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Ep 144 - Business Mastery: Keys to Creating a Fulfilling, Thriving Practice with Cherie Sohnen-Moe

Arrows on the floor hightlighting a pathway to follow.

In this episode, Cherie Sohnen-Moe discusses what inspired her to write her first book, Business Mastery; how massage therapists should be using treatment plans as a marketing tool; incorporating retail sales into your practice; and her hopes for the future of massage and bodywork.

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Cherie Sohnen-Moe, author of Business Mastery and The Ethics of Touch
Author Bio

Cherie Sohnen-Moe is an author, business coach, and international workshop leader. She has been involved in the wellness field since 1978. Cherie was a faculty member at a massage school, natural health college, and acupuncture college, and has served on advisory boards for several schools.

She has written hundreds of articles, authored the books Business Mastery (now in its 5th edition) and Present Yourself Powerfully, and co-authored The Ethics of Touch and Retail Mastery.

Cherie holds a degree in psychology from UCLA and is active in many professional and community organizations. She is a firm believer in education and serves on the exam development committee of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). She is a founding member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, served on their board for nine years, and was president for two years.


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Full Transcript

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0:02:07.8 Speaker 2: Welcome to The ABMP podcast, my name is Darren Buford, and I'm Editor-in-Chief of Massage and Bodywork Magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP.

0:02:16.5 Speaker 3: And I'm Kristin Coverly, licensed massage therapist and ABMP's Director of Professional Education.

0:02:20.0 S2: Our guest today is Cherie Sohnen-Moe. Cherie is an author, business coach, and international workshop leader. She has been a successful business owner since 1978, before shifting her focus to education and coaching, she was in private practice for many years as a massage and holistic health practitioner. Cherie is the author of Business Mastery now in its fifth edition, Present Yourself Powerfully and co-author of the books, The Ethics of Touch and Retail Mastery. Cherie holds a degree in Psychology from UCLA and has extensive experience in the areas of business management, training and creative problem solving, which combines well with her ability to support others to achieve what they want in life. Cherie is a 2012 inductee to the massage therapy Hall of Fame. For more information, visit Hello Cherie and Hello Kristin.

0:03:14.3 Speaker 4: Hi.

0:03:14.6 S3: Hello, Cherie, thanks so much for being with us on the ABMP podcast. We're so excited to have you here.

0:03:20.5 S4: Thank you for inviting me. I'm pretty excited too.

0:03:23.9 S3: Good, we've got so much we wanna talk to you about today, but we're gonna take a step back, start at the beginning. So many massage therapists and educators know you from your books, but you were a practicing massage therapist before you became an author. Tell us a little bit about what led you to massage, how did you start this path?

0:03:41.2 S4: Well, I think I've always been doing massage. I was the kid who was always massaging people's shoulders and feet. So there was always that kind of natural tendency of... And then a little bit of my history, which will make sense for some of you, is I was living in Southern California in the 70s, when I went to college. And that was the height of the personal growth movement, so everything was really looking at what we do and how we feel, and there was a lot of touch going on. [chuckle] And I took all sorts of little workshops while I was at college, I took some, like a Touch for Health course, I took some little fun things. And then I... One of my classes was Abnormal Psych, and in there I got to do a project, and so I did my project on birth trauma. And that's when I became introduced to Lavoie, who was an incredible person who went around and he was a documentarian, and went to all these different tribal communities across the world. And one of the things he found in common were they all massage their babies from day one, and so that was very interesting to me.

0:05:01.2 S4: And so that just sort of, kind of, led to more of that, and then I kind of fell into massage. I was planning on doing business, we called it consulting back then, not coaching, and I had started working with these two people who wanted to put together a health center. And there were no health centers at the time, this was the first one of its kind. And while I was still in college, and then once I graduated, we worked on this project, I wrote a business plan for them, together, they found over a million dollars worth of funding, and then once the money came in, it all became real and they just freaked out, and it was like, "Nope, we're not gonna do this." And I had just gotten out of college, and it's like, "Oh, my heart was broken." It was like, "I did six months on this project." And the interesting thing was, literally that week, I remember this to this day, three of my friends called me up and said, "Hey, Cherie, will you just work on my body, I'll pay you." [chuckle]

0:06:08.6 S2: It's a good sign.

0:06:11.6 S4: One door closes, a window opens. [chuckle] And so after about three years, and I was still doing massage, it was like, "I should probably go back to school and actually get trained." [chuckle] So that's what I did.

