Being a Holistic Healer in a Hyper-Capitalist Society
My struggle to make self-care affordable
After I became a licensed acupuncturist and massage therapist, the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was pricing my services. This is actually a common discomfort within my field: empathetic people who grow up taking care of their family members and friends enter the working world as a “Certified Healer” with the hopes of subsequently making a living from what they are skilled at. Such people would naturally find it hard to put a monetary value on the care they offer.
Moreover, frequently within private practice, an acupuncturist’s income mostly comes from billing insurance. People who have an insurance plan that actually pays for supplemental treatment usually have well-paying jobs. Most of my friends do not have jobs like these. Like me, the vast majority of them work a job that’s either minimum wage or slightly above, and many work for tips.
Thus it felt wrong to think that I should swipe my friend’s credit card for $80 for an acupuncture treatment when I myself was still getting free acupuncture by volunteering one hour a week at my preferred community clinic. And to be clear: I wasn’t volunteering to be a good person. I was volunteering because I couldn’t afford the treatment I wanted and needed even at the cheapest level of acupuncture care. I would often question why I was charging my friends prices that even I couldn’t afford. It just didn’t make sense to me.
A few years passed as I held on to this sentiment, the discomfort about my rates. I pondered the dilemma, turning it around in my head, looking at it from all angles. I still held that awkward feeling when taking payment. I asked a few friends for advice. “Pam, don’t sell yourself short!” is what every single person told me. Not one of them thought it was a good idea to drop my prices.
What most people don’t realize however is that, in San Francisco alone, there are hundreds — possibly thousands — of acupuncturists catering to those who have insurance but there are only a handful of community acupuncture clinics. These low-cost clinics, while being more affordable and providing effective treatment, do have a few drawbacks. Since they are “community-style,” many treatments take place simultaneously in an open room, necessitating whispered discussions between patient and practitioner of intimate symptoms, which also creates an atmosphere that is not completely silent, (ie. conducive to deep resting). In addition, consultations might be as short as 5 minutes.
So what about the people who wanted something in-between? The people who wanted a more private, a more relaxed and in-depth experience but who didn’t have insurance and who could not afford to go to a day spa frequently enough for it to be beneficial? No one is catering to them. (No one is catering to us!)
One day, after an illuminating interaction with a friend-client who was reluctant to pay for acupuncture even though she had what I thought was a well-paid job, I had an epiphany! I knew right then what I had to do. I told myself, “I don’t have to charge these unaffordable rates and I’m not going to anymore.”
Going against everyone’s advice, I lowered my rates at the beginning of this year to approximately 20% less. Six months later, I have a higher volume of patients every week. Yes, I am still working a lot. I still have three jobs. But I don’t feel weird when it’s payment time and I now don’t discount my services at all, even when I treat my friends because they can afford it.
It goes without saying that I had always wanted a thriving practice, to be seeing multiple people a day, all week long not just a couple of clients a week. The beauty of my new pricing system is that now my clients come back more frequently. For many, this has become their health maintenance. They see — as I do — that getting acupuncture and massage is like going to the gym. They might become more relaxed after doing it once but they will get better results if you are do it regularly.