Massage therapists have clients with all manner of draping expectations. As with most of life, draping is the way it is because it was. It is how therapists are trained and as
most clients expect. Primarily done for warmth and modesty, it can be a mixed blessing. It can provide an envelope of safety and comfort and help establish proper boundaries for both client and practitioner. Its flip side is eloquently stated by teacher and rolfer Art Riggs.
"Draping is time-consuming. I have had massages where virtually every new area being worked necessitates precious loss of time as the smooth flow of the session is interrupted like driving in start-and-stop traffic.
Draping divides the body into isolated blocks. Good bodywork should create a smooth connection to unify the body. If each separate section has to be meticulously uncovered and covered, your massage turns into piecework without integration. Finished with that leg? Let’s wrap it up and say good-bye for the rest of the session.
Draping does not guarantee your clients’ safety or your safety. Overemphasis on draping can actually place undue attention on sexual issues. It’s like the suggestion: ‘Don’t think of elephants,’ that prompts one to think of elephants. Clear, professional intention and proper boundaries provide more integrity than a thin piece of fabric.
Discomfort with draping skills restricts the implementation of useful techniques, especially in a side-lying position. The client loses out on the benefit of your skills, and you miss out on doing your best work because both of you are confined by a straitjacket."
Riggs continues with suggestions to help minimize the disadvantages inherent with draping, suggesting refining draping skills, involving the client by having them help hold and stabilize the drape and using material less slippery and of different dimensions than massage sheets, such as beach towels and pillows. His last alternative provides the greatest ease for a quality massage.
Finally, veteran therapists might consider altering their vision to include working on clients who are comfortable wearing their underclothes or minimal sports clothing in the session with or without a drape. Most of the experienced therapeutic bodyworkers I know work this way all the time and it’s surprising how many clients prefer it. Your work will be much easier—more fluid and integrated—allow more time for better work, and will allow you to perform any technique with ease.
When client and therapist first work with each other, crisp, conservative and efficient draping is the norm. This approach builds trust and fosters relaxation. Through communication and negotiation, some client/therapist relationships reduce or eliminate draping depending on the therapist’s approach and needs and on the client’s trust in and comfort with the therapist.