0:06:26.6 S2: Speaking of that minor freakout when the money came in, did that or something else inspire you to write your first book, Business Mastery?

0:06:36.9 S4: Well, what started me to write my first book... I had been doing some consulting with this person, I'd done a lot of work with him, personal things as well as business things, and again, this is before we had lovely handy dandy computers and printers, [laughter] and so all my handouts were on typewriter, and I'd kept all these notes and he kept telling me, "Cherie, you should put this all into a book". And I'm like: "No, I'm not a writer". And so I'd kept all these notes in this notebook, and I had been doing some things. I started teaching at the Desert Institute of the healing arts here in Tucson. And it was frustrating for me because I had to spend so much time in a classroom, bringing people up to speed on basics, and what I wanted to do is spend that classroom time delving in and doing experiential activities. And there's always been good business books and back then the really popular ones were the guerilla marketing books. And those are great books, but they talk in terms of battles and wars and strategies, and those are not language terms that massage therapists resonate with. So I had guerilla marketing on one hand, and then I had Shakti Gawain's creative visualization on the other hand, and nothing in between. And so one day, I'm lamenting this and I open up my closet door in my office at home, and this notebook that was on the top shelf fell on my head.


0:08:06.8 S2: The universe really sends you great signs, I have to say.

0:08:10.6 S1: It does, it does.


0:08:13.1 S1: If I don't listen to them, they get louder.


0:08:15.9 S1: And a notebook on the head hurt, but it wasn't too bad. But yeah, so then it was just like, I was like: "Oh, okay, I guess it's time to write this book".

0:08:25.5 S2: Wow. What a great origin story for her. [laughter]

0:08:27.6 S1: Yeah.

0:08:30.4 S2: It's wonderful. And I have to say, I taught in core massage programs for years, and I taught business career marketing classes, and I used business mastery as our textbook. So thank you so much. I wanna say thank you for that. It's a great resource and tool. Students loved it. I loved it.

0:08:44.1 S1: Thank you.

0:08:46.0 S2: I'm curious, you've been really educating therapists in the business realm for so many years, what are the gaps that you see that are most common, what are the tools and information that therapists just aren't getting, that they're asking you about or asking for more of?

0:09:01.3 S1: Well, there's a couple of things. One is just general marketing. And I think that part of the problem is so many therapists, they just wanna do their work. They just wanna show up, do their work and move on, and the bottom line though is, even if you have a job, there's marketing involved, and so it's teaching them and hopefully, encouraging them to find ways that marketing reflects who they are. 'Cause I'm often asked the question of, "Well, what's the best marketing thing I can do?" And usually my first answer is the one you will do.


0:09:46.7 S2: Yes, yes, it's perfect.

0:09:47.6 S1: Because there are lots of great marketing things. In general, I always do say that any way that you can get out and be visible in your community is the most important way to build your practice. But the bottom line is, if you're not gonna do something, and why spend your time resisting it and forcing it because there's so many ways of letting people know who you are, and that's what's really important. So it's marketing. I'm not sure if it's so much just technical information as much as it's a shift of attitude and you really getting people to understand that this marketing simply is sharing who you are so that people can make an informed decision of whether or not they wanna use your services, that's really all it is.

0:10:41.5 S1: And yes, there are some smarter ways of doing it, and then, that is the other thing is I think the missing piece for people is they don't understand target marketing or niche marketing, or... There's lots of terms for that, and so they wanna be the therapist to everybody. Well, fine, [chuckle] but that doesn't work in terms of marketing, and you'll burn yourself out trying to, first of all, be the therapist to everybody, which kind of underlies a whole other symptomology of us caregivers. But in terms of targeting your market, I've always recommended you have at least two or three specific target markets, so that you can know how to get them, know how to reach them. And I remember when I moved to Tucson and I was really planning on focusing on doing my consulting in training practice. I went to a local advertising firm to get a brochure done, and I gave them a copy and I told them that my target market were women business owners that were anywhere from 25 to 60 years old. And I gave them this whole list of demographics and psycho-graphics, and they come back with a brochure with a caricature of a man playing golf.

0:12:08.3 S2: Oh my goodness. [laughter]

0:12:11.2 S1: I'm sorry. Maybe some of these women play golf, but that would certainly not draw them in.

0:12:18.9 S3: Wow!

0:12:20.9 S1: And this was an advertising company, and I gave them lots of information. So from then on, I did all my stuff in the house. [chuckle] So that's the really important thing that I think they're missing in terms of marketing. And then the other aspect, which doesn't seem like marketing in business, but it really is, and that's doing treatment plans. So many therapists don't do treatment plans and it's just... Well, first of all, it's frightening.

