Is it possible for spiritual healers to make a living?

A year or so ago, a dear fellow I know in London, England asked this question on Facebook: “Is it possible for spiritual healers to make a living?” I imagine he had seen a lot of people get into the business only to struggle and fail in the end.

I’ve seen it myself. It seems to me that most of the spiritual healers I know are broke. Why is that?

It’s an immense question in its own way: we need those in our communities who tend to the spiritual, the meaningful, the beautiful and the mysterious. We need those who tend to our hearts and minds when they’re damaged beyond our own capacity to tend to them.

For humanity, this seems to have begun with shamans and medicine people of various names and descriptions and then it became priests and then psychologists and artists and many other roles besides. But, as much as we need these people in our midst they, for the most part, have not been paid well and certainly, with the exception of those in dominant religions that had become more about control then compassion, they did not get rich.

My sense is that, in traditional communities, these people, these walkers between the worlds, were, if they were any good at their job – taken care of by the community. They were provisioned for and compensated for their work. There was a need for them to work not a need for them to market that work.

But we aren’t there anymore. We aren’t anywhere close to there.

And so, the first question is must be, what befell a people that their sacred workers needed to make money?

Well, of course, this would be many things: literacy and its need to keep track of transactions, the unravelling of gift economies and their dance partners the laws of hospitality and the practice of kinship and the advent of the capitalist mercantile system, the break down of village life and the roads of modernity and progress arrived bearing the wagons of civilization, loaded down with soldiers and the promise of wealth beyond imagination, the discrediting of the function of elderhood, the heralding of the young, the witch burnings and deep suspicion and marginalization of the feminine and so much more.

With it all came the separation of the spiritual from the material. There is the temple which is sacred and then there is that which is outside the temple and it is not.

It lifts up the weighty questions of whether or not those doing spiritual healing work should be paid money for their services and, if not money, then how? I don’t propose to have an answer to these moral quandries.

The question is: “Is it possible for spiritual healers to make a living?”

The first thing we must come to is that, in this dominant civilization, most of us don’t have villages or even communities anymore. We have networks and scenes. We have clubs and meet-up groups. We have jobs. But we do not have community. And if there is no community, bound by and tethered to a shared understanding of the big questions and some semblance of answers to them, then there is no community to take care of the healers.

That’s where we’re at. The healers are on their own and almost entirely so. They must take care of themselves. Virtually no one is showing up at their doorstep with a basket of food or an offer to mow their lawn for them or mend their fence.

And they now, for the most part, live in this modern, capitalist society where money is all but required to buy food and find a place to live. Of course there are those striving to live outside the system still and bless them. But the pressures of modern culture are relentless.

So, here we are and what do we do to pay the bills, and rent and buy some food in the meantime.

Let’s assume you want to go down the fraught path of making money with all of the ethical and cultural questions that brings.

How does one do it?

To me, the first question is: are you any good?

Calling one’s self a spiritual healer does not remove an obligation to actually help people get better.

To tell someone, “I’ll give you healing energy and things might happen or not,” won’t cut it. If you can’t consistently help people improve, if you have no chops and less of a track record, then you shouldn’t be a healer.

So how do you get better? In an ideal situation, you would apprentice to someone directly, and for years. But you likely don’t have such a luxury (if we can call being woken up at 3am every other night by your village shaman to help someone in distress a luxury).

In the modern setting, this means learning. It means doing the healing work without needing too much money from it. It means either being financially supported by family or a spouse or it means having a job that pays your bills while you do the work of becoming a properly qualified healer. It means waiting until you have the cops to charge what you need to charge to sustain yourself.

If people under your care get better then, in the long term, that will be your marketing. If your work is remarkable, people will make remarks about it. This is how most marketing works. It is word of mouth. Again, if you aren’t confident that you can help people get better, what is it, exactly, that you’re offering to them?

And, if your marketing is going to be based on word of mouth then setting yourself up to do your best work becomes vital.

A friend of mine said to this,

“I have seen folks experience or train in a some modality that helps them, then get highly identified with the role of ‘healer,’ or ‘wounded healer,’ or ‘artist,’ etc, and then want to claim that identity as an escape from whatever ‘system’ they now feel is no longer serving them. Identifying with the archetype of healer/artist/shaman/eccentric as a way of validating our unique selfhood, finding a voice, and learning about ourselves is not the same thing as the initiation, commitment, and long apprenticeship that goes into the actual day-to-day practice of healing work. And at the same time, we can all be healers in our own way, wherever we work and live, right now. We don’t need to throw it all over to be ‘spiritual healers’ so to speak.”

