As Rolfers, we have responsibilities in practice that a retail clerk would not have, and yet problems that arise as we work most often have to do with infringements on boundaries. This is an area where we must act in the best interest of our clients, forgoing personal gratification and need. It may be in the language we use, how we touch a client or how we move across the line from professional relationship to personal without being aware of the significance of our own behavior.
In practice, as Rolfers, we occupy a professional place not unlike psychotherapists, with a responsibility to provide a safe therapeutic environment for our clients. The therapeutic framework and within that the therapeutic relationship are the structures we provide to protect the integrity of our practice; creating clear boundaries, for the practice of Rolling"` and the protection of our clients.
THE THERAPEUTIC FRAMEWORK
A therapeutic framework is the external structure of a practice. Contained within the framework is the space reserved for practice and treatment of clients. The importance of the framework is that it sets the parameters, boundaries, the physical place and kind of practice. The framework includes office or studio, office hours, telephone number, the decor of the workspace and the nature of practice, specialties and credentials, education and training and fees. The framework can be extended to include other business practices such as advertising, professional network and collegial relationships.
The framework is a place of definition for the business of practice. It clarifies and identifies the nature of the work and how and where the work will be performed. It establishes for the consumer a service and what can be expected from that service. It is the business model for the practitioner.
The therapeutic framework is representative of the practitioner. This is the first measure taken by the consumer and other professionals as to who is the practitioner and what is the service. It communicates and suggests treatment(s) benefits and value in the marketplace.
Why should there be a formal declaration of a therapeutic framework? Because it is a defining moment for a practitioner to state the terms of practice. It solidifies why and how one will provide service and how one can be most effective in providing it. It is preferable for a practitioner to determine the rules that govern practice than to leave it to the winds of trial and error-no doubt trial and error will occur and be the impetus for improvement and change in methodology and practice.
THE THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP
Within the therapeutic framework is the therapeutic relationship. Sometimes this is called the "container". The container is the structure in which we provide therapeutic services. It is the place we establish boundaries for the relationship we have with our clients. It is first, a place of safety where a client can assume the practitioner will provide safe and effective treatment and trust no harm will come as a result of this trust. In this relationship the client can expect that all communications are confidential, that the client will not be judged by the practitioner, and that care will be provided in a sensitive and respectful way.
For the practitioner, the therapeutic relationship is what holds the rules for engaging in practice. These rules come from the Rolf Institute's Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. If you have not read them recently, it is a good time to refresh your memory and adopt what is missing in your practice and put them to work.
As Rolfers we must recognize the vulnerability of our clients as they enter our places of treatment. We ask people to surrender to a process of transformation, which includes the potential for both emotional and physical changes. We ask for personal information including a history of health, accidents, injuries and traumas. Then we ask them to disrobe for a visual assessment, and then be touched by someone they do not know. Within the realm of client disclosure, Rolfers face more boundary issues than our colleagues in psychotherapy. Not only do we listen and discuss with the client his or her body and issues arising from discussion, but we also ask them to be in partial dress and we touch them. While the client surrenders to vulnerability, we hold a place of authority and power. This power differential is where we must be most careful and temper our actions, language and assessments with sensitivity and care. How we touch, the words we chose and the opinions we offer are empowered by our role as Rolfer. What and how we communicate can have a powerful impact on the client with the possibility of misunderstanding. It is all the more reason to understand our Standards of Practice and conduct ourselves by our Code of Ethics as a measure of protection for both the client and ourselves.
EMPOWERING THE CLIENT
As Sam simply stated, "I will be friendly, but not too friendly." As a Roller, be empathetic, kind, understanding, considerate, sensitive, respectful and appropriately friendly. Do not err by crossing lines of behavior that puts the client and yourself in jeopardy. As Sam alludes: beware of the boundary, your role and responsibility to your client. The role of the Rolfer is to empower the client. The hope of the client is to leave knowing you empowered him.
Bob Alonzi is a Certified Advanced Rolfer and member of the Rolf Institute∞ of Structural Integration Ethics Committee with a practice in Santa Monica, California.