0:12:53.8 S1: But second of all, people need a way to... Most of them anyway, need a way to justify the time and the money they spend on getting massage. And it's so much easier to do that if you have a treatment plan and you're checking in and you're having goals. And when I first started, I did goals because I was the goal setting queen, and I didn't have the terminology for treatment plans, but I always set goals with my clients. And not just what were their goals for that first session, because the kind of work that I did, I always felt that clients and the people I wanted to attract were people who were gonna be coming in for regular work. Now, occasionally, did I work on people that I knew weren't that, yes, people whose friends were coming into town and they wanted to give them a massage, absolutely. But who I wanted to attract into my practice were people who were really looking into transformation, and looking into change, and how they wanted that to happen in their body, and that doesn't take one or two sessions. So I set these goals.

0:14:00.0 S1: And the thing about treatment plans is if you don't do them, a lot of people aren't gonna see the progress. And that's why what goes hand-in-hand with that is what I call progress notes, reports or findings, again, those kinds of terms. But here's an example of how it wouldn't work, so let's say you weren't doing that, but you found out when a client first came in, maybe they were having migraines and they were getting five migraines a week and their intensity... Hopefully, you were asking these kinds of questions like intensity, duration. But yeah, the intensity was an eight and they lasted about two hours. And so you've been working on them for maybe several months. If you ask them the question, "Oh, are you still getting headaches?" They might just say yes, and then, oh, all of a sudden they're feeling really deflated, but if you ask them, "How often are you getting headaches?" "I'm only getting headaches once or twice a week." "Wow, that's progress." "Yeah, the intensity is usually only about four, and they're only lasting about 30 to 45 minutes." That's progress, that's something to be excited about. And that's going to get them excited about coming in, and that's gonna get them excited about talking to their friends and colleagues about these great results they're getting from massage.

0:15:21.0 S2: Cherie, what happens when the treatment plan "comes to completion"?

0:15:27.3 S1: Well, that's perfect because then it's like, so now we've reached goals X, Y and Z, what would you like next? [laughter] And then it's like, "Oh, wait, I can have more? [laughter] Oh, well, I've never thought about this, but maybe I would like to be able to shave another five seconds off my mile or it could be whatever. It just opens up lots of opportunity and excitement, and then, if not, then there's just always maintenance and it's like you maintain... And again, that's gonna depend on the person's lifestyle, do they exercise, are they doing anything else for their body? I once had a client who came in every week, he had a really stressful job, he was in government procurement, very, very stressful, and he was really getting great results from massage for not just stress reduction for other things. And I'd worked on him for a couple of years, every week, and he wanted to experiment to see what would happen if he didn't come in. That lasted a few months, [laughter] because all of a sudden he was on high blood pressure medicine and he was on all sorts of things that he hadn't been on when he was getting regular work.

0:16:44.6 S1: So for him, regular maintenance was every week, for somebody else, it might be once a month. So there are no guidelines for that, you just have to work with the individual. But that gets back to the question, it's the age-old question of when someone says, "How often should I come in for a massage?" Again, if you've done a treatment plan, that's not such an issue, when you've sit down and you've reached your goals, then sometimes it's a little bit more. But whenever anybody would ask me that question, if it wasn't already working a treatment plan, my response would be something like, as often as you can afford financially, physically and emotionally.

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0:18:10.2 S3: Cherie, you co-authored Retail Mastery with Lynda Solien-Wolfe. Do you think retail sales is an area for potential growth for practitioners?

0:18:18.8 S1: Absolutely, and it's one that is sorely absent for most of them. One of the things I remember when I first wrote my book, and I had this experience of making money when I slept. [laughter]

0:18:35.0 S1: Nice. [laughter]

0:18:37.1 S2: Oh that's awesome.

0:18:39.2 S3: That changed my life, and the same can be said for retailing, because it's not about how they're spending their time, they're spending their time doing their hands-on work. But retailing is an adjunct way of making sales and supporting your clients. And I think that's really the unfortunate part, why people don't do that, it's like, "Well, I'm a massage therapist. This is blah, blah, blah." But retailing products, choose products that are going to be helpful for your clients. And what's amazing is a lot of products that are available to therapists, people aren't gonna find out there, at least not very easily. And there are also some products that are only able to be purchased by practitioners, certain professional grade products.

