S4OM, Thoughts on the profession

Bearing Witness

I have a new client*.  She fills out her health history form with abundant detail, and takes me through it step by step, anticipating every question I have or clarification I need.  She walks me through her entire cancer journey, over 15 years in the making, procedure by procedure, chemo by chemo.  She often accompanies her narrative with information about her mental state at that time, or how that time impacts her current mental state.

“Just naming,” she says.  Or — “Just so you are aware.”

A while back, I had some news that was difficult for me to handle, but which I felt should not be shared with my whole support network.  I chose one person to tell, and when I went through the whole thing I told her, “I just needed one other person to know what is going on.”

These two stories live together in my mind because for me they illustrate an important part of my job as a massage therapist.  The bearing witness.  Just being the person who hears a voice and says, “Yes.  I heard.”  Just being the person who sees a face wince and says, “Yes.  I see that your pain is real.”  The simple of act of allowing another human being to name, describe and acknowledge their experience with no fear of judgement or contradiction — this is a powerful part of what we all do.

I looked up the definition of “to bear witness to” and found this:

“to show by your existence that something is true”  

This, for me, is the heart and soul of both of these stories.  By listening while someone speaks and names whatever pain or challenge they have faced, we show that it is true.  Let us never forget,  even with all of our training and all of our knowledge, our clients are still the authors of what is true in and for their bodies.  Let us remember to always bear witness.

*– any identifying details have been changed

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