capa 1994-03-March

My Rolfing Career – Thus Far

Pages: 29-33
Year: 1994
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES – The professional journal of the Rolf Institute – Vol XXII – Nº 2 – March 1994

Volume: 22


This piece is a description of several aspects of my experiences as a Rolfer at this point in my career. I present it with no notion that my situation is unique or exemplary. Actually, I consider the opposite to be true. While my situation has its idiosyncrasies and my personality its share of peculiarities, I suspect that much of what I experience in being a Rolfer is shared by many in the field.

I decided to write this piece for several reasons. For over a year, I have been reflecting on my relation to Rolfing and its place in my life more actively then usual. This has not been occasioned by a classical mid-life crisis. I have had those and this is different. It is more a wondering about and reassessing how I feel about being a Rolfer at this point in my life and how it feels to contemplate staying at it for the rest of my working years. I am in an uncharacteristically stable place in my life and that is lending itself to “catching my breath” and looking around at where I am, with less psychological clutter than usual. I suspected it would be helpful for my process to organize and write about these ruminations. I have also been very interested in the more personal parts of the conversations with Rolfing teachers that have been published recently and wished they were a larger part of those interviews. I do not have a lot of opportunities to talk with other Rolfers and to ask, “What is it like for you?” Since asking this is an interest of mine, it seemed reasonable to think it might be of interest to others who may find themselves identifying with my experience or clarifying their own experiences by noting differences.

Our profession is not unique in having a slim literature about what it is like for us to do our work and to be what we are, and in not having a lot of opportunity to share about that in a setting that is safe enough to allow the less attractive parts to emerge. I know we have not yet scratched the surface of any empirical information gathering about the careers of Rolfers that would describe how we assess our job satisfaction, how much we work, what we earn, how our bodies hold up, how long we stay in the field, what interests, distresses, and bores us about our careers, and dozens of other questions that would help to clarify what it is like to be a Rolfer. I write this in the hope of making a small contribution to that literature and encouraging others to add to it.

Some AutobiographicaI Facts

I have been Rolfing full time for 13 years, the last ten in Vermont, the first three in Philadelphia. Prior to becoming a Rolfer I was a social worker, first in direct practice and then as a professor of social work. My own experience of being Rolfed was very important to me, but did not give rise to conscious thoughts of a career change. That began three years later when I came to realize, over a period of painful soul searching, that I did not want to and even could not continue as a professor. Coming to this decision was made more difficult by my attachment to the security of my tenure and the success of my two books, which had gotten me to the place academics work to get to, namely, being a big fish in a small pond. Nonetheless, I could not ignore my turmoil and when my Rolfer suggested being a Rolfer to me one evening, the exhilaration of that possibility moved me to action. All in all, I have not regretted my choice, have understood that choice in different ways as the years have gone by, and still find myself at least partly bemused by that process.

I am 52 and very happily married. I have a wonderful five year old daughter whom I adore and a 24 year old son from my first marriage with whom I have a loving and supportive relationship. I have been in very good health and pay increasing attention to nurturing it through exercise, nutrition, and staying away from M.D.’s. I enjoy two hobbies a great deal, competitive swimming at the master’s level and gardening, and I put a lot of energy into them.

In the last few years I have taken satisfaction in recognizing-that the major parts of my life feel quite good to me, and when I imagine the possibility of the rest of my life spent with this family, this home and environment and this career, it is satisfying. Of course, I have periods of restlessness, boredom, stress and questioning, and am strained by the financial demands of a young family, a wife heading back to graduate school and a large mortgage on my office, which I own as a condominium and which has been a financial problem in the past two years.

As a result of the demands I feel around money, I work a lot, more than I would choose to otherwise, and my days and weeks are very structured. I usually schedule 29 clients a week, six clients on four days and five clients on a fifth day to give me an hour to get to the dry cleaners and health food store. I am in my office at 7:45am, after an early morning training session, and usually out the door at 5:00pm. In the last few years I have generally taken two weeks vacation and that has not felt like enough.

Since my daughter has been born I have had relatively little involvement with the larger world of Rolfing. My continuing education has been less than I would like and I have not felt able to attend Rolfing meetings or be involved organizationally. This is quite different from my earlier pattern when I continued taking six-days after my Advanced Training and consistently was involved in our organization, as a regional chairperson, national selection committee member, ethics committee member and a member of the Board of Directors. At one point I was on the verge of a run for the Presidency. I would like to return to all that but don’t see it as a realistic possibility for some time.

