Thursday, June 28, 2007


I had a Bad Client Experience recently, which nevertheless led to some new insight.

It must be said that most of my clients adore me. They adore me so consistently that I don't realize how used to it I have become, and how integral a part of my working life it is. I work really hard, physically hard, and barely get by financially, but that relieved, grateful 'Thank you' that nearly every client breathes at the end of a session keeps me going. (Tips are even better.)

So when one client fidgeted during her session, particularly during the energy work, refused to look me in the eye, did not say thank you, bolted without paying, then emailed to say she was 'creeped out,' it was quite a shock. As I told her in my reply, some people just don't resonate. But it was a good thing for my self-confidence that the next six clients were adorers, old and new.

As I also said in my reply, I try to be respectful of people's boundaries, first and foremost. Over many years it has become clear to me that trying to 'fix' someone is not a healing activity. Mostly what I'm doing is simply being present, sensing currents, and allowing them to balance by themselves, if they so choose. I often worry that when it comes to 'energy work,' I'm completely deluded, and that nothing is actually happening--except for the consistent feedback I get from clients that a whole lot IS happening, and 95% of the time it seems to be for the good. And on the rare occasions that people fidget and completely reject it, I am never clear whether they're frustrated that I'm doing nothing, or that they're feeling something major which freaks them out.

But more and more I am convinced that it is the latter, and that it's not my fault. Because I've had my share of bad bodywork, and most bad bodywork won't kill you. It is usually safe to give your practitioner the benefit of the doubt through at least one session; not all healing procedures are comfortable at the time, and you need to be open to the process in order to derive any benefit from it. I've had my sciatic nerve stripped nearly raw, borne the brunt of projecting, incompetent neurotics, and suffered a lot of substandard rubdowns. But every time I've gotten at least minor relief, learned a thing or two (if only what techniques NEVER to use on a client), and occasionally experienced a wholly unanticipated miracle.

What I realized, after working on some regular and adoring clients, is that the healing process is a completely collaborative one between client and practitioner. For a client to get anything out of a session, they have to allow it. The longer I've been working with someone, the more they get out of a session, because they trust me; one long-term client mentioned that she now feels herself relax as soon as she gets to the top of my stairwell. It's like Pavlovian conditioning.

Thus I am fairly convinced that the bolter was not 'creeped out' because of bad bodywork, for the simple reason that she did not experience the bodywork. She blocked it. Which was certainly her prerogative, although it strikes me as rather foolish to book a session with someone who clearly advertises 'energy healing' and then get upset when you feel energy starting to move. I suspect that, despite the fact that she was a bodyworker herself, she'd never experienced anything similar, didn't trust it, and leaped to the conclusion that I was trying to impose some occult agenda on her.

This theory was borne out in her reply: "What a good nice response. Not what I'd expected."

I've worked on a number of people who blocked the work, both complete strangers and people I knew extremely well. What they all seem to have in common is a need for control at all costs, whether this control is of the direct or indirect variety. Much as they might pay lip service to the idea of 'love and trust and brotherhood,' fundamentally these people are unable to trust anything, whether it be a person, a situation, or God. They literally only feel safe when they're suffering.

This is one of the reasons I've decided never to give a bodywork session as a gift again. Having to make an appointment and pay for a session weeds out a lot of the resisters, because when you're paying for something, you're conscious of making an investment, and thus open to receiving a return on it. It also cuts down on the number of instances where people might suspect that I'm trying to 'get' something from them by 'fixing' them. Because when I look back, I see that a disproportionate number of sessions which went awry were of the 'gift or barter' variety. So not any more. I'll continue to offer gift certificates, because when someone else buys a friend a massage they don't want, the friend usually just doesn't show up. And I'm fine with that, so long as I've been paid. :-)

Before I embarked on actually learning to practice a healing therapy, I read oodles of books which said, in various ways, 'healing begins in the mind.' Now that I've been practicing for years, I understand firsthand how completely true this is. It is axiomatic that I can never 'heal' anyone. I can only assist them in healing themselves, if they so choose.

