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Some myths about practice building

by Allan Rudolf(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 23 - November 1997

For most adults, their single most time-consuming activity is work. Yet unfortunately very few people find full satisfaction in theirs. I believe lack of satisfaction in work is a major problem in our society. It is a "biggie" like sex and money and yet the literature discussing this, the resources dedicated to this problem, are relatively sparse. Many clients come to me because of backaches, neckaches, general stress, poor posture and even when I help them for their apparent problem I know I am only making a minor difference in their lives unless my efforts act as a catalyst to spur them on to examine their working situation. Too often people assume that they are stuck in their work.

I, myself, during my career as a body therapist would go through periods when I questioned my work. There were times when I felt mediocre and unsuccessful in my chosen field. Over the years I have learnt a thing or two about having a successful and satisfying body therapy practice, and in this column I would like to share enough of them to fill the page, in the hope that it might make a difference in the way you think about and conduct your practice.

There are two myths which are prevalent in the body therapy world which are not conducive to having a successful practice.

Myth I

A successful practice means a practice with lots of clients. That is, people equate a successful practice with a big practice. To demolish this myth let me tell you about two practitioners I know personally.

Practitioner A, an osteopath, was a client of mine. He was 60 years old, bent over, in constant pain, stiff as a board and looked at least 75 years old. He was not a happy man. He had a huge practice. He worked six days a week, almost non-stop, from eight in the morning until seven in the evening. He had a huge following of patients who thought he was just terrific; and he was a bundle of misery.

Practitioner B is a psychotherapist whom I met when I was visiting California. We became quite friendly and I had a chance to meet some of his patients. It was obvious to me that he was a brilliant therapist who helped to create major shifts in people's lives in a a relatively short time. He was about 60 years old and looked and acted as if he were 45. His practice was very small, as he was purposely very low-key and did not promote himself at all. He adored women and preferred to spend lots of time chasing and dating them. So when one of his clients cancelled an appointment he was still happy for he had more time to spend with his women friends.

He did not need much money to live on as he had chosen to live very frugally.

The point is that success cannot be equated with a large practice. Each practitioner must decide for themselves what constitutes a successful practice for them. For certain practitioners it might mean a large number of clients, for others it might involve only a few. The myth that many practitioners fall for, that they are unsuccessful unless they have lots of clients, is really an introjection swallowed from their patients, or society. An introjection is a forced belief which has not been assimilated by a person, like a foreign body which cannot be fully digested; it weighs you down.

Often body therapists have one major personality who has been the major influence in their career. For me it was Dr Ida Rolf. If one is not careful, these "gurus" can be a source of introjections which sabotage the joys of one's practice. For example, the teacher might have worked with seriously ill people and for you to copy this when it really isn't your cup of tea would be an introjection. For you, it might be preferable to work with basically healthy people. An innocuous and common introjection is speaking, taking on mannerisms or dressing like your idol. Of course, all of this changes if you truly assimilate something from your teacher; then it is truly yours.

Returning to the main point at hand, the most pervasive and pernicious introjection I have seen among therapists is the unexamined belief that their success is determined by the size of their practice.

Myth 2

If I do superb body therapy with my clients then I will have as many clients as I desire. The idea behind this pervasive fallacy is that if the work is very good, clients will tell their friends who will become clients, who will tell their friends, etc. This is a particularly pernicious belief because of its converse (which logically follows): if I don't have a full practice then I'm really not doing first-rate work.

A variation of that converse would be that if I need to advertise or promote myself in various ways my work really isn't that good. I remember being told when I first started my practice "when you get to be good clients will be beating a pathway to your door".

How do I know that the myth is not true? I know because I have met five body therapists who have been practising for at least three years, do superb work and don't have as many clients as they would wish. I know their work is superb as I have experienced it first hand.

So it follows that the myth is wrong. If you think about it more deeply, it becomes obvious. Being good at your work is very important and is a major contributor to developing a successful practice, but it is only one of many factors. If you don't have enough clients, it could be because there is a general prejudice against your type of therapy or the economy is in a recession, or your location is very inconvenient or you have bad breath. You could be a true master of your technique and still have a half-empty practice.

I've briefly discussed two major fallacies about building a successful practice. There are more and the concept of the introjection which I related to being a body therapist can easily be extended to other areas of life. The question you could ask yourself is what constitutes a successful practice for you? Or, more generally, what constitutes a success?

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About Allan Rudolf

Allan is a Rolfer and Feldenkrais practitioner and trained with both Dr Rolf and Dr Feldenkrais. He now lives in China and is not contactable.

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