For a massage therapist, trust is vital. Ensuring that a patient is comfortable with you can be crucial, not just for providing good service, but also for the effectiveness of their treatment. After all, much of the benefit of massage therapy comes from its relaxing and restorative effects, which may be negated if the patient feels ill at ease in their environment. A crucial element of this is proper draping techniques during massage sessions. As you can imagine, partially undressing and having certain parts of the body exposed can be uncomfortable for many patients, and the process should be as non-invasive as possible. Beyond this, draping is always to the level of the patient’s consent.
As a result, registered massage therapists learn standardized patient draping guidelines during their training. This is especially important, as in many parts of the world, and even between provinces, draping practices vary.
Explaining the disrobing and draping process to patients prior to a session is an important part of establishing trust. It is also a conduct requirement in any regulated province such as BC, Ontario, Newfoundland/Labrador and New Brunswick. An RMT will be respectful cultural attitudes to draping, adjusting their treatment plan if the patient does not wish to remove a particular item or any of their clothing.
Students enrolled in therapeutic massage courses are also taught the importance of providing patients with privacy while undressing or re-dressing, leaving the area while the patient does so and not re-entering until the patient informs them that they are ready. The RMT will also provide them with draping to cover their body before re-entering the treatment area.
Once the session begins, the RMT ensures the patient is comfortably positioned and appropriately draped on the treatment table. Typical draping materials include clean sheets with additional toweling and blankets as needed for client comfort.
Throughout the session, the RMT arranges the draping so that only the part of the body being worked on is exposed and will stop treatment at any time if the patient decides to withdraw their consent, or indicates any discomfort. At the end of the treatment, the RMT will give explain how to safely get up and off of the table. The therapist leaves the room to allow the patient privacy while re-dressing.
When treating patients with certain debilitating injuries, massage therapist school graduates may work with individuals who are unable to remove or replace certain items of clothing by themselves. For instance, a patient with a shoulder injury may have difficulty removing a shirt or t-shirt. In this situation, the RMT offers assistance to do so safely, while honoring the patient’s privacy as much as possible, after obtaining the clear consent of the patient.
The guidelines for draping of patients are set out clearly in the bylaws of the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia (CMTBC), which regulates all registered massage therapists who practice in the province. As a crucial part of maintaining boundaries in therapist-patient relationships, practicing proper draping is an essential part of adhering to CMTBC’s code of ethics, and ensuring an enjoyable, safe experience for patients.
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