And it’s true. Do you need to hang up a shingle as a holistic practitioner or could you be a mechanic who brings healing to that? Could you be a baker, a lawyer, a crafter who brings healing to every interaction you have? Why is it that we all imagine we need to become professional healers rather than attending to bringing healing to whatever we do? Why does healing always have to look like the laying on of hands?

Another friend wrote this,

“It is a unique challenge in energy healing because we as healers KNOW that it works, and yet our clients can still not get results. So much of the process relies on the client being truly willing to receive the healing they are asking for. And what I have found is that many people are willing to pay me good money, spend all that time, but they are still dealing with a lot of unconscious resistance. So the process can take much longer, almost always far longer, than the client really wants to take. So do I produce results? Absolutely. Do I have testimonials, tons and tons. But, will it happen in a linear way that one might be able to measure with a life coach or marketing strategist? Almost always not. That is the key piece of marketing i find the most challenging to get across to my clients.”

This is a vital piece to understand if you want to make your healing work your business: if your pitch is ‘come to me and I’ll offer you up healing energy/facilitate your own and then you might notice some change or you might not. If you do, I’ll take credit for it, if not then I’ll say that that’s your own fear getting in the way’ then just get out of business already. I had a friend offer some healing work to someone and, when they didn’t immediately get better (of their rheumatoid arthritis that they’d had for years) he said to her, “Sounds like you have some fears getting in the way of the healing.”

Of course, this was after he asked her, “So, are you doing cartwheels yet?” To which she silently replied, “Fuck you.”

I’m sorry, but if your best response to someone’s fear is to subtly shame it as getting in the way of your powerful healing, then you shouldn’t be a healer. Your job would be to help those fears come to the surface so that healing can be brought to them. Your job is to get the client ready to receive the healing energies and for them to know that this is a part of the process. This means making sure your point of view includes: 1) identifying where the healing is needed 2) making sure your client understands and is at ease with what is going on and, if it’s important, that they are ready to receive the healing 3) that you help them identify and work through the fears and unconscious resistances to healing that get in the way (and understand that it’s a normal part of the healing process) 4) that, at that point, they will the deeper work. 5) This will likely take longer than they think.

Or something like this. They need to be signing on for all five of those steps. That all needs to be laid out before they buy. Sometimes people sign up because, even though results aren’t quick, they agree with the process. They buy into the point of view. Your point of view becomes a filtering process where people who aren’t up for what the journey would likely look like under your care don’t sign up with you.

If a client is surprised by how long it’s taking, you didn’t filter well.

If a client is surprised that it’s taking a non-linear path, you didn’t filter well.

If a client is surprised about much at all, chances are you didn’t filter well.

This is why I created the Are You Sure? pages for various programs.

So, all of this means that you become extremely clear with your clients about what you expect of them, not taking clients who aren’t serious about getting well, meeting people at the stage of change they’re in (and knowing which stages you work best at), not over-promising, having clear cancellation policies, finding a setting to do your work that brings out your best, firing clients who aren’t a fit and much more.

But, the more I’ve sat with this question, the more it’s come to me that, as long as the above pieces have been contended with, from a marketing perspective there’s not much that is different between being a spiritual healer and any other sort of business.

All of the basics still apply.

You still need to know your niche. A fair question to ask one’s self is “is what I’m offering needed?” As my friend said to me the other day, “Theres a difference between aspiring healers setting up in places that already have plenty of healers per capita (sometimes even, an over saturation) and places where you’re the only one in town, or one of only a few. And its not the same as even massage because everyone “believes” in massage, but not everyone believes in healing. I guess it ties back into niche, in the original sense of the word; because in many places its as if we’ve got a whole lot of ruminants, and not enough grazing to go around.”

How many generic spiritual healers can a market sustain? Not that many. This is why sorting out your niche is so vital.  Who is it you want to serve and are there enough of them locally to sustain your business? If you are a run of the mill spiritual healer who helps everybody with everything then you will struggle because of that. If you are a highly niched healer who, for example, focuses on migraines, in a town of 68 people, you will struggle because of that.

My friend reflected to me that he agreed, “On the marketing niche bit, I’d say most healers have a relationship to their craft and identity as a healer and to healing that is a-niche, or niche resistant. Most practice in a way that is general, and aren’t trained or experienced with specific things; nor are they necessarily also counsellors or life coaches with the ability to work with life scenarios or do inner work with people… which can make a niche seem redundant (unless its the niche of, say, single mothers and the healer provides a free creche and a diaper changing station in the bathroom – that kind of niching).”
 
