Dealing With Client Crushes as Movement Teachers

Movement Teachers

The relationship between a movement teacher (such as a Pilates, yoga, dance, gymnastics, Nia, gyrokinesis or martial arts teacher or personal trainer) and his or her client can be uniquely close and intense. It's fairly common for clients to develop a crush on their teachers. While these infatuations need careful handling, teachers shouldn't be overwhelmed by them.

Reasons for Client Crushes

Clients may develop crushes on their movement teachers for a number of reasons.
  • Teachers can seem like they have it all together. Clients may admire their physical abilities and the fact that they work outside the office rat-race.
  • Teachers often help their clients in significant ways. It's tempting for clients to idolize someone who can take away their back pain or help them to lose weight.
  • Teachers fill a caring role that clients may confuse with their previous relationships with parents, close friends and partners. For some clients, movement teachers are the only people who spend an hour offering their full attention and a caring attitude.

Crushes May Take Many Forms

These crushes can develop in different ways. They sometimes seem sexual or romantic, especially if the client flirts, but this is not always the case. The client may simply crave attention and approval – perhaps wanting reassurance that the teacher enjoys working with him or her. Or perhaps the client wants a social relationship, seeking out opportunities to meet the teacher at events and parties. Some clients want the caring relationship to continue outside movement sessions – they may ask for advice, call the teacher with personal issues, or spend a lot of time talking about how the teacher handles problems.

These crushes are usually minor and fairly innocent. It's important for teachers to be sensitive to the experiences that may have led clients to respond to them by becoming overly attached. Some clients, for example, are genuinely unaware that it's not appropriate to flirt with their teachers; they may simply see movement sessions as social opportunities and assume that teachers enjoy the same flirtatious behavior that would be normal in a social setting. Some clients are not accustomed to taking time to look after themselves; these clients may feel selfish simply focusing on a movement session, and may assume that the teacher will appreciate being asked about his or her life outside of teaching.

Dealing With Client Crushes

If clients' behavior is truly unacceptable, teachers should not hesitate to refuse to work with them. However, most crushes are best handled with a light touch. Teachers can gently redirect their clients' attention to the work they're doing, and can keep explanations of their own social lives vague. It may help to point out that the teacher is not perfect, can't do everything, sometimes eats junk food, and so on, to help clients realize that their teachers don't need to be placed on a pedestal.

It's also vital for teachers to be able to talk about their professional work with a colleague or external supervisor. Without sacrificing clients' confidentiality, teachers can do their best to remain grounded, shrug off the intense feelings of admiration that clients sometimes project, and stay focused on their teaching.

For further reading, see Nina McIntosh, The Educated Heart: Professional Boundaries for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers, and Movement Teachers (Lippincot Williams and Wilkins: Second Edition, 2005)

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