Read as Lisa Gillispie talks about her career as a Craniosacral Therapist.  Find her at www.anatomyconversations.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a licensed massage therapist specializing in craniosacral therapy.

How would you describe what you do?

Craniosacral therapy is a light touch, hands on therapy that uses different holds on the body to balance the structures that surround the brain and spinal cord.

What does your work entail?

I do a lot of listening. When I see a new client, I gather as much information as I can about their health situation and what they are seeking help for. I also ask a lot of questions to help put the puzzle pieces together for why they’re having their problem in the first place.

For new clients, I answer any questions they may have and give them the Cliff notes version of what craniosacral therapy is.

They then lie down on my massage table and I put my hands gently on their feet and start gathering information from their body about what areas are tight, twisted, out of alignment, compressed, etc. Based on what the body shows me, I use different holds to help rebalance the areas that are out of balance. Even though the name of the therapy is cranio (head) sacral (sacrum – bottom end of the spine), I don’t limit my work to those areas. The body is a web of interconnection and an injury or compression or pull in one area, like the foot, can have an indirect impact on the whole body, including the spine and the head.

What’s a typical work week like?

After having my daughter 3 years ago, I decreased my practice to part-time. I see clients 2-3 evenings a week, 1 morning and 1 full day a week. I may have clients who are in crisis and need to be worked in at other times if possible.

My session lengths are typically 1 hour long. By the time someone gets on/off the table, pays and reschedules, it’s about an hour and 15 minutes per client. Sometimes I see clients for longer sessions if they come from out of town or have a situation where a longer treatment would be helpful.

I offer online scheduling, which has really helped streamline things. Streamlining is important with a one woman business. I have session notes to make and emails to return – clients asking questions or potential  clients wanting to know whether or not craniosacral would be of help. Phone calls are also part of my week – whether that’s rescheduling someone or answering questions.

There are also the odds and ends of entering invoices and payments, making deposits, ordering/purchasing miscellaneous supplies, emailing a client their invoice to submit for reimbursement (I do not bill insurance directly because they do not cover my services), balancing the checkbook, updating my website, posting updates to social media – Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. Due to time constraints, the social media and website updates tend to get put on the back burner.

Self-care is also a really, really important part of a typical work week. I need to be doing behind the scenes work to keep myself as balanced and clear as possible. If I’m depleted, it takes more effort for me to be present and clear. For me, this involves meditating, moving, stretching, Dance of Shiva and journaling as well as getting regular bodywork.

How did you get started?

I learned about craniosacral therapy when I was in massage school. We were given a brief introductory to the technique and I found it incredibly frustrating and annoying. I really struggled to feel what everyone else in my class was so enthralled with. My original plan was to specialize in sports massage, however once I completed massage school and got licensed I decided to take a level 1 training in craniosacral therapy and during that training, I got it and fell completely in love with it. I haven’t looked back since.

What do you like about what you do?

I love interacting with people and learning more about them and their life. I love helping people feel better. I love when a client has had discomfort or pain for years and finally gets relief. I love helping my clients better understand their body so they can work with it and feel empowered to help themselves.

What do you dislike?

Craniosacral therapy, while amazing and effective, isn’t guaranteed to help everyone. I dislike when I’m not able to help a client get relief.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

My clients pay me directly. I charge a per hour fee. I do not bill health insurance because they do not cover my services. Some insurance companies have preferred providers for massage therapy, however they require you to discount your rate significantly with the assumption that you’ll make more money because they’ll be sending you so many clients. There’s a limit to how many clients I have the capacity to work with each week. Craniosacral therapy isn’t physically demanding but it does require focus, concentration, the ability to be present, clear, aware, and in tune with people. Too many sessions in a week and you’ll be courting burn out.

How much money do CranioSacral Therapists make?

An average income range is $45,000 – $75,000. That said, there are several variables that will factor in to how much money a craniosacral therapist will make. Are you self-employed, a subcontractor or employed? Most craniosacral therapists are self-employed or subcontractors for a clinic or spa. In a clinic or spa setting, they typically take a percentage of the session fee and you keep the remaining plus any tips the client gives you. In general, I think 60% of the session fee is an average amount that a therapist can expect to receive. How well established is the business, how many clients are you able to see in a week (20 is a good average) and how full is your schedule are other things to take into consideration.

If you are self-employed, you set your rates. You’re also in charge of everything else that’s involved with running a business – including getting known in your market. The range for session fees is typically $45-$125. Obviously people who charge at the higher end of fee scale have more training and more experience and are working in a market where people are able and willing to pay that amount.

