draping back, he was shocked at the size and placement of the bruising. He knew a massage should not be so deep as to cause such visible tissue damage.

Conrad thought about my sessions with him over that past few months and recalled he regularly used deep pressure without ever causing me pain or bruising. At that point he concluded the other RMT must have used extensive pressure. Conrad thought the bruising displayed something out of the ordinary.

The massage with Conrad was difficult. I made small talk to block out the haunting thoughts of my previous session with Brian. Even though I knew I could trust Conrad, I trembled beneath his hands. I didn’t know if I could ever bring myself to have another massage.

After the session, Conrad spent time listening and discussing the situation with me. He made sure that I understood it was not my fault and advised me to talk to Dr. Smith.

He convinced me that I needed to let him know what had happened and encouraged me to show him the photos. He also suggested that I contact the CMTO for their support.

I confided in Dr. Smith during my next adjustment and, reluctantly, I showed him one of the photos while I explained what had happened.

Dr. Smith reassured me that this would not be taken lightly and he promised to meet with Brian. He was concerned with what had happened during the session as well as the lack of follow-up.

Dr. Smith sensed the trauma that I was feeling as I shared what had happened in the days following the bruising. The impact reached beyond just me, it also affected my family. One particularly sensitive situation I shared with Dr. Smith described the impact this had on my family. I explained to him how my daughter will often crawl into bed with me in the morning to cuddle. Part of our morning ritual is to draw pretend pictures on each other’s back.

In the days following the event, I couldn’t let her see the bruising, so I was forced to make excuses.

I couldn’t possibly explain it to someone her age. Her reaction was of a child feeling rejected. It broke my heart. This went on for weeks until the bruising went away.

Over the next few weeks, Dr. Smith kept in contact with me, updating me on his conversations with Brian. The feedback I received from Dr. Smith’s first meeting was that Brian felt that I hadn’t done a good job communicating my level of discomfort. This upset me further. 

If telling him that it hurt wasn’t enough, surely the clenched fists, squirming and tears should have been a sign to back off. And, why hadn’t Brian checked in with me during the session to see if the pressure was still too much after I had spoken up?

Not satisfied with Brian’s reaction to the situation, Dr. Smith discussed the effects and possible consequences. I declined a meeting with Brian and later received a letter from him. In the letter Brian wrote his apologies and stated … The bruising that occurred during (my) treatment was excessive and could have been prevented with more awareness on my part. I would also like to apologize for my lack of compassion and understanding during our follow-up conversation.

These words seemed too little, too late. I contacted the CMTO in an attempt to figure out what I should do. They were extremely informative and provided several courses of action – all of which I struggled with. It was not my intention to cause Brian grief. I just wanted to make sure that this would never happen to anyone else. I realized that it was time to face Brian. I needed to explain the power that a client gives to a therapist.

Clients blindly turn over their mind, body and soul searching for healing and entrust their well-being to the hands of their healer. This was something no health care professional should lose sight of.

With the support of Dr. Smith, I was able to meet with Brian. I tried to explain the pain and fear that I had been dealing with. I questioned why communication failed. Dr. Smith even shared the story of my daughter with Brian as insight into my personal pain. But it was when Dr. Smith came straight out and explained that I had been violated that Brian began to see the trauma I was undergoing.

I didn’t want to leave the discussion without agreeing to some proactive next steps. As a professor, it occurred to me that Brian might benefit from some remedial course work. Dr. Smith suggested that Brian contact the CMTO regarding some client care courses. Lastly, I asked Brian if he would be willing to
co-author a paper that would include both sides of the situation. The article would showcase the delicate nature of the client-therapist relationship, highlighting the need for therapists to understand and respect the trust that a client gives them.

At the end of the meeting, Brian agreed to contact the CMTO to take a course and to co-author an article.

During the weeks that followed, I was in contact with the editor of Massage Therapy Canada magazine. The publisher of the magazine, in conjunction with the CMTO, agreed that the article would be of interest to their readers and associate members. Deadlines were discussed and I began writing my side of the story. Brian was notified of the deadline and I was pleased that there would be a positive outcome to this horrible situation.

The deadline for the first draft came and went without seeing anything from Brian. Finally a week later, I received an e-mail from Brian … “My apologies for not having sent out a draft to you as of yet. My life is extremely hectic at the moment, and I have yet to finalize a draft that I am happy with.”
The e-mail from Brian appeared to be further evidence that he did not understand the significance of the situation. I had made a commitment to finish the draft of my article at a time when my life was also very busy, not to mention complicated by the emotional ramifications of the situation. I knew it was time to make some challenging decisions.

After careful consideration, and an eye-opening discussion with Conrad, I realized that I needed to focus on my original goal. Conrad reminded me of the need to ensure that this wouldn’t happen to anyone else. I was now convinced more than ever that the only way to make sure of this was to inform the CMTO.

I knew that filing a complaint would be a difficult step. However, the alternative was no longer an option. I gathered the photos, my pride and strength and submitted a formal complaint to the CMTO.

Although the complaints process has been emotional at times, it has been an integral step towards finding closure. I would like to express how truly grateful I am to Conrad and the CMTO for their ongoing wisdom and support.

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