0:19:31.5 S3: So you're doing your clients a service by having these things available, especially 'cause most of them can't come in every day for a massage. So you want them to be able to have some tools and some products to help them in-between sessions. And it can be fun. That's the other part of it. I also think of it this way, there's the products that you sell for your clients for their well-being and their self-care, but then there are some of the products that you have there that people can buy for fun. [chuckle] And it's like everybody's always needing presents for friends and family. So why not have it be some really cool scrub that you have, or something, an essential oil, something that you need, and that can make a huge difference in your income. Are you gonna get rich out of it? No. Well, maybe you could, but that's really not the whole purpose of this. It's to have adjunct income.

0:20:35.3 S2: Cherie, do you have any advice for a product that practitioners should start with, or how much they should purchase? Because that could feel like a big risk. I don't wanna... Potentially, maybe I don't wanna stock up a whole shelf full of things. How much should I do just to get started to see if I'm successful at it?

0:20:52.5 S3: Again, that goes back to your target markets. So look at what's important to the majority of your clients, or at least a good subset of your clients, and look through them and go, "Oh yeah, most of them have X, Y, and Z issue." So that's going to lead you to what might be most appropriate for you to buy. And again, like you said, I don't suggest buying 50 different items or even buying a whole lot. What's nice is if you have other colleagues, you can go in and do joint purchases, because sometimes to get a good discount, you need to buy a certain volume, but then again, you don't have to be the only one doing that, and you can split that with other practitioners in the area. And so that's a good way. In terms of retail sales, surveys have shown that topical analgesics are the number one seller.

0:21:52.5 S1: A question for you though, a lot of therapists have expressed that a barrier to entry to retail sales is questions about charging and reporting sales tax. Is this a big intimidating monster or is it doable?

0:22:06.0 S3: It's so doable. [chuckle] And yes, it... Well, first of all, if you're doing any of your finances with a computer program, it'll automatically do all that. So there's that. Of course, you do have to send in the reports. Now, depending on the state you'll be required different ways. Like some states require you submit monthly, some quarterly. I know that my retail sales have been so low that I only had to do it annually. So it's that first year that's tougher, but it's not that tough. It's simple. You know what... Whatever the rate is you're supposed to charge, you charge that, and then you fill out the report. And I know that in Arizona, they finally started doing all of this online. So it was really, really simple, and I put all of my stuff in there, and it automatically calculates which I already had obviously, and then it's like, "Oh, it was a penny off. Okay." [laughter] So yeah, it isn't that scary. And also, usually the cost is really low. I know for me, I had to pay like $15 for my license, for a retail license, and that was once 25 years ago or something.

0:23:32.7 S2: Cherie, do you have a suggested markup price when you're buying inventory?

0:23:37.7 S3: Well, you're... The manufacturer where you're buying for will usually give you what the suggested retail price is.

0:23:45.8 S2: And then Cherie, when do you introduce sales? Is this just naturally after the session is over?

0:23:53.4 S3: Yes. I do not believe in taking up any of your session time and selling. But the only exception to that is if I'm using a product on a client and they make a comment about it... It's a special product. They're not gonna ask me anything about the oils or general things that I use. But if it's a special product... And then I might say something like, "Yeah, I'll be glad to talk to you about this after the session and you give you more information, 'cause we do have it available for sale."

0:24:24.4 S3: But afterwards, you... Again, when you're doing your post-treatment wrap-up, you wanna say, "So here's what I saw today. Here were your goals for this session." Do a quick wrap-up on how they felt what they got out of the session, and then say, "So now, one of the things I noticed is that you had this extra pain in this area, so you might wanna consider some kind of a topical analgesic," or maybe they had really dry elbows and you could say something like, "So I noticed when I did this, you had some dry skin on your elbows. We have this really cool scrub that you might want to look at." Yeah, and just like that. But it doesn't have to take a long time, and you have a handful of products, and there they are.

0:25:21.8 S2: No, I love this. We've mentioned this before in the podcast, but my hairstylist is such a natural that after each haircut, the first thing that's said is, "How are we doing on products right now?"

0:25:35.5 S3: Right.

0:25:35.6 S2: "Doing really well in that? And also, let's make sure, and let's go ahead... We're doing six weeks or seven weeks or eight weeks between cuts right?" Just absolutely the first words out of their mouth. And I'm just, "Of course, that's what we're doing."

0:25:46.7 S3: Yeah, and how often do you ever leave getting a haircut without buying product of some kind? So it's kind of natural. But yeah. And the only other thing though is if you're selling them some kind of self-care tool, I also recommend spending a few minutes explaining how to use it.

