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Sophrologist is as sophrologist does

In the latest of our series following people with unusual jobs, Marie Citharel explains how she gave up a career in retail to retrain as a sophrologist - and how she now helps clients handle ill-health, burnout or stress

Marie Citharel, 35, is a Sophrologist (Sophrologue) from Chateauneuf-la-Forest, in Haute-Vienne, where she lives with her husband Marc, 35, and children Theophile, 15, Louise, nine, and Thomas seven.

Describe what your job involves

Sophrology is a therapy designed to help clients to relax by using exercises for both body and mind. The practice, which is a blend of Eastern and Western methods, involves visualisation, gentle movement, relaxation techniques, together with guided breathing designed to harmonise body and spirit.  

The word sophrology itself has its roots in Greek.  ‘Sos’ meaning harmony and ‘phren’ meaning spirit or conscience.  The technique was brought to Europe during 1960s, having originally developed in India, from Yoga practice.

As we experience stress both physically and emotionally, combining both within the same discipline can be extremely helpful to those who are under pressure or suffering from emotional problems such as anxiety.

Sophrology can also improve mood, focus and stamina – it’s very useful for those suffering from ill-health, burnout or sadness.  It is used to prepare women for childbirth, can aid athletes’ focus and can be very useful for those at school or studying at university.  

Sophrology aims to help people to find their inner happiness.

As a qualified sophrologist, I run my own practice helping individuals to achieve relaxation.  I carry out one to one appointments with clients and aim to help them lower stress in their body and mind and improve their mood and focus. I also run group sessions, during which I help several people simultaneously.

How did you end up doing it – was it planned?

I only discovered sophrology myself a few years ago, and only qualified in 2015, so I’ve come to the practice quite late.  

It wasn’t something I planned on doing initially, as it’s quite a new discipline.  But, various circumstances in my own led to my making a career change and wanting to retrain.  I began my training in 2013 and qualified last December.

Is this your first job?  If not, what did you do before?

I’ve had several different jobs in the past – including working in a school and in a library.  Most recently I worked in a large shop.  It was a difficult environment with lots of pressure and it involved dealing with lots of different people.  In this particular job, I suffered from stress and tried different ways to combat this –this is how I came to find out about sophrology.  

I had my first sophrology treatment in 2013 after trying relaxation, meditation and mindfulness; I was looking for something new so thought I’d give it a try.

Sophrology sessions helped me to cope with the pressure of work and to relax despite my hectic life. Eventually, the shop I was working in closed, and I was made redundant.  Rather than seeking another retail position, I decided that I wanted to do something completely different.  I decided to study to be a sophrologist so that I could help to bring this discipline to others; I wanted to spread the word about this great method of relaxation – and it was also a chance for me to work for myself and create my own working environment.

What attracted you to your current role?

As a client, Sophrology helped me to understand my own experience of stress, and the solutions which work best for me.  My journey of self-discovery made me realise how much I wanted to help other people.  Having found a solution to my own stress, this was an opportunity for me to make a difference.

It’s great to feel that I have the tools to help so many people, in all walks of life, achieve a happier outlook.

What qualifications or training did you need?

I studied for two and a half years at the French Institute of Sophrology in Limoges, at the end of which I became a registered sophrologist in December 2015.

In order to access the course, I had to have a ‘Niveau BAC’ and had an interview with the ‘Directrice’ of the school to ensure that I was suitable.  It is quite a popular course and the demand for places can be high.

Where do you work?

I have a treatment room in two different doctors’ surgeries – one in Limoges and the other in St Sulpice Laurière.  In this way, I’m able to work alongside other health professionals, and it’s less expensive than having my own premises.  

I am also able to travel to a client’s home to do a sophrology session if they wish.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

I’m a real people person and enjoy finding out about my clients and adapting the treatment to suit their needs.  I’m a great listener and am good at helping people to open up about their problems.  It’s wonderful to know that I’ve made such a difference to others and to discover new ways of helping people in all sorts of different situations.

I enjoy managing my own workload and being able to fit my hours more easily around family life – in this way I have dramatically reduced my stress.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Luckily, the course I took is very thorough – I was prepared for all sorts of different situations. However, I think if I hadn’t learned to keep a professional distance and to not become too emotionally involved in a client’s situation during my training, I might find the process of treating someone’s stress emotionally draining.  

Sometimes we can take on the feelings of others too much, but I am able to keep a professional distance, taking a step back to look at a client’s problem or emotions in a more detached way.

I also know, whatever a person’s problem, I will be able to reduce their stress.

At the moment, I can only see positives in my work as it is very new and very different to anything I’ve done before!

What do your friends and family think about what you do?

My family and friends are really pleased for me.  Many of them have commented that I see much more relaxed and open than I did when I was working in my last job. They can see that my occupation suits me and that it’s very fulfilling for me – so of course they are delighted.

What’s your busiest time of year?

Whereas when I worked in retail, I wasn’t really in charge of my own time or workload, now that I work for myself I am able to take a day, or a period of time away from my work, I can arrange my appointments around that.  

There isn’t a particular ‘busy period’ in my work, as clients come and go as and when they need treatment.  Perhaps in the future, when I’ve been working for a longer period of time, I will notice particularly stressful times – such as the Christmas period – will have an impact on my workload.

Do you have any plans for the future?

I have big plans for the future! I want to work with different organisations and enterprises to try to offer stress management and relief within companies.  I think this service could be invaluable to companies, both helping employees to manage stress and perhaps preventing stress altogether in the workplace.

I plan to make contact with some of the large local organisations and see whether I can make connections with a view to offering this valuable service on a larger scale.

Sophrology can offer a real solution to people’s state of mind, which would help to create a happier and more productive workload for everyone, so I think this could be a very successful enterprise!

Is it well paid?

So far, I’m not sure!  My business has only just started, although obviously I would like to take a salary as soon as possible.  However, there seems to be a lot of demand.

At the moment, I offer individual appointments for €40 and courses for small groups for €15 per person.

The medical profession is only just starting to recognise the benefit of sophrology, so unfortunately most people can’t claim for treatment via their health insurance, the way they might when they visit the doctor, however.  

However, some policies do cover patients for a set number of treatments, so it is worth asking your insurers.

Hopefully as the interest in and knowledge of sophrology grows, it is something that will be more freely available in future years, and demand will increase further as a result.

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