If you don’t put a great deal of attention on your niche as a spiritual healer, you are almost certain to struggle.

You still need to have a clear point of view (in fact, more-so than almost any other business since it’s the most ephemeral). This would likely not have been such an issue in a village setting. You’d be living inside a deeply held, ancestral cosmology all day, every day. Every ceremony would reinforce it. Today, with no shared cosmology, we must explicitly teach these things and that can take time.

You still need to think through who your best hubs might be.

You still need to think about your business model and the structure of how you do what you do. It means not getting trapped in only working with people one on one if that’s not what you’re wanting and won’t sustain you. It means thinking through group programs, retreats, workshops, talks, being available via texting, VIP days etc. And that almost means thinking through your financing – do you have enough money to sustain you for the first few years while you grow your clientele and their business through the four stages? Most spiritual healers never consider this.

So, is it possible for a spiritual healer to make a living? Yes.

Is it possible for a spiritual healer to make a living without considering these things? I wouldn’t bet my money on it.

Additional Resources:

Who am I to Teach and Get Paid For It?

Am I Ready to Teach? – An Interview with Stephen Jenkinson

On Elderhood – An Interview with Stephen Jenkinson

About Tad

  • I really appreciate the reminder to be really clear about the process! I am building a program right now and am torn about VIP vs. online course. I love the idea of being able to sell a course to many people without it impacting my time. But because I want people to have the deeper healing I can provide, I am not sure I’ll be able to let go to that degree. Even if I do the course, I will likely add a session with me. Which will impact pricing because it impacts my time. Still thinking through it…

  • Thank you for the gentle reminder that healing can show up in many spaces and many ways and so what does make for a ‘healer’, I have spent 8 years training with a Shamanic Teacher, I don’t ever refer to myself as a healer, my clients are the healers, I call myself a Shamanic Coach, and like most of the other modalities I have acquired, I teach what my teacher’s have taught me….to guide those that ask for guidance, the healing is a co-creative effort that includes Spirit as well. My rates are posted on my website and I am not ‘cheap’ and I also have been known to receive other forms of payment besides money…I have been in business since 2001, and I do hear people say if you are helping people you shouldn’t charge money for it. My response is often the same; could you tell my landlord that or my kids when they are hungry? They usually get very quiet?

  • Doly Garcia

    Not a spiritual healer, but the advice here applies to most of the sort of business you help with. This is a very useful article that clears up some important questions, but I still have some others without answer.

    1. You say a person has to be good at what they do. So far, so clear and so obvious. But the problem often is that, if your company is just you and it isn’t going well, it’s often difficult to figure out what is the problem, Is it that you aren’t good enough at the job? Is it your marketing is poor? Is it that you have a bad business model? How do you figure out which part of the business is the problem?

    2. You say that you need to filter people. But how can you find out if, after the filter, there will be enough customers to sustain you? And what do you do if you figure out that there aren’t enough?

  • David Jurasek

    Love the many points here. How you restrain from the most common refrains about everyone who has a desire to help others heal become an entrepreneur and how we can and should charge more… so many misunderstandings about healing and marketing that you dis-spell with clarity and discernment. Reading all the questions and your train of thinking, mulling my responses, made me feel like I was going through a process of discernment and clarity that is helpful at every stage of business and healing growth.

  • Alyce Badger Brock

    Thank you so much for this post, Tad. You say out loud many things that I have observed in my 15 years as a shamanic practitioner. I think it’s time that those of us in the spiritual healing field talk about the issues you raise in order to establish some level of professionalism. On my side, I especially object to teachers who seem to think a few weekend workshops are all that are needed to prepare a good-hearted person to be a healer. If you are one of those good-hearted people who want to heal others, please find a teacher who noticeably improves your intuitive abilities, who gives you concrete systems for releasing energy on more than one level, and who gives you both explanations for why the energy is blocked and tools for releasing particular patterns. As for those healers who blame the client for the clients’ fear stopping the healing, did you take a look (intuitively speaking) to see what the obstacles to healing are? Are you sure it’s fear? In my experience, the obstacles to healing are many things: genetics, cultural bonds, past lives, karma, trauma, miasmas, contracts, and control programs, to name a few. If there is fear, I find that it’s pretty easy to work around.

  • Alyce Badger Brock

    You will know you are good at what you do when your clients come back for repeat visits. They will also refer people to you. They will also say positive things about your service to your face, write you thank you notes, tell other people in the room how great you are (and make you blush), and be willing to give you a testimonial if you ask.

  • yes. there’s no sense being puritan about this things. we must sustain ourselves while sustaining the world