Don’t just do it, do it justly – by Earle Abrahamson

Moral, Ethical, and Legal Concerns  Are we truly ready? 

There is one area of massage therapy training that almost escapes the comprehension of the learner, an area of training that is inextricably woven into the fabric of practice and practice decisions. This area involves legal, moral and ethical concerns.  How best do we teach students the importance of these concerns, how much tuition is sufficient and at what level?

This short blog will attempt to outline key questions in order to provide a backdrop to the importance of understanding and implementing legal, moral and ethical components into massage therapy practice and training.

Massage therapy is under voluntary regulation through the Complementary and Natural Health Council (CNHC). What this means is that massage therapy is governed by a code of practice. This code of practice provides the public with an overview of expected standards and reassurance about the process of receiving massage from qualified practitioners. When we consider the nature of the voluntary regulation, we need to carefully understand the processes that govern massage practice.  Take for example, the client consultation form. Is it simply a means to record client data or a legal binding contract between practitioner and client? If we consider the latter we need to know how the law operates with respect to data protection and disclosure. It is beyond the scope of this blog to delve into the legalities of the issues raised. What is important is to ask questions and seek relevant advice on items for inclusion.  Once we receive information from a client, how do we record it? Who has access to it? Are we allowed to use the information when referring a client to another healthcare professional? What form of consent is required? Which questions are important, which are redundant? Is knowing too much troublesome?

The information we receive needs to be considered from an applied perspective. In other words, why do we need this information? What decisions are being made as a result of the information we have? What regulations are in place to restrict access to the information we have or hold on file? How is the information audited? How is the information stored? These questions trigger a cascade of concern and extend beyond the foundation training of a massage practitioner. Only through practice do we fully realise and appreciate the unique position we hold in terms of client management and confidentiality.  During massage training, students are often asked to record treatments in a reflective journal. Are tutors justified in asking for client information or do we need to learn how best to disclose the information we have?  Our statutory obligation is to gain informed consent from a client receiving a treatment. Informed consent, as the name suggests, implies that the client has fully understood the nature of the treatment and knows what to expect from the therapy and practitioner. What happens when one deviates from this? How best do we as practitioners, tutors and students protect ourselves and clients?  Retrospective action is not an ideal option. We need to be ready to ensure that our practices are sound, ethical, morally aligned and within our legal limits. In practice this further extends to the way we market ourselves and services. Is the information we use to promote what we do accurate and valid? Here, the practitioner needs to assume responsibility for managing the marketing of services, products and self. The simple take home message is check first, ask the right questions, seek advice and ensure that the practice domain is legal.

When establishing a practice, learn what is required, review and revise consultation documents, and think carefully about how best to market and promote yourself. It is only at this point that true learning begins. Massage training programmes provide the skeleton for professional practice, professional practice on the other hand, provides the opportunity to populate, develop, and map the skeleton to relevant policies, regulations, and structures.

So in contrast to Nike – don’t just do it – make sure you do it justly.

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