2017 has been a year of allegations and revelations. Sexual harassment has been uncovered in almost every industry from film and television to politics and beyond.
It should come as no surprise that spa and wellness has been also affected by it. We are hearing more and more testimonials of situations where trust has been broken because of misconduct in the treatment room.
It is true that we must act immediately on this issue, but any action should be taken with the full understanding that our intervention, as an industry, must go beyond creating some policies and vetting systems or simply providing more guidelines for therapists.
The creation of a new code of practice will definitely set a new standard for our industry, but it won’t really look at the deeper reasons why therapists make a choice to abuse the trust of the client or vice versa.
Any claim of sexual harassment does enormous harm to our industry. This is a backwards step because in some cases, we have only just started to be at ease with massage and it’s only recently that the wider public has stopped associating it with connotations of the massage parlour.
Personally, I have spent much of my career working to educate therapists, Spa Directors and the wider general public of the importance of massage and the power of touch. It is heartwarming to see that there is a shift in the way massage is perceived by clients. I have also been impressed that spa operators are increasingly aware of the need to redefine the meaning of massage. They also understand the importance of investing in advanced education for therapists.
Massage is the most requested treatment in spas, and it positioned as the cornerstone of almost any spa business. With this increased awareness of its benefits, there was a great chance that we can start to provide more than "one off' spa experiences, but also work towards providing true healing through touch which offers a multitude of long term benefits.
But all of this is at the risk and could be deeply damaged by recent allegations. We will have to work hard to rebuild trust and credibility.
Therefore, I believe that in addition to creating the protective operational structures for our teams, we need to look at how we can support therapists and guide them on deeper, psychological, and ethical levels. They are vulnerable, and have a particular set of skills and challenges that are very unique to them.
We need to look at their work environment and their work conditions that so often undervalues them. We need to consider their background which in many cases is tough, even abusive. We need to look at devastating effect of pornography which they are - like all us – are exposed to, which shapes our lives and behaviours way beyond what we are willing to admit. Starting from objectifying and degrading both men and women and ending with the withdrawal, emotional numbness and depravation from the ability to experience deep intimacy with another person.
We need to address the accommodation provided for therapists in resorts, which very often looks like a summer camp for teens with six people in the room sharing bunk beds sometimes for several years.
We need to talk about the “client is always right” policy that often leaves therapists with no voice or protection.
We need to talk about salaries, lack of breaks, lack of privacy.
We need to talk about all of this if we want to bring about a change regarding sexual harassment. Any disparity in any of above aspects of our industry creates a feeling of disempowerment and worthlessness in therapists. And then it can be just one step away for a person to use the privacy of the treatment room (and the vulnerability of the client) to give themselves the illusion of power through the act of disrespecting another person boundaries.
So the topic requires acknowledgement of its complexity if our intention is to be effective in a long run, otherwise we will just put a plaster over a chronic wound.