By Carter Hammett
Special to The Toronto Sun
Two years ago, holistic practitioners John and Chrystalla Chew, tired of the pressures of urban living, decided to relocate to Campbellford, an hour east of Peterborough, where they opened The Amethyst Reiki Centre.
Reiki, which literally means "universal life energy," is a form of healing similar to the laying on of hands. A trained channel filters chi, or "spirtual energy," to an individual for positive mental, emotional and spiritual effects, Chrystalla Chew explains.
Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for an alternative therapist to consider making a living in a rural area, when the concept was barely tolerated in urban centres. Thanks to a gradual acceptance of modalities like chiropractic medicine and massage, alternative therapies are gradually becoming more mainstream and publicly accepted as a viable health-care option.
Now, with an aging population concerned about the uncertain future of a changing public health system, the demand for complementary care practitioners in numerous disciplines, from homeopathy to cranio-sacral, is increasing.
Breaking into the field can be frustrating, says Maggie Mann, a registered massage therapist who also acts as program supervisor for the Holistic Practitioner's program at Centennial College. "It's really important that people know that this is an emerging profession, and that we still need a lot of public education as to what a holistic practitioner can offer."
Once perceived as a domain for New Age quacks, the holistic sector is gradually gaining more respect, Mann explains.
In 1998, the City of Toronto finally introduced a licensing system that legitimized practitioners.
"Health is a provincial responsibility, but the province has chosen not to regulate the complementary health sector, because in most cases, it's not harmful," Mann says. Instead, most modalities are governed by self regulating bodies that establish standards, codes of conduct, offer designations and insurance packages as well as training. Education can vary from several months to several years, depending on the desired training.
A course in reflexology, a form of foot and hand massage, lasts 500 hours, includes at least 100 case studies and both practical and written exams before certification is granted, says Stephen Jones, an 18-year veteran of his trade. In addition, members of the reflexology association require insurance and pay an annual membership fee.
"You have to ask yourself, 'Am I in a career that will bring financial stability?' It's really hard just being a straight body worker," says Jones, who also conducts workshops and offers reflexology at corporate events. "It's difficult because Toronto is just so expensive."
Maggie Mann suggests practitioners have a clear goal and a five- to10-year plan. Most holistic training programs do not offer an entrepreneurial component, so even though graduates may be talented therapists, many are unprepared for the realities of running a business.
"You have to do a business plan and have a clear idea of what you want, then go for it,"Mann says. "Practitioners need all the skills of business people; they need to network and market themselves. You need to realistically look at all the aspects, then do it for the love of doing it."
"If you want to be any kind of practitioner you have to have that sense of giving and a sense of selflessness. The modality practiced has to be done out of love and care and not to serve yourself," John Chew says.
Making a living at your craft is an exercise in paradoxical thinking, he says. "You have to think in terms of caring and not in terms of dollars and cents. Ironically, a potential client cannot be seen as a source of income."
Unlike Toronto, there are no restrictions for running a holistic practice from one's residence in Campbellford, and self employment provides welcome tax breaks.
"Running a home-based business cuts expenses. We claim transportation, gas, utilities, office equipment and the lease on our car," says Chew. Still, every week the couple journeys back to Toronto, where they offer weekly Reiki sessions at the Battle Centre for Creative Living and St. Stephens-in-the Fields church.
For many complementary caregivers, their careers and philosophical outlooks are so intertwined, it's difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other starts. The striving for an authentic life of service often transcends the practical and material rewards.
"You can learn all the points and practical things, but you have to have the ability to sit in stillness and hear other people's bodies," Jones says. "Reflexology is an active form of meditation that gives insights into other people's conditions. You have to realize that you are living a life alternative from most others, and be willing to live your walk. "
For Maggie Mann, the relationship between client and therapist is the most important aspect of her career as an alternative therapist. "It depends on the therapist's skills and the ability to connect on a profound level. If there's a connection, the client will keep coming back."
(Toronto writer Carter Hammett
is a Toronto-based
writer, trainer and employment information officer.)
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