Letters to a Young Therapist

(It's only take me almost three years to finally figure out that a great place to get blog ideas is in my search queries. Hopefully that person will return to find that there is now matching content...)

Here's one I discovered yesterday (and only caused me to chuckle a little):

"Can I make a living being a shiatsu practitioner?"

My first snide and unhelpful response would be:

"Define 'a living'."

My second would be:

"I'll let you know when I get there."

But seriously. Here's my advice .. ala' Rilke:

Dear Shiatsu Practitioner Wanna-be,

I would suggest first asking yourself why you're considering this as a livelihood.

Is it just something that sounds to you like a cool and glamorous way make some money? (It is, and what follows is not meant to be discouraging, but...)

The reality.  Your income is in direct proportion to your session hours. You work on 15 people in a week, you get paid for 15 people in a week. You only book one or two clients in a week (one of whom decides to cancel) and guess what?

It gets a little tricky concerning financial planning, and knowing when exactly to quit your day job.

"So, then, I just get a bunch of clients. I mean, I work 40 hours in my cubicle job. That's 40 times... (wait, I remember paying $70 for the last shiatsu I got)...  that's like $2800 a week!"

Easy there, friend.

First off all it takes time to build a client base. And by time, I mean hours, days, months tirelessly spent marketing and promoting yourself. Time spent building experience, and trust, and relationships, and a good reputation so others will help spread the word of how fabulous you are.

Time which you don't get paid directly for. Think of it more like ... an investment.

In addition to the 5 year statistic of how long it takes to get a business into the black, (did I mention this would be a business?) I think the rule of thumb is that for every client session hour, you invest an hour and a half of behind-the-scenes time: marketing (because clients come and go like the weather, and you gotta keep 'em coming in) client maintenance, bookkeeping, and quite possibly, learning how to do all that stuff to begin with.

So, good news: yes, it's a full-time job. But perhaps not in the way you thought.

Unless you work for someone else. In which case, they do all the leg work, carry the overhead, and you get paid less. Possibly for more hours. And less flexibility.

And regarding that you-get-paid-only-for-the-hours-you-work-on-people thing? It's physical work. Sometimes even emotionally draining and heavy.

And there's only so many hours you can do in a week if you want to avoid injury and/or serious mind-boggling burn-out.

And you gotta be on. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you just had a fight with your spouse, or got cut off in traffic, or have PMS or whatever. Your client is counting on you to be there for them... to be their therapist. Not vice versa.

Sure, there are are superhumans out there ... maybe you're one of them.

But for most mortals, I believe, again, the rule of thumb (pun totally intended) is around 15 session hours a week, if you want to keep doing this for a while.

"But still, that's like $1000 a week!"

Yes, it is. Which, if you budget properly and learn good business sense you may then have enough to cover your liability insurance, rent, marketing, advertising, slump times, vacation weeks, sick days, continuing education, utilities, promotional materials, and possibly even some groceries!

Oh, and bodywork for yourself. 'Cause you're gonna need it.

"Okay, so why the hell would I want to do this? Can people actually make a living in this profession?"

Like I said, that was not to discourage you, but to get the point out of the way that it's not all sparkles and sunshine.

It is, however, about making a life, not just a living.

A lovely platitude. Yet this is why I asked the initial question: why are you considering this?

You may not even realize or have conscious intentions of how profoundly becoming a shiatsu practitioner can change your life. But it can.

Choosing this profession has the potential to give you much more than a job. Much more than a career.

It becomes, as the Buddha talks about, Right Livelihood: a trade that not only refrains from hurting other living things, but one in which you are dedicated to their healing and well-being.

You develop a sense of compassion and empathy for the suffering of others.

You become aware of your own suffering and find a path by which to heal it so you can be of greater service, and regain your own sense of wholeness.

You enter into a profession that, at its profoundest level, is holy communication of the heart and soul.

You experience the joy of having helped another human being feel relief from pain and freedom from limiting patterns so they can live their lives a little more fully.

You can elevate your own sense of self-worth by what you now have to offer to our human community ... a skill of tremendous value that will never be obsolete, that will never outlive its usefulness, and that can never be replaced by technology (no matter what all those shiatsu chair ads may say.)

And you can sleep better at night knowing that this.... this is what you do for a living.

The monetary compensation is essential, yes, but as you can see, such a small part of the overall fulfillment picture should you choose this path for yourself.

Having said that, it is important that it be a profitable occupation for you, not least of all, so you can keep on doing it.

Once you have allowed your heart and mind to be given over to Shiatsu as a Life Path, you may find yourself making use of other related talents and gifts so as to expand on your practice.

Offshoots such as teaching, offering workshops, hiring yourself out for corporate chair massage, writing blogs :) and books. Creating art. Expanding your practice to such an extent that you can hire other people.

There will always be opportunities for expressions of the core healing message available to the creative and passionate person.

So, long answer to your short question:

Yes, it is totally possible.