The most common concerns spa therapists have about supporting cancer patients

oncology massage diploma therapist training Jun 25, 2021

One in two people are projected to experience cancer over the course of their lifetime. The scale of the issue makes the need to have therapy protocols and therapists who are confident in delivering them both commercially and ethically important for spa businesses.

For therapists, who are fundamentally caring by nature, there are common questions and concerns that arise when it comes to treating cancer patients. They are all linked to the fear of doing the wrong thing, and it’s not a huge surprise given that conventional therapist training drills into us the idea that we will harm cancer patients with massage and touch treatments.

We know from research and experience that this is untrue. However, there is knowledge you need and precautions you must take to adapt touch treatments for anyone who has been diagnosed with, is going through treatment for, or who is living with cancer. Here we have answered a few of the most common concerns that we address as part of our oncology touch training.

Am I going to hurt my client?

Training is vital on two fronts: firstly, to make sure that the protocols and products you use are appropriate, and secondly it gives you confidence in what you’re doing. The combination will mean that not only do you not cause pain, but you provide a meaningful and effective treatment to meet the client’s needs - as is always the goal, irrespective of whether someone has cancer.

What do you say to someone with cancer?

There are two intersecting points to this concern. The first is that no one wants to be treated differently because they have cancer. You get a spa treatment to feel better and to feel more like yourself - not to focus on being unwell. The best advice is to remember that your client is a normal person who deserves a treatment.

The second point slightly contradicts this in that it is important to talk about someone’s needs, which will be impacted by their cancer journey. It’s also important that a client feels safe, supported and cared for. That means getting the sense that you know what you’re doing and that you know what they’re going through.

There is a language that goes with cancer and understanding it will help you to relate to your client and reassure them.

Susan (Susie) Fishwick, put it extremely well, when we spoke to her earlier this year. She said:

“Working with cancer patient’s is such a dynamic field, where treatments and approaches are changing all the time, based on the latest research. Patients nowadays are experts and as therapists I think we owe it to them to keep abreast of change.” She added: "I signed up for the Advanced Cancer Awareness Certificate, specifically to keep myself up to date with more recent developments in cancer treatments including proton and immunotherapy.”

I don’t want to cause offence

No therapist ever wants to make someone feel bad, especially when that person is already having a hard time. Fear of causing offence can be crippling to the point of doing more harm than good (imagine the damage done by turning someone away because they have cancer!). This is where education is so important because it will give you the confidence you need but will also give you an idea of what to expect.

Sue Harmsworth, Founder of ESPA and the SATCC said in an interview with us:

“A lot of people who have been touched by cancer know the problem in the industry and then go to see a spa or a therapist and don’t tell them their medical history. Many young therapists haven’t seen the scars from cancer treatments – they don’t know about lymph nodes or mastectomies and will be halfway through treatment when they discover something.

Therapists need to know and understand the terminology around cancer so that they can provide comfort and not show shock. For the client, it’s so important to be asked questions, made to feel safe and to know that the therapist won’t suddenly get a surprise and react inappropriately. Often, young therapists haven’t had the life experience to deal with these things, so the more help and knowledge they can get, the better.”

What do clients want from their treatments?

Anyone who has been through cancer treatment will tell you that the days you feel good are precious, so you want to make the most of them. If someone chooses to come and see you for a treatment on one of their good days, they really want it to be worth spending that time on.

Again, this is where training is so important. The days of giving someone a really basic treatment because you don’t know what products or movements to use safely, really are disappearing. The goal isn’t to do so little that the client wishes they had spent the day doing something else. The goal is to give them an experience that makes them feel even better than they would otherwise have done.

With that in mind, it’s not just about ensuring treatments are as safe as possible, but that they’re meaningful, nurturing and tailored to the individual.

How do I know what to adapt and when in a treatment?

The ability to adapt is central to making touch treatments appropriate for anyone with cancer or other health problems. When we train therapists in oncology touch treatments, it’s not just about products and protocols; it’s also about the biology of cancer and understanding the different stages, terminology, treatments and (in broad terms), what it all means.

We provide parameters so that you know what to do if someone has a Picc line because they’re having chemotherapy, or scarring from a mastectomy, or extremely sensitive skin from radiation.

Ultimately what we’re saying is that people with cancer don’t fit into a one size fits all box any more than anyone else does. However, when it comes to providing supportive spa treatments, knowledge is power. That’s the key to doing your best by your client as well as having the confidence in your own skills to make decisions around effective products and appropriate therapies.

You can gain foundation knowledge in cancer awareness on our free Level 1 course. Or, to welcome cancer patients, be insured to do so and gain all the knowledge needed to increase your client base, explore Jennifer Young specialist training membership.



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