I Saw My Last PT Client 1 Year Ago
Updated: Jan 31, 2020
I saw my last PT client 1 year ago. Here’s what has happened since then.
Even though I tried every trick in the book to soften the breakup, I knew she would go out kicking and screaming.
When I told her that I was no longer going to be working with physical therapy clients — in person or virtually — she came up with a million reasons why she needed to stay with me, and only me.
To her, I was the only person on Earth who “got” her, and thus I was solely responsible for keeping her out of pain.
Had this occurred 5 years before, I might have felt pangs of guilt in my stomach as if they were two fists squeezing the life out of my insides, gripping and begging me to stay and take care of this patient.
I might have also felt pride and accomplishment that I could make such a profound impact on someone’s life.
And if I’m being honest, 5 years ago, this likely would have kept me going down that track. I might have just stuck with it, inching my toes onto the slippery slope. I might have made an exception to following my new exciting non-PT path and said: “oh, one client won’t hurt.”
And then, that one client might have turned into two. Then three. Then one more on the weekend because “I’m an entrepreneur and I get to set my own schedule, which includes Saturdays if I want. How fun!”
All the while, I would continue to try and build the next dream: a virtual coaching practice that freed up my time and energy and allowed me to move beyond constantly trading my hours for dollars. It would let me travel the globe wherever and whenever I wanted (and not just on designated vacation times...or when I finally retired).
But if I had started down the slippery slope of saying “yes” to one more PT client, I’d be building this coaching practice on the side of a PT practice.
That means it would never quite earn enough income to sustain and support me, and I wouldn’t be able to let go of the PT practice, and thus, I’d be confined to one location. The dream would have had to wait.
Sure, in this hypothetical scenario, I could have freed up some of my time and energy by moving into Telehealth PT. Plenty of people do it and it is a viable option as a PT. It is also a viable option to help people in other states and countries too as there are new licensing options on the horizon.
And sure, in that hypothetical scenario, I could have scaled my PT business to help me leverage my time and “Make money in my sleep.” And before I jumped into coaching, I did consider doing that. I had once considered adding another therapist. I had researched expanding into my own space (outside of the spare bedroom-turned-PIlates-studio in my house I’d used for 2.5 years, and the other tiny Pilates studio I rented out 1 day a week from a colleague), and/or simply piling on teaching continuing education courses.
These would have certainly made me more money and maybe saved me a little time here and there.
But none of them would have gotten me what I ultimately wanted: no-strings-attached FREEDOM.
See, in real, non-hypothetical life—several years ago I started my coaching business and it had really started to grow. And I saw that I could truly do it from anywhere. I had taken calls from a tree overlooking the ocean in Portland, Maine, from a mountain town in New Hampshire, from the beach in Cape Cod, from New Zealand, from the North Carolina Mountains……... from the car, even.
It’s not even that I didn’t want to see other humans and it’s certainly not that I didn’t want to put on pants (though that is a nice perk).
It’s that I not only saw something more freeing for me but also for clients.
I saw something very interesting— that clients were much more willing to go deep — to be very vulnerable — a trait that allowed for big life transformation— when they weren’t looking me directly in the eye.
I also saw that when I was helping people with way more than their physical health, the need for physical modalities and treatments just simply melted away.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely a time and place for physical modalities, manual therapies, and prescribed exercises and stretches.
But for the client who crumbled to the ground in tears (and the millions of clients out there like her—you and I both know the type I’m talking about) when I told her I was no longer going to be her PT—I was doing her a disservice with those physical modalities and prescribed exercises and stretches.
I was enabling her to stay stuck, helpless, and dependent on me.
As had been trending for myself and many other colleagues, for years I’d mostly moved beyond any type of “passive” treatment that enabled clients to stay stuck in a place of learned helplessness and victimhood. I’d surrendered any remote inkling of a notion that I was the responsible “healer” (and therefore, the “savior”) for my patients.
And in that process, I’d surrendered any of my own learned helplessness and attachment to my own body through fear or attempts to control the uncontrollable in the name of “being healthy.”
This firsthand perspective brought a very fresh perspective to most of my clients, and almost all of them thrived with what most would consider a very hands-off type of physical therapy.
