The Rigged Game

practitioner parables

By Robert Chute

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, May/June 2008.

I once welcomed a new client to my office who was an aspiring therapist. She began the intake interview ranting about how three male massage therapists had failed her; I happen to be male, so I was on notice. Her male therapists had been abysmal, she said. This is minute one of our therapeutic relationship, and I was in the uncomfortable position of trying to treat her and redeem my entire gender.

She ticked off those other fellows’ failings. One was too light, one was too deep, and the third took “way too long,” she said. And now there was me, all teed up to be the next male therapist who had failed her. It was a while before I figured out the first therapist had probably been afraid to touch her Imperious Self. The second was trying not to make the mistake of the first, and the third was trying to satisfy her demands for the perfect massage.

After taking her health history, I suggested I try craniosacral therapy for her physical complaints. No, she wanted Swedish massage only. Silly me. Sure, she was prickly, but I’d won over cynics before. She would be Goldilocks, finally finding the therapist who was just right, the Inimitable Magical Me.

Despite the blinking yellow caution light in my head, I gave her the best massage session I knew how to give. Good surprise! She left my clinic raving how great it felt. Bad surprise! That was just a stay of execution.

A couple days later I came to the (slow) realization I had been set up for failure. Funny how these things are always so clear in retrospect. She called to complain that she’d been gassy the day after her session. It was all my fault, never mind what she had eaten. She was willing to give me another “chance” to impress her, but, counter to my recommendation, I couldn’t change the modality.

Now that caution light was accompanied by loud alarm bells. “Get out while you still can! Hull breach imminent!” I ignored the alarms and gave it another try. Of course, she did proclaim my failure, and I should have seen it coming.

One definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. By that definition she dragged me to Crazy Town. When I last saw her, she dismissed me, and I was incredibly relieved to step back aboard the reality train. Sure, it’s unlikely she’d ever be happy—being unhappy made her happy. I suspect she has a list of failures for every profession she encounters. The fact that she wanted to be a therapist might have played into the debacle, too.

I don’t have warm feelings for her, but I also blame myself. I didn’t have the good sense to say that maybe massage, or at least massage from me, wasn’t necessarily what she needed at that moment since her body-mind was so reactive. Armed with a crystal ball I would have referred her out after the first couple minutes of that ugly, tension-filled intake interview. I would have referred her to a female colleague, since that was where her comfort zone was. I didn’t have a crystal ball, so I got a lesson instead, and I hope I learned it well enough so I won’t have to learn it again.

When you do figure out the deck is rigged and you still sit down to play poker, you’re a fool who deserves the lesson you get.