The Power Differential

When you go to your doctor, dentist, or even your massage therapist, you understand that you don’t know as much as the professionals do about the topic they specialize in. You trust what they tell you without second-guessing them. You may not realize that you have the right to be an active participant in your health care, or that you have the right to ask questions. Some people do not feel comfortable doing so, and others just do not understand that they can. This is called a “power differential.”

A power differential exists in many professional relationships – that of doctor-patient, teacher-student, lawyer-client, etc. It is when one person in a relationship is perceived to be smarter, more informed, and therefore in control. It is easy for the second person to begin to feel like they have no authority, and that their opinion in decision making is not valued or important.



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You should always keep in mind that you are the most important voice in your health care decisions, including when you visit your massage therapist. The therapist should give you the opportunity to explain the reason for your visit, express any reservations or concerns, and participate actively in your care plan.


For example, if you complain of back pain, your massage therapist may tell you that she wishes to begin the massage with work over your back. However, if you find it nice to end the massage with work on your back, you may feel bummed that the therapist is performing the massage “backwards.” Your therapist should make you feel like you can talk to her, and let her know your preferences as far as the choreography of the massage, and she should listen to you.

There are times when it is very important for you to realize that you and your therapist are equals. A lot of people do not realize that they are allowed to speak up if the massage hurts. They feel like the massage therapist knows best and that if the massage is painful, it is supposed to feel that way. The power differential may lead the client to believe that he may not question the massage therapist, and that he must suffer through the pain. This can be dangerous, and even cause injury, so if the massage hurts, or if you are otherwise uncomfortable (too hot or cold, music too loud etc.) feel free to speak up.




Professionals are aware of the power differential, and are trained to make clients feel like equals. Some professionals, however, will try to take advantage of this differential, knowing that the client will likely not second guess inappropriate actions. I have heard stories of previous inappropriate massage experience from new clients. It is heartbreaking to hear how helpless people feel in these situations, and that is why I feel like it is very important to let my clients know that they are allowed to speak up if they feel uncomfortable for any reason. If you do have an inappropriate experience with a massage therapist, or any other professional taking advantage of their perceived power, you should report her.

I have said this before, but it never stops being important: massage therapists are not psychics. We do not know your preferences unless you tell us. If you are uncomfortable, you should speak up. The more times you visit your massage therapist, the more familiar she will get with your body and your preferences.

If your massage therapist doesn’t make you feel like you can talk to her about your body pains, or take the time to listen to you and adjust the massage accordingly, the right thing for you to do would be to tell her that you don’t feel like your voice is being heard. If she still makes you feel like you are not an important part of your health care decisions, you should find another massage therapist who is willing to listen. You are not required to allow someone to walk all over you!


About Tonya Sapiel, LMT

My goal with The Wellness Seeker blog is to educate the general public on the benefits of massage therapy, why it is an important addition to their health care routine, and what they can do to help themselves in between their massage therapy sessions. I welcome feedback and questions. I also accept requests for post topics. For more information about me or my practice, please visit

One response to “The Power Differential

  1. Pingback: Giving Your Massage Therapist Constructive Criticism | The Wellness Seeker

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