This was also a very useful approach for perhaps a population who can be the most vulnerable when it comes to inadvertently being programmed down the path of passivity, helplessness and victimhood about their own health: kids and teenagers.
But while me shifting my own approach and mindset was great for most patients, it was still not enough to shift all clients’ perceptions, emotions, and expectations of what physical therapy was and should be.
Not all of them wanted to or were ready to come along for the ride.
I’d be fooling myself to believe that I had the power to change someone’s thoughts, emotions, and expectations of what they wanted me to do for them.
No matter how much I educated and taught them about pain science, and the biopsychosocial elements that affected their physical pain or dysfunction--sometimes they still just wanted me to rub their muscles, put a needle in something, slap some tape on them, or teach them “the best stretch to help with XYZ.”
There is nothing “wrong” with any of this. But because I didn’t walk that walk and believe or practice that for myself anymore, it was quickly becoming an approach I did not want to facilitate any longer.
I was tired. You could call it burnout. But it was bigger than that. I was tired of leading people to believe--no matter how hard I tried to practice otherwise-- that I was going to fix them.
And part of their belief was because I was part of a bigger profession — a bigger medical industry even — where patients expected me to give them the answers, tell them what to do, and be responsible for them getting better.
As I finished my formal training as a health coach, I saw firsthand how using a unique coaching model with clients was a nice way to lead clients toward a path of taking power back over their own health instead of expecting me to do it.
But it wasn’t enough to simply add coaching skills to my therapy practice.
Because it was still called physical therapy.
Try as I might, people still expected me to use the power of touch in some way to create a change in their bodies.
The truth is, I don’t have the power to do that.
I have the power to help someone access awareness, to access a different physical sensation, and thus, give themselves the option and belief to create their own change.
This is, no doubt, a very valuable and beautiful part of physical therapy.
Most of the time, patients would buy into this truth and see that I was not the one doing anything for them. I was merely a portal of light and love and truth for them—a portal where energy was transmitted through my hands and mind and heart.
It was their change to make based on putting themselves in the presence of that space and that portal.
But sometimes, people would still insist on me “doing it for them.”
As an entrepreneur--I could certainly set boundaries on what I would or wouldn’t do in my practice. I could decide to send those patients elsewhere or just take a completely hands-off approach. But at the same time--I also needed to pay the bills.
As much as I don’t want to say it, sometimes it is about the money. And with 6 figures of student loan debt, sometimes you just do what the patient wants or expects if it means you can then go buy groceries without worry.
So sometimes—I would just “do it for them” -- or let them think I was, at least -- by whatever means necessary. Chasing pain, putting tape on it, or teaching a glute to fire for the 1 millionth time (even though it wasn’t ever really about the glute).
But of course, I felt like I was selling myself and my integrity out every time I led them to believe that.
And as I learned in health coach training—the evidence says that 60-70% of a patient’s “change” is based on their own perceptions, beliefs, lifestyle choices, programming, etc. Only 10% of their change can be attributed to what “I do for them.”
For me, it seemed to make more sense to focus on coaching people around that 60-70% of change. A lot more bang for their buck (and mine), if you look at it that way.
And certainly, it meant I could not only earn money to buy groceries in a different, more freeing way but also by doing something that was more aligned with what felt integral to me without selling myself out.
I’d also seen how this played out in my own life. One by one, I had started to let go of the millions of never-ending “health” things I had been doing.
Diets...supplements...endless appointments with “healers” and medical professionals...Constant analysis of lab tests and results.
Yes, these things were very useful to get me to a certain point. But eventually, my health did not suffer as I started to let them slowly fall away.
No, the opposite actually occurred.
As I surrendered the tendency to want to attach my identity, worth, and sense of “success” to my own health and wellness, and to define health by all the “things” I was doing… an enormous amount of energy (and money!) was instantly liberated.
In fact, I realized that most of the time, I was doing all of those things—YES—out of a desire to be healthy—but also because there was a hidden intention behind everything I was doing in the name of “health.”
