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  • Writer's pictureMeg Donnelly | Massage • Mindful Mobility

A Guide by Your Side Approach: Empowering Clients in the Massage Therapy Studio

Client is center focused within camera frame as they explains their goals and challenges to massage therapist Meg Donnelly,  who listens intently]

In the realm of massage therapy, person-centered care is emerging as a pivotal approach. Some refer to this as Guide by the Side. This collaborative and empowering approach aims to transform the massage therapist-client dynamic. In my massage studio, I refer to it as Guide by Your Side, because I’m working with you


Let's explore the foundations and principles of a Guide by the Side approach and how it complements person-centered care.


Understanding a Guide by the Side Approach

A Guide by the Side approach is a person-centered approach where massage therapists act as facilitators or guides rather than authoritative figures, fixers or healers. It recognizes that clients are experts in their own experiences and values their active participation in their own care. By fostering collaboration, communication, and shared decision-making, this approach empowers clients to make informed choices about their health and wellness.


Origins and Influences

While it is challenging to attribute the exact origin of Guide by the Side, there have been a few notable contributions.


  • In 1993, Alison King published "From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side," in which she focuses on the importance of the use of class time for the construction of meaning rather than information transmission. These concepts were created to address learning in a classroom setting and other areas of teaching and education. 


  • I wasn’t able to find where or when exactly the transition from classroom education to physician/patient education happened. But  Dr. Ronald M. Epstein, a prominent physician and researcher, has significantly contributed to patient-centered care, physician-patient communication, and mindfulness in medicine for use in physician and patient settings.  His work incorporates a Guide by the Side approach in clinical care, even without a direct use of the name I could find (although I think it may pop up as a read his latest book Attending... I will keep you posted).



  • Some massage therapists, many who follow an evidence-informed model of care and/or consider themselves healthcare aligned or healthcare adjacent, are moving towards a Guide by the Side approach, even if they are not using that terminology.  While this principle was originally geared towards educators and then physicians, massage therapists can make adjustments and apply the healthcare principles with a few changes, to ensure they are staying within their scope of practice as massage therapists.  


Person-Centered Care and a Guide by the Side Approach

Person-centered care is a broader approach that places the client at the center of the experience. It involves understanding and addressing the unique needs, preferences, and goals of each client. A Guide by the Side approach, within person-centered care, highlights the role of providers as guides and collaborators.


Complementary Principles

Several principles complement the Guide by the Side approach and contribute to person-centered care. These include:


  • Empathy and Compassion: Demonstrating empathy and compassion towards clients fosters a supportive and trusting relationship.


  • Respect for Autonomy: Respecting clients' autonomy involves recognizing their right to make decisions about their health and wellness care based on their values and preferences.


  • Shared Decision-Making: Collaborating with clients in the decision-making process by providing information, discussing options, and supporting them in making choices.


  • Cultural Sensitivity: Recognizing and respecting the diversity of clients' cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and values to provide personalized care. 


  • Continuity of Care: Establishing ongoing relationships, ensuring consistent and coordinated care across settings, and effective communication among healthcare providers.


  • Health Literacy: Promoting health literacy by using clear language, providing educational materials, and empowering clients with knowledge for active participation in their care.


An Evidence-Informed Approach

While the specific term Guide by the Side may not have an extensive evidence base, its principles align with the evidence supporting person-centered care. It combines scientific evidence with clinical expertise and client values to tailor care to individual needs.


Finding a Massage Therapist Who Follows Guide by the Side Principles

I am proud to follow evidence-informed, person-centered care and a Guide by Your Side approach in my Herndon Virginia massage therapy studio, NoVA Weekend Warriors. If you would like to learn more about my approach, please feel free to schedule a 15 minute complimentary Exploratory Call


If you are outside my area or looking for additional options, use the information in this blog post to ask prospective providers how their approach aligns with your goals.  


In Summary

A Guide by the Side approach embodies the essence of person-centered care. By adopting this approach, massage therapists (and other providers) can empower clients, foster collaboration, and improve health outcomes. Guide by the Side emphasizes shared decision-making, open communication, and respect for client autonomy. By incorporating complementary principles such as empathy, respect for autonomy, and cultural sensitivity, massage therapists can truly transform the client experience and deliver care that is truly person-centered.


Have you heard of the Guide By The Side approach within person-centered care? Share your experiences or let me know any additional references you've seen in the comments or by messaging me.  


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