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Craniosacral Therapy; Bridging the Science and Art of Healing

by Jonathan Lawrence(more info)

listed in craniosacral therapy, originally published in issue 232 - August 2016


Craniosacral Hold: Vault

Fig 1 Craniosacral Hold: Vault

I was original going to title this piece as Craniosacral Therapy Saves the World on the basis that the principles that underlie CST are the ones that we need to face the challenges we face at present. All our challenges are allied with environmental degradation. This manifests as the threat to our biosphere due to our burgeoning population straining planetary resources and the toxic effect of our activities which direct and indirect effects on our health.

It is indeed an irony that our cleverness that has created this urgent situation has also created the tools for a solution. The key to solving these problems is to change our way of thinking from reductionist to holistic; that is where CST as science and art can contribute. Science in recent years has replaced religion to some extent as the source of the narrative that explains existence. This is well illustrated by the late Sir John Maddox, editor of the world’s most prestigious scientific journal Nature who said of Rupert Sheldrake’s book A New Science of Life "Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned in exactly the language that the Pope used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reason. It is heresy."

That extraordinary arrogance presumes that scientific knowledge is all but complete and that the explorations of new ideas by such as Sheldrake are fundamentally dangerous. Maddox failed to see the irony of his statement.

I think it was Professor Vincent Marks who said in 1987 that the difference between alternative medicine and conventional medicine is that “alternative medicine has a philosophy”. This remark presupposes that conventional medicine is based on fact and that facts are independent of philosophy.[3]

In truth much of the application of medical science, which is Newtonian and out-dated is based on a school of philosophy called Logical Positivism:

Their principle of verification meant that only propositions concerned with matters of empirically-verifiable fact (‘It is still raining’), or the logical relationship between concepts (‘A downpour is heavier than a shower’) are meaningful.”[1]

This School of thought arose from the teachings of Wittgenstein, one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers. Whereas Wittgenstein himself believed that there

is in the very nature or essence of values (as distinct from verifiable facts) that they are contentious. There is simply no objective truth to be had about a judgment of value.”[1]

Absolute certainty may be something we strive for, but this can only constitute a partial understanding of the world, as there is still much to be known. There is in addition, values which are immeasurable and unquantifiable without which we cannot function as human beings. Good commentaries are to be had on this topic such as Sir Roger Penrose, the mathematician’s book The Emperors New Mind in which aspects of reality such as consciousness are postulated to be unquantifiable.[2]

For me the effect of valueless logical positivism on the world is to reinforce the concept that we are here by chance, that there is no purpose to life and our consciousness is an illusory byproduct of existence. I was lucky enough to have taught Environmental Science before training as an osteopath. To me this subject, which at the time I was teaching was in its infancy, is much more advanced than the 19th century paradigm upon which much of modern medical science is based. This discipline sees the interconnectedness of all living things and beyond that to their relationship with the biosphere.

This has been an excellent grounding to working as a Craniosacral therapist in which an understanding of anatomy and physiology is combined with the objective palpation of tissue motion, rate and amplitude with the more intuitive qualities of the patient’s system.  In addition the therapeutic relationship within which clinical progress takes place is of critical importance. The primary basis of this is trust without which no degree of skill can be effective.

Secondly in order to succeed, we need as therapists to be truly skeptical. Not like the plethora of so called ‘skeptic’ organizations that try to suppress any innovative thinking who are therefore in essence closed-minded.

