Ethical Dilemmas: Negotiating Conflict

Ethical dilemmas are often at the center of most conflicts that arise between massage therapists and their clients, and often represent some of the most challenging aspects of clinical care.

Learning how to both recognize—and properly handle—ethical dilemmas early in your massage therapy career will be beneficial to both you and your clients.

1. Know Your Ethics

Ethics can be tricky and very seldom boil down to simply "doing the right thing" or "treating others the way you would like to be treated." Personal values and beliefs, acknowledged and unacknowledged power differential , charged emotions—all can combine to making ethical dilemmas challenging to untangle.

Remember, no matter how misguidedly or inappropriately a client behaves, however, massage therapists are always responsible for what occurs in the treatment room, so be clear about your professional role and boundaries with every client and, if an ethical issue arises, reestablish these roles and boundaries quickly. Doing so will prevent clients from making assumptions about what behavior is acceptable.

2. How Conflict Happens

Conflict arises when two people disagree over how to get their needs met, and can include a whole host of issues—both large and small—that can make figuring out the cause of hurt feelings and frustration difficult. Most situations, however, fall under one of the following categories:

  • Thoughtlessness
  • Expectations or assumption of special status
  • Challenges to professional role and personal beliefs
  • Boundary issues that compromise integrity
  • Manipulation, abuse and predatory behavior

Always remember tht ethical dilemmas and conflict erode trust, for both the massag therapist and the client, and  all real treatment stops until the problem is resolved.

3. Resolving Conflict

Being ojective, observing client behaviors dispassionately and admitting honestly how your own behavior may contribute to a conflict, are key factors in being able to resolve any issues that arise.

You must be able to differentiate between personal and professional beliefs, and clearly explain how the client's behavior must change. Regardless of how a client behaves, the answer always lies in choosing the professional role over personal impulses. Developing a strong, internalized code of ethics will help you maintain a clear sense of purpose, professional role and internal sense of power, not matter what the circumstance.

Read the full story in the Fall 2015 issue of Massage Therapy Journal.

"AMTA is very supportive. I definitely am glad I chose to be an AMTA member."

Bailey L., AMTA member since 2016