0:26:07.1 S1: Absolutely. And it'd be nice to even have a portion of your website that talks about obviously what you're selling, but how to use those as well, how to use the tools.

0:26:13.9 S3: And even... You could have a client do it. So it's more real. It's... "And here's my client. Here's Kristin who's gonna show you how she uses this."

0:26:26.3 S1: That's great, perfect idea for a self-care video, client-based with the actual client. That's great.

0:26:31.6 S3: And not just your website, your Facebook page... [laughter]

0:26:36.2 S1: Yes.

0:26:37.9 S3: Instagram, you name it, baby. [laughter]

0:26:39.5 S1: All the platforms. [laughter]

0:26:40.5 S3: Yeah.

0:26:42.4 S1: Okay, Cherie, we're gonna take a zoom-out here and pull back a little bit, ask you a big broad question. What do you think is next for the massage profession, and what are your hopes and expectations for the future of massage and body work?

0:26:57.8 S3: I think there are a couple of things. First of all, I think we're gonna see a rise in people coming back into the profession. This last year and a half has really demonstrated how important touch is, and how devastating the lack of touch is. There have been studies, there's all sorts of things out there that just... People know how important touch is. And so I think it's gonna profoundly impact our profession. There's that. So there'll be more people coming into the profession, which is good.

0:27:32.0 S3: I also think that one of the trends we've been seeing, it's weird to call it a trend because it's been happening for 15 years, is a branch off of people that want to really get involved in doing medical massage versus people who don't. I mean they're still doing therapeutic work, but they just, they have no desire to work in the medical system. So I think that what I see and what I hope is that the different organizations figure out a way to support that, and particularly, I think the certification board really needs to come out with specialty certification. The medical world is used to that. You might have an MD, but then they're also a board-certified plastic surgeon, and that means something. So we don't have that. NCB has advanced certification, they have a couple of specific courses they've certified, but they don't really have that. And it's understandable, that takes a lot of time and money to create that kind of certification.

0:28:45.9 S3: I think it's absolutely necessary to make it easier, not that it's not happening or won't happen. I mean, over 30 years ago when I was in practice, I worked for a while, one, sometimes two days a week in a doctor's office, and he charged insurers to do whatever I did, didn't matter to me 'cause I just got paid, [chuckle] and I did my work. I didn't think anything of it. I didn't think it was a big deal to be working with a doctor. But it's not easy for a lot of people. And I think that that's gonna make it a lot easier. So that's kind of the biggest trend and the biggest ways that we as individuals, we as educators, the professional organizations, can look at ways of how we can support and make this kind of specialization actually occur.

0:29:41.9 S2: Cherie, what final thought would you like to share with massage therapists and body workers that are listening today?

0:29:46.9 S3: Take care of yourselves. Make sure that you're getting body work regularly, that you are taking care of your heart, and I don't just mean literally the organ of your heart, but that you are really doing things that make you happy and that keep you healthy. And when you're not healthy, you're doing things to get better, so stay on that track. Most importantly, remember why you got into this profession in the first place. And I always recommended that you start your day off thinking about, what were those really cool experiences that you had? What were those sessions that were just magical? Or when a client who had been having such pain or chronic pain, or they had really major health issues, and after seeing you, those got better. There's nothing more to warm my heart than to remember how massage has impacted others.

0:30:57.7 S3: It always sounds a little corny for me, but I do believe this so much, it's why I stopped being a practitioner, because I realized that I could only work on so many people with these little hands, but if I could help keep practitioners in business longer, then I would be touching millions of bodies. And there are times I still really miss being in practice. I miss that work. But what we're doing by providing safe, healthy, non-sexual touch is we are really impacting world peace, and it is the most important way for me, I see, that we can make a difference in this world and to make it a happier, healthier place.

0:31:48.1 S2: I wanna thank our guest today, Cherie Sohnen-Moe. Listeners, find out more information about Cherie and her work at, that's S-O-H-N-E-N-M-O-E dot com. Thanks Cherie, and thanks, Kristin.

0:32:03.2 S3: Thank you both.

0:32:05.2 S1: Cherie, thank you so much for being with us today and for everything you've done for the profession.


0:32:13.0 S?: Members are loving ABMP Five-Minute Muscles and ABMP Pocket Pathology, two quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP Five-Minute Muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos plus origins, insertions and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by body workers. ABMP Pocket Pathology created in conjunction with Ruth Werner puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today. ABMP members, log in at and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your member homepage. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at