Doing The Work

All in all, I like the day to day activity of being a Rolfer, and my overall experience is positive. I no longer believe, as I did the first few years, that being a Rolfer makes me a more special, noble, transformed and transforming person than anyone else, and I no longer hold that Rolfing is the body work miracle of the 20th century. However, I am quite proud of what I do, I am proud of the work and I am proud of the advances we make technically and in public acceptance. I live with a strong sense that this activity, to which I devote such a high percentage of my time, and an even higher percentage of my best energy, five days a week, makes a very useful contribution to lots of people. I feel extremely privileged to be able to contribute, at times, to an absolute miracle in people’s lives, physically, psychologically and/or spiritually. Almost always, at the least, I feel helpful to people and a positive influence in their lives. And, of course, once in a painful while I am di stressed by an outcome that is in the neutral to negative end of scale.

I experience my work as quite demanding, in part, because I do so much of it. I Rolf probably five to ten more people a week than I would choose to Rolf in the absence of the financial demands in my life. On Sunday evening and Monday morning, as I anticipate another full week of Rolfing, five predawn swimming workouts and the typical family and household responsibilities of an evening, I am reluctant to get it cranked up again. When my alarm goes off at 4:45am on Monday morning, I start a cycle of activity that has very little room for variation, that catches me up and sweeps me along, that does not much allow for low energy days or an occasional cold, and that does not release me until Friday at 5:00pm.

However, I settle in almost immediately with my first client on Monday morning. I let go of the weekend and I discover that my energy and interest have been renewed. I get into a psychological space that is rhythmic and usually easy. There-is an unhurriedness to most days that I appreciate, with their cycles of clients coming and going, short breaks in between, business related phone calls and no formal lunch but several partial lunches between sessions, which also suits me well. A majority of my working days come and go without any exaggerated stresses or anxiety.

The things that I like most about doing the work are the fact that it deals a lot in the physical plane of both my clients and myself, the immediacy of the results I often see and the reports my clients bring of the positive changes in their lives. I enjoy the relationship I develop with a fair number of my clients and my interactions with them. While I work with some people I do not especially like, sometimes with people with whom I am bored and sometimes with people who make me anxious, mostly I like my clients a lot and have noticed that if there is something to like about a person, this way of relating to them is likely to bring that out. I also especially enjoy the experience of helping someone who has been in physical pain to move out of that, as I enjoy the coaching I do with clients about various ways they can move up a notch in nurturing their well being with exercises, nutrition, quitting smoking, psychotherapy or around various life issues that come up in conversation before and sometimes during sessions.

At this point, about one half of my weekly caseload consists of people who are back for some form of work beyond the basic series. I have a warm sense of familiarity with these people, some of whom I have worked with for as long as ten years. This is a nice counterpoint to the newness of bringing someone through their first Rolfing experience.

My interest in the work, of course, goes up and down. It is generally higher to the degree I feel personally and professionally nurtured and refreshed. Continuing education, being Rolfed myself and vacations are sure fire ways to generate that, when I can get them.

The sameness of the work, in its overall structure and in the rhythms it brings to my days, weeks and years is sometimes comforting to me and sometimes frustrating. When I get restless, it is much harder to do the work. In these times, my mind wanders during sessions and I go on automatic. . A telling recurring fantasy in such periods is of winning the lottery. The impact of that imagined win on my life as a Rolfer figures large in these fantasies. In the fantasy, I continue to practice as a Rolfer, but about on half as much as I do now. I keep Rolfing because I imagine a one half time schedule feeling extremely pleasant and very easy and because in Vermont our lottery jackpots sometimes aren’t that big. In this fantasy, I also make auditing an Advanced Training class, and subsequent shorter trainings, a high priority. Two other areas for pleasant mental meanderings, when I am bored and am amusing myself in this way, are remembering some especially warming interaction with my five year old, or endless varieties of sexual fantasy. At other times, my musings are more focused. For example, the outline of this paper came to me at such a time.

