We've spent some time in the last few months talking about meeting the goals of our clients, to make them feel successful and create client loyalty.
Let's turn the table and ask ourselves what are our goals with clients?
In my earlier years as a Pilates instructor, I found myself fixated on people's postural alignment and spotting all the little "issues" that each client's body presented. And why not?
My final exam to become a certified instructor involved assessing someone's posture, making note of all their issues and programming a workout that would be most appropriate to "help" them. Focusing on the issues made me feel like I had a purpose. It even gave my clients some goals to work through that required my continued services.
But this thought process is flawed for a few reasons.
The nocebo effect.
You've heard of the placebo effect, right? That's what happens when patients think they're getting a fancy new drug, but they're really getting is just a sugar pill. Then, in a case of "mind over medicine," they start to recover from their ailment as though they'd been taking the real deal. But the placebo effect has a dark side, too -- a sort of negative placebo effect called the nocebo effect. It's what happens when you're given a sugar pill, are told it's a drug that has terrible side effects, then start to exhibit those symptoms. The nocebo effect can also occur when a doctor tells you a surgery or procedure could have negative results: Just knowing the risks could negatively impact your recovery... all because of the power of suggestion.
By continuously pointing out and programming for my client's issues, I may have been creating and reinforcing a negative story about my client's body that they were internalizing, consciously or unconsciously. I put the idea into their head that they needed to be "fixed". As bodywork professionals, we are in a position of authority (no matter how new you are!), our words are powerful and hold a lot of weight.
Now, it may be that your client has actually come to you in hopes that you will "fix" them, but this is both unrealistic and unfair.
How do we move forward?
Not all bodies are built the same. The body itself is not symmetrical. Looking at the pelvis, Preece et al from 2008 that found a side to side difference of up to 11 degrees in asymmetry of pelvic landmarks and up to 16mm in innominate height. That's a big variance! Don't get me started on the rest of the body...
The body develops unbalanced muscle patterns on purpose. This is because of asymmetry and to make a reliable, strong biomechanic pattern. We get very good and being right or left handed because we want people to be able to read our handwritten note. We stand on our left and kick with our right so that the ball will more reliably go farther or into the net. The problem is when that imbalance begins to cause pain and impede daily function.
I've changed my approach.
Perhaps a better practice would be a shift toward working for (pain-free) function and strategies to help clients move better and feel well, no matter what their movement goals are. Working for better coordination of muscles, releasing tight connections and strengthening weaker connections are still good objectives. But trying to fix your clients alignment for the sake of a plumb line postural chart or believing that a particular posture will bring them the holy grail of pain-free living is unfounded.
I still believe we can make change!
Let's keep our clients moving throughout their days as best they can. Let's be creative in finding movement strategies that will help their bodies work for them, as pain-free as possible. Let's not fix our clients bodies but accommodate their "issues" and enable them to do more with whatever beautiful body they've been given.
Most importantly, remember that our world is pretty crazy right now. Positive language, encouragement, kindness, and empathy go a long way.
Our language matters so use it for good!
Ruth Ruttan is the Education Coordinator for Retrofit Pilates in Toronto, Canada, a Master Instructor specializing in Pre & Postnatal Pilates and a Birth & Postpartum Doula. Each week Ruth shares tips, tools and reminders for Pilates instructors and students with the intention of keeping us inspired, asking questions and always seeking to improve our teaching and our Pilates practice.