The Importance of Being Present and Authentic as a Massage Therapist

Enjoying the sunClifford Martin is an infectious disease physician and founding partner of He has been an integral part of deciding where is headed: toward a relationship with integrative medicine. As a massage client and physician, Cliff brings a unique perspective to the table.

My neighbor Bob and I were having dinner the other night, when the topic of conversation turned to massage therapy (surprise!).

With a great deal of awe, he told me the story of a massage therapist who had worked with him for several sessions while he lived in Canada. As he started his tale, his eyes widened and his demeanor turned solemn. He sat up straight in his chair, and after a brief pause, he told me in an excited yet reverent tone that he believed that this particular therapist was psychic!

Now Bob is not prone to flighty thoughts or dreamy assertions, so I was intrigued to hear more about this truly gifted therapist. Bob told me that at this particular time in his life, he was dealing with a lot of stress and musculoskeletal pain. Session after session, his therapist would tune into his body without any apparent thought or hesitation. Without asking, she knew exactly which spots needed work. She knew exactly how much pressure he could tolerate. She focused in with skill and agility. It was as if she could read his mind. Indeed, to Bob, it seemed like magic!

Then something very interesting happened.

One day, she stopped being psychic! The treatment sessions were still helpful, but the magic was gone. She no longer seemed able to hone in on his problem areas without extra direction and prompting, and he stopped benefiting from the sessions as much as he had before. Eventually, he stopped using her services.

As the conversation continued, Bob and I analyzed the significance of this peculiar experience. Did he really think she was psychic? Of course not, he admitted. There was nothing supernatural about this experience for him.

But what had happened?

Clearly there was a point at which she possessed the ability to be completely in tune with her client, and then that ability seemed to fade away. Call it what you wish, but there was something that allowed her to be truly present with her client for a brief time. And that ability to be present – truly present – is a wonderful place to be.

Authenticity and the ability to be present – both with ourselves and with others – are gifts worth cultivating in the healing and healthcare professions. The most amazing times in my career as a physician have been those moments when I am truly present and connected with my patients and their families.

For me, some of those most intimate moments have come at the end of a patient’s life, when a calm sense of “knowing” and connection have forged powerful bonds. At other times, those moments come when patients express sincere gratitude for the care I have provided them. Often they come when I am able to cut through confusing physical exam findings, laboratory and radiology reports, and complicated histories to make an accurate but unexpected diagnosis.

In most of these instances, the common thread for me is being completely present with my patients – aware of their concerns, their fears, their suffering, their mortality – and also grounded in my own professional and personal life.

I don’t know what it was about Bob’s therapist that allowed her to be present with him during those first sessions, but whatever it was, the “magic” of intuition, authenticity and presence were very real and effective, even if for only a brief time. I personally believe that such ability starts with self-awareness, a personal knowledge of our personal strengths and weaknesses, and a humble confidence in our professional skills and talents. It is a place that I hope we all can nurture, first for ourselves, and then for our patients and clients – bringing that “psychic” sense of magic to them as we practice our individual aspects of the healing arts.

Dr. Cliff