In general, over the past few years, I have been relatively more at peace with doing the work than at other times. It feels like a maturing, a settling in, a being in the moment more fully. It is interesting to me that this is also the period immediately following a five year involvement with having associates, at one point as many as three, and forming Rolfing Associates, Inc., which now consists of just me. My focus is more on the work itself. I am also finished, at least for now, with the flurry of writing practice building articles that appeared in Rolf Lines for several years. I am doing less consulting than I used to with individual Rolfers on practice building, and as I mentioned earlier, I am not actively involved with the Institute’s organizational life as I once was. Like other Rolfers I know of, I have pursued a variety of avenues for self-expression and livelihood, associated with Rolfing but not actually involving doing the work. At this point, more than any other in my career, what I am left with is just doing the work. And that is fine with me, at this point at least.

The Recurring Hassles

There are a number of bothersome issues that appear and reappear in my practice. Usually they do not dominate my experience of being a Rolfer, but when they are up for me they can color my experience.

In 13 years of practice, during all of which time I have wanted to maintain a large weekly caseload, I have seen clients in all of the slots I have allotted, the vast majority of the time. There have been several periods of a month or two when I slipped and was short each week by five or six clients, and I suffered through one extended period of about five months when my practice was down by 40-50%, as a result of expanding the number of associates I had plus the onset of an economic recession that hit my area hard. I often go through extended periods when the number of new clients coming in is low, frequently in the most pleasant six to eight weeks of our short Northern summer and in the period from mid December to late January. Typically though, these slow downs do not show up in a reduced weekly caseload because I have entered these periods with a large enough number of clients to carry the day.

So what is the bad news? The bad news is that deep in my psyche I have not really gotten yet that it will all work out. When my new incoming enrollments are low for a period of time, I get anxious, and as that period extends, I get more anxious, and if it is long enough, I get extremely anxious. I have talked to myself, I’ve analyzed my reactions, I’ve worked on them in therapy from the point of view of early abandonment issues, scarcity issues, self-worth issues, and on and on. I’ve gotten better about it, but nonetheless, I still trouble myself. I take very small comfort in knowing that many therapists I know, including well established and brilliant ones, go through the same internal process as do other Rolfers. I would like my reactions to be calmer and more trusting during downturn times but I don’t expect they will be. My internal dynamic on this issue just has very little relation to external realities. My sense of self-worth and the “okayness” of my world are very wrapped up with feelings of acceptance and rejection, particularly as it plays out in this arena.

I go through phases of self-criticism about my competence as a Rolfer. They don’t seem to be closely related to results I produce, to the times when several clients are making no progress all at once, or to the occasional times when my intervention sets someone back. However, when I read some of the theoretical and cutting edge pieces in Rolf Lines, some of which I understand only marginally, I feel dated and inadequate in my work. When I look at a client and haven’t got a clue, from my observation and theory, about what to do next, I can feel fraudulent in representing myself as a trained person. These feelings come and go.

A fair percentage of my clients pay for their Rolfing through a monthly budget that we agree on at the outset, and they sign a budget payment agreement with me. Probably 80% of the people who choose this option make the five or six monthly payments that are due after their Rolfing is complete with no hassles. Half of the remaining clients pay easily when I call them after a month or two, and are apologetic about having forgotten a payment. That leaves a handful of people each year who drive me nuts. Eventually I collect most of this money but I go through a disproportionate amount of stress in the process.

I get into a space of feeling very victimized in these situations. My internal conversation, which may or may not have any relation to their experiences, goes like this. “We had a clear, mutually agreed on arrangement. I gave them my best. Then they treat me as though I were some large, impersonal, profit-making organization that could easily write off a loss rather than as just me, Jeff Galper, who provided them a service that came totally from my own energy, body, mind and spirit, and who has his own money problems.” I continue to be polite to people, even as I occasionally try to wrestle someone to the ground, but I generate a disproportionate amount of distress for myself in the process.

I fell disconnected to the Rolf Institute lately, and I don’t like that. Being organizationally active, as I was for many years, was helpful to me in combating a sense of isolation in the work and in generating feelings of being part of a larger process. I am not ready to reengage, but I am not an active part of it, that there are developments I know of only through occasional Rolf Lines mentions and that there are new staff and Directors I do not know and a new headquarters building I have not seen.