I’ve seen students do the math of $45/hr times 40 hours in a week and get starry eyed at the income potential. I’ll burst your bubble right now and let you know there is no way that you’ll be able to sustain seeing 40 hours of client work each week, even if you were able to fill your schedule with that many. You’ll burn out. The number of clients someone can deliver quality work to will vary – I don’t know of any therapist who can sustain more than 30 client hours per week long term.

I charge $75/session (1 hour) and see 8-10 clients each week as a part-time practitioner. That means I average $30,000 a year from my practice with taking 2 weeks off each year. When I practiced full-time I saw an average of 15-20 clients each week.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

An income range for a craniosacral therapist just starting out would be $12,000-$25,000. When I first started out I charged $45/session.

If you’re self-employed and just starting out, a large part of your time is going to be spent on getting known in order to build up your client base. Obviously, the more clients you see each week, the greater your income.

Most therapists, including myself, will work another job while building up their client base and then transition to their practice full-time. Other therapists prefer the stability of having a “regular” job and a predictable pay check and opt to have a part-time practice while continuing to work another part-time or full-time job. There are also therapists who are well-established and decide to specialize in CST and either include CST with their other offerings, or transition to a practice that specializes in CST.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Most states will require you to have a “license to touch” in order to practice craniosacral therapy. This can include massage therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or other medical background. Most craniosacral therapists have a background in massage therapy and have taken additional training specifically in craniosacral therapy.

There are a variety of schools that offer training in craniosacral, some programs take place over 2-3 years. Typically there is a series of multiple classes with each class lasting 4-5 days long. In order to complete certification (not a requirement but certainly an indication of competence) an average of 6-10 trainings need to be completed as well as a minimum number of treatment sessions. Familiarity with various anatomical structures is helpful and good people skills are important. A passion for learning is also essential.

What is most challenging about what you do?

I love working with infants and kids, however, they can be quite challenging. Their system is more subtle to sense and they typically don’t lie still for a session so you have to be able to read what’s going on with the body and sense the shifts that are happening while on a moving target so to speak. You are also working with more than just the child – while the parent or guardian may not be receiving hands on work, they are a part of the session. You’re interacting with them, you’re answering questions, you’re reading the dynamics of the relationship and the impact that it’s having on the child.

For example, you may be working on a child who had a traumatic birth experience and as the body is shifting and changing, there may be emotions that come up from that experience that the child needs to express. Bodies can hold emotional trauma and they can release it. The child may fuss or cry and their parent may be really uncomfortable (understandably) with seeing their child upset. The parent’s unresolved trauma from the birth may also get triggered as they see what their child is going through. As a therapist, you need to be present with the child and supporting their body through the experience and you also need to be reassuring to the parent, explaining what’s happening, and to a certain extent being present with them. It can be a lot to juggle but at the same time really rewarding.

What is most rewarding?

Knowing that I’m having a positive impact on people’s lives – the mom who can now breastfeed her baby comfortably because he’s able to latch on correctly now that the restrictions in his neck, tongue and throat have released, the client who can now resume her work out without pain, the client who had headaches for 30 years and is now headache free. It’s immensely gratifying.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

I’d suggest first and foremost, go experience CST personally. Find a therapist who has a lot of experience and training and schedule an appointment. See whether or not you like CST. Also, talk to several therapists. Find out where they’ve trained, what they like/dislike about their profession and what they wish they knew back when they were first starting out. Gather as much information as you can and experience sessions from therapists with a variety of training backgrounds if possible.

How much time off do you get/take?

I’m self-employed, so any time off that I take has to be planned and budgeted for. I typically take 2 weeks off per year as well as holidays.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

A lot of people think I rub people’s heads or only work on someone’s head or tailbone, when the fact is that I never rub someone’s head as part of a CST treatment and where I work depends on what the body shows me is needing support. Sometimes I hold an ankle, sometimes I hang out with a knee or an ankle. The body is an interconnected web of tissue and restrictions in one area can have an impact throughout the body.

They also will confuse CST with massage and while they are both forms of body work, CST is quite different from a massage so it’s important to make that distinction.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

In addition to my private practice, I also help other craniosacral therapists deepen their understanding of relevant anatomy so they have a clearer picture of what’s under their hands and can be more effective as a result. I want to help more therapists take this work out into the world so that more people can benefit.

I’d also love to set up a free CST clinic to work newborns so that each newborn has the opportunity to receive CST. Birth is an adventure under the best of circumstances and many births these days have less than ideal circumstances. Helping newborns settle in after their birth can be invaluable to get them off to a good start.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I love what I do! I love having a career where I will never get bored and will always be learning something new.