CST has a philosophy derived from osteopathy. William Garner Sutherland, a student of Still's, applied the same concept of structure / function relationships to his discovery of what is now called the involuntary mechanism. This motion, which occurs throughout the body, has been associated with motility of the central nervous system and flow of cerebro-spinal fluid. It drives the motion felt in the bones of the skull and fascia.[5]

Arrangement of Cranial Bones

Fig 2 Arrangement of Cranial Bones

The main osteopathic concepts such as the importance of the relationship between structure and function and the tendency of the body to health and wholeness are shared by other holistic modalities. Osteopathy is inherently a treatment of the body mechanics; craniosacral therapy recognizes an involuntary motion (IVM) and inherent mobility and motility characteristic of all living organisms. This motion operates via fulcra, which are anatomically based. If motion is absent or abnormal i.e. operation from a displaced fulcrum then gentle manipulation can restore correct functioning.[6]

Reciprocal Tension Membranes in Skull. Examples of Fulcra

Fig 3 Reciprocal Tension Membranes in Skull. Examples of Fulcra

Practitioners then need to develop awareness of tissue qualities, such as shock (physical and psychological), compression within the tissues and between body structures and chronicity for example.

I train practitioners from a wide variety of modalities in Craniosacral Therapy (CST). Some are very grounded in science and are conventional practitioners; doctors, dentists, nurses and occupational therapists among others. There is the middle ground of practitioners who are grounded in sciences but have a more holistic perspective such as osteopaths and chiropractors. Finally there is the group of holistic therapists and homeopaths for example.

The skills needed to become a well-rounded practitioner are a combination of the academic and the intuitive. Those from an academic background may have problems with palpation tissues and tissue qualities initially, but understand the key concepts without much problem. Those from a more holistic tradition may find that they can make a therapeutic difference without a true understanding of what is going on initially.

These mixed groups are a joy to teach as each one brings their expertise and experience to bear thus enriching the learning experience. On qualifying from the course they are expected to be grounded in the principles and techniques of CST but encouraged to express their experience and intuitive qualities in developing their therapeutic skills.

How do I know if what I am palpating on my patient is due to birth trauma or a car accident for example? The answer is to take all information into consideration when coming to a hypothesis of how a problem arose. This involves from the moment of the first communication with the patient, the case history and timeline of the issue, the examination, what structures are disturbed how they relate to the presenting symptoms.

One should be prepared to modify one’s working hypothesis on the basis of new information such as new symptoms or patients failing to respond in the way one would predict. Hence the need for scepticism!

How do we know if CST works? There has been some positive research,[7, 8] though still controversial. Clinical experience is useful, but how does one distinguish between true clinical effects and placebo. There has been extensive anecdotal evidence of positive effects of treatment on small babies in which the placebo effect is unlikely.

I saw a patient many years ago who had developed severe and debilitating thalamic pain following an accident involving fractures of the skull and facial bones. He had seen a number of consultants including a world famous pain expert and had had a number of alternative treatments. On palpation and manipulation of the vomer (nasal septum) in the mouth, the pain ceased and following a course of treatment become insignificant.

I treated a young disabled man with micropthalmia in which the eye sockets are too small for the eyes and he had to have prostheses. It so happened I knew the technician who regularly inspected his eyes and after several treatments she informed me that his eye sockets had grown.

I know of a number of paediatricians who have attempted to set up trials of CST or Cranial osteopathy in hospitals.

CST along with other holistic therapies is gentle, non-invasive, effective, nontoxic and combines knowledge of science with intuition empathy and understanding. We live in a world where similar principles thus applied may help to arrest and reverse the destruction of the planet. Maybe craniosacral therapy can save the world?

References and Notes

  1. I heard this as member of an audience during a debate held by ITV in Bristol 1987.
  6. Sutherland, William Garner. Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy : Rudra Press. 1990


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About Jonathan Lawrence

Jonathan Lawrence BA DO Cert Ed, following 4 years teaching Environmental Science, trained at the European School of Osteopathy graduating in 1985. Jonathan has been practising Osteopathy in private practice for 25 years, treating patients of all ages – from babies to the elderly. Having lectured to audiences ranging from small technique classes to presenting at the 2008 Advancing Osteopathy Conference, he established Turning Point Training in order to bring high quality and affordable professional courses in Craniosacral and positional release techniques to practitioners trained in conventional or complementary medicine. He may be contacted on Tel: 01769 579004;  

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