I still sometimes dislike having to explain myself as a Rolfer to a world that often does not know what Rolfing is or has mistaken ideas about it. This is less of an issue for me than it used to be partly because I have gotten accustomed to it and partly because I have had a decade to educate my community about Rolfing and I have been active in doing that. Nonetheless, it still rankles me to have someone ask me when I say I’m a Rolfer, if Rolfing is something I do as a hobby, or to say, “Oh, I hear that hurts,” or the old standby, “What is that?”

Being self-employed is not always a joy. I never felt particularly confined in my previous careers by having employers, so I was not especially focused at the outset on the fact that this career change also meant a change to self employment. I certainly push myself harder than any employer has pushed me, and I tend to roll my eyes when someone expresses envy about my self employed status because of the flexibility or job security they perceive it offers me. I am constantly aware of the absence of institutional supports of the psychological and fringe benefit variety and, as the old one liner goes, “The problem with being self-employed is that when you call in sick, no one picks up the phone.”

On the other hand, even while I tire of the necessity of being self-generating, I also appreciate the fact that there is no doubt that the reins are in my hands regarding my career and success. There is not a lot of room for feeling victimized, though I manage to work up that old script anyway from time to time. When I want a raise in the form of an increase in my fees, the only one I have to consult in myself. And I do recognize that a time may come, occasioned by age, health, or financial changes, when I will appreciate more the freedom I have to size my practice down at my own discretion.

I am more preoccupied with money as a Rolfer, and at this particular stage in my Rolfing career, than I have been previously. Partly that is because I am so aware of the responsibilities I have to my family, partly because of the demand I’ve put on myself with office overhead, and partly because I am aware of getting older, not in a negative way usually, but in recognizing that a time may come when my ability to live comfortably and meet my responsibilities may depend more on my still inadequate pension savings than on current earnings. I feel very well physically and have lots of energy and strength and I recognize the possibility that I will work as a Rolfer until the very end. However, I do not like feeling that I might be forced to work till I drop. I earn a good amount but I haven’t saved much in the past years and that bothers me. When my office overhead situation is resolved, I anticipate any money that frees up going toward savings far more than towards increased consumption.

I have a keener sense than I ever did as a professor or social worker that I really earn my money, buck at a time. I like that. It feels solid and honest. However, I am also aware that I earn money when I work and not when I don’t, in contrast to my experience as a professor which was that I got a check every month for the same amount of money despite the ebb and flow in how hard I worked. In this respect, I feel vulnerable and I recognize that there is a thin dividing line between having my financial life be relatively in balance and having it be chaotic. It is hard to imagine not being able to work hard, since I have always been able to do so to this point in my life. But I know accidents and illness can happen, and when I dwell on it, I worry that my cash flow is only as sturdy as my good health.

How Being A Rolfer Has Changed Me

I am more suspect of my observations about how being a Rolfer has changed me as a person than I am about the other matters I have discussed, possibly because I am too close in, or because it has been a gradual process, or because some changes would have occureed regardless of my work. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts.

I am more focused, with each year, on refining and intensifying the ways I take care of myself physically. While I have always been healthy and maintained good health habits, I seem to be healthier now and maintain even better habits. Doing so helps me to handle my workload, of course, and is a response, in part, to 13 years of direct healing with people’s well-being and the consciousness that raises in me. I take pride in how I care for myself and I take satisfaction in having what I have learned and what I model in my life come into play as part of what gets addressed when I support clients in improving their own self-nurturing behaviors.

I am a more physical person now than ever before. Not only is my work physical, in large measure, but my hobbies are intensely physical. That is a big change from my days as a mental health worker, which was also a time when I exercised but in a more genteel than athletic way, and an even bigger change from my childhood when I was completely non athletic, seriously overweight and not present in my body. I live closely with my body now, and I like that.

My life feels more grounded and in the moment than ever before-far from perfectly so, for sure, but more so. I attribute that to the, nature of the work. It occurs moment by moment, and is grounded and concrete. I like that too. I am more concerned these days with things that are close to me than things far away. I support many people in their growth and give a lot of myself to that process. But I identify less with the larger state of the world and with people far away than I once did. I am critical of myself for that, but I recognize that that’s where I am right now.

So, for better or worse, that is my story to date. As I thought it might, the process of organizing these thoughts as a paper has been useful to me. I would appreciate any feedback you have about the parts of my experience that reflect your own and the parts that are different, but the value to me of writing this piece has been in the writing of it, and I am pleased to have done that.

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