Also, healing is not always physical. I know many people who are mentally, emotionally and spiritually thriving, whose bodies should have died about ten times over from their various ailments. I also know people who are as physically strong as oxen, whose souls look like shriveled-up snakeskins. There is no judgment incurred when someone does everything they can, and still their body doesn't get better.

Finally, it should be noted that one does not heal oneself by willing it to happen. This misconception is the source of a lot of snappishness on the part of sick people who bark, in response to all well-meaning comments, 'I CAN'T JUST GET BETTER, YOU KNOW.' Of course they can't; that's not the point. You start to heal yourself by allowing the possibility of healing to dawn on you.

This can only occur when one respects oneself enough to 1) listen to the messages from their body without judging; 2) set appropriate boundaries and hold them; and 3) then, and only then, learn to trust that there is a larger force which promotes healing, whether you call this force God, or love, or medicine, or massage therapy. If your core belief is that the universe is a hostile entity which is out to crush you, your body sooner or later responds accordingly.


abstractjenn said...

This is a very interesting post. I get a fair amount of bodywork done due to some neck and shoulder issues and after reading this sat back and thought about my experiences. The thing I realized is that the experiences that I would label "bad" are usually because I didn't communicate something to the person who was working on me. I either didn't say "ouch! too deep!" Or "Ok I can barely feel that". As I've gotten older I realized that I'm paying for this and I can be certain that the person that I am paying not only wants to do a good job but wants me to have a good experience. So now I speak up. Oops gotta go, I have a massage appointment at noon.

Chris Rywalt said...

The universe isn't a hostile entity out to crush me? Because it sure seems like that.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the difference between "willing it to happen" and "letting the possibility of healing dawn on you".

Both approaches blame the sick person for their sickness. The second is slightly more subtle, that's all.

I'd rather have someone tell me to my face that they can't be bothered to feel compassion for my illness. That wouldn't faze me, as I don't thrive on sympathy; but I really hate the hypocrisy of those who take pains to portray themselves as sensitive, compassionate healers and then turn around and blame sickness on the sufferers.

There's a lot of this kind of thing among the New Agers, unfortunately. One reason why I'm rather leery of them.

prettylady said...

Anon, you misunderstand entirely.

As I have expressed, in countless ways and places (which I would not, of course, expect you to be familiar with) I have no use for the concept of 'blame' AT ALL. EVER. Blame is useless. Let us entirely dismiss the concept of blame.

This, in itself, may be seen as a radical concept, because in refusing to blame oneself for a perceived problem, one is also forced to quit blaming others. But it is, ultimately, in my opinion, necessary for the healing process. 'Healing,' in my view, is 'to make whole.' That is, there is no blamer, no blamee, and no guilt to be apportioned.

Which is all by the way.

I take specific issue with the implications of your statement, 'those who take pains to portray themselves as sensitive and compassionate healers.' The self-portrayal of the 'healer' is wholly irrelevant. A responsible healer understands that is is NOT ABOUT 'ME' AT ALL. Who gives a rat's ass whether I am 'sensitive and compassionate'? The only thing that matters is whether what I have to offer is helpful to you or not. You, as the person requesting help, are the one responsible for determining that.

Indeed, it all comes down to responsibility. You are not at fault in any way; you are, however, by default, the one who must respond to being sick. You choose how you respond.

Down to your original comment; there is an enormous difference between willing something to happen and allowing something to happen. The first is an action of the individual, separate ego, at war with the entire universe. The second is a letting-go in perfect trust and harmony with the universe. If this sounds flaky and New Agey, it is still the clearest way I can state it.

You cannot, of course, 'let go in perfect trust and harmony' if you have not first established clear boundaries and decided who is and is not safe to trust, which, as I have stated, is your responsibility. I merely offer my opinions and observations; you are quite free to reject them.

To recap: Boundaries first. Responsibilities second. Trust third. That is what has worked for me.