Part 2 of Andrew Stones’ account of his Osteopathic and Craniosacral education in the U.K.
Adventures studying osteopathy, cranial osteopathy and craniosacral therapy in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s in the UK
By Andrew Stones
PART 1: Four gates to the city… CONTINUED
8) Psychic development, the Already-Enlightened Mind, and Becker’s Bioenergy sphere of health
9) OCC: Embarkation
10) Lifting the Viscera
11) Curiouser and Curiouser
13) Osteopaths at the OCC
14) Four styles of Osteopathic Diagnosis and Treatment
PSYCHIC DEVELOPMENT, THE ALREADY-ENLIGHTENED MIND & BECKER’S BIOENERGY FIELD OF HEALTH
Beyond cranial work, Carolyne introduced me to the Psychic Development work of Manuel Schoch, whom she had discovered through Thomas Attlee’s S.S.H.H. (Society of Students of Holistic Health). Manuel was a gifted psychic and healer, who was very practical and pragmatic in his approach. We attended an 18 month “Psychic Development” course with him. Manuel could see auras very clearly, and devised meditations according to the changes he would see occurring in the energy field of those practicing them. He also gave me a new slant on the “Already-Enlightened Mind” doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism. In some Buddhist schools, such as Zen, it is taught that on some level, we are all already fully enlightened; we just haven’t realized it yet. Our “enlightenment” already exists; all we need to do is become aware of it. My own Buddhist teacher told me that this really isn’t true in a literal sense, it’s just a way of saying that all beings have the potential for enlightenment.
Manuel, meanwhile, could see something very interesting in people’s auras. When he looked at someone’s aura, anyone’s aura, if he focused his attention on the outer edge of the auric field he noticed a curious thing: it was always very beautiful. And he emphasized that this was as equally true of murderers, deviants, and totally messed up people as it was of saints and masters. He saw this shimmering and amazingly beautiful outer layer to their auric field. The inner auric layers were a different story; messed up people more often than not would have messed up and ugly looking patterns in the inner layers of their aura. But that outer layer, it always seemed pristine, as if untouched by the vicissitudes of life. He called this beautiful outer layer the “Quality Aura” because in it he could see and sense the person’s highest qualities; their particular gifts, if you will. And given that he could see that the person’s highest qualities, their gifts already existed, perfect and shimmering, he figured that the quickest and most efficient way for a therapist to help that person actualize was for the therapist to always maintain part of their focus on this outer layer.
Indeed, when he watched as an interaction between two people taking place in which one of them was consciously paying attention to the other’s Quality Aura (as he instructed them to), he could see the other’s Quality Aura shimmering more brightly and start to become more accessible to its owner. This was in contradistinction to problem-focused therapy (the more common variety of psychotherapy in which the therapist pays primary attention to what’s wrong with the client, i.e. their problems) – watching this Manuel often saw the Quality Aura remain inaccessible to the client, and their problems even become more entrenched. Manuel’s work always aimed to help the client get more strongly in touch, more strongly connected to their already-existing wonderful qualities, rather than spend months and years obsessing about their problems and issues (he was actually very much against traditional psychotherapy in this regard).
But this wasn’t just a “let’s emphasize the positive to the client” approach to therapy, it was more of a “let’s alter our state of consciousness, alter our own focus, so we can actually perceive the already-existing positive, in a client who may be seeing themselves as totally negative” And it is the ability to perceive this as a visible or at least palpable positivity through changing our internal state and focus of attention, that was Manuel’s quest. Whether one actually spoke to the client about it was of less significance. This was changing-reality-through-changing-perception. To this end he devised special meditations. I liked this whole idea, and I wondered if my Buddhist teacher might be mistaken in his insistence on a non-literal understanding of the Already-Enlightened-Mind doctrine. I practiced Manuel’s meditations assiduously and found them extremely beneficial. I still use his visualizations today, in an adapted form, put into a simple yet powerful practitioner-fulcrum exercise that I teach to all my craniosacral students
With 18 months psychic development, did I become more psychic? Possibly, though it was hard to say. I think I certainly became more grounded, grounded in a new understanding: that everybody already has a spiritual connection, a Quality Aura, a connection to God