I was afraid that if I didn’t do them, I would lose control. Or something would go wrong. Or it would mean I didn’t care about my body or my health. Or I’d get sick. Or I wouldn’t be “health professional” enough.
It was clear I was avoiding what I was afraid of (death, illness, ruin, failure) rather than focusing on what I did want (Love, peace, ease, calm, joy).
I was making pain and illness the enemy, rather than receiving them as simple signs and opportunities —messages from the Universe—that perhaps it was time to change course in life or mindset rather than “fix” things or “prevent or avoid” things all the time.
So when I saw the truth for myself, I saw that I could no longer practice in the field where I made physical pain something to avoid or get rid of.
I saw that I could no longer propose to myself and others that strength and healing came from what we do on the outside.
And most importantly, I could not practice in a world where one’s identity, worth, or measure of success was in one’s body.
To be clear, I am not saying that I propose we all just sit on a mountaintop and meditate away all of life’s problems (though…that would probably do us all a lot of good).
There is a beautiful space for medicine and physical healing—and I still do things in the physical and medical realm for myself every day.
But the truth is, health and happiness is not found in a never-ending series of appointments, supplements, diets, or out-of-the-box lifestyle changes. No, health begins with the state of mind that we hold.
In fact, the only way to sustain long term health and happiness is to take action in health from a place of love, not fear. And if we don’t do that, we’ll just continue to struggle, and likely with other struggles.
I’m not saying we avoid taking action on caring for our bodies—perhaps the most beautiful and important gift the Universe can give us. I’m saying that it’s possible to change the intention and energy behind the actions we do take.
Here’s a simple example:
When you go to cross the street—do you look both ways? I can see you nodding now.
Next question—do you look both ways because you’re afraid you might get hit by a car, possibly injured and die?
OR—do you do it because you honor and love this beautiful physical vessel (your body) that carries around your soul and spirit?
Do you see and feel the difference?
The brain can only maintain a fear- or non-loving based intention behind any action for up to 60 days. After that, we either fall off the wagon or we tirelessly work and toil to stay healthy.
But we’re not designed to work that way. We’re designed to surrender, go with the flow, take things as we come, and just be with pain and illness, rather than constantly fight it, run from it, or try and control it.
I’m not even saying that doing or practicing physical therapy is wrong or bad. I would happily do it again, and perhaps that day will come. It’s a beautiful art and resource for SO many to find access to the best parts of life through movement and physical function—especially when that therapy is done from a place of love, acceptance, willingness, and surrender.
But for me—as I saw in my own life-- the truth is that terrible, life-threatening disease does not have to change our mindset or our love and zest for living.
Just because you’re sick and injured doesn’t mean you’re not healthy. Perhaps there is simply more to health beyond the physical.
I’ve chosen to redefine what health means not only in my own body but also in my practice.
So that meant that 1 year ago it was time to finally let go of one practice—a beautiful physical therapy one—and see it as a mere stepping stone to a larger and more beautiful space and practice.
Now I’m not only not confined to one location, but also not to one type of work.
In my coaching practice, I’ve had the opportunity to do so much more than help people with their physical health. In fact—they may come to me for help with that—but quickly see the depth and breadth of life beyond physical health revealed to them.
I’ve seen women who have struggled with years of physical pain and illness, years of hormone issues—see their problems quickly fall away as soon as they take the brave leap to take a look at their deep thought patterns, emotions, and beliefs.
I’ve seen nearly-broken marriages heal and families explode with love and connection they never thought possible when clients are willing to let go of the heavy baggage they’ve been carrying around in their hearts, minds, and bodies.
I’ve seen clients who are struggling to conceive finally give the gift of life to a new baby OR simply let go of attachment to the idealized identity as a parent and see the divinity of motherhood or fatherhood within them that they already possess (whether there’s a baby or not).
I’ve seen hundreds of physical therapists and health professionals who feel stuck in their careers and businesses to finally let go of overwhelm, fear, not-good-enoughness, and simple directionlessness to build unique and heart-centered practices that allow them to thrive, live more, and work less.
I’ve made more income solely practicing as a coach than I ever did as a PT, or as a PT and coach combined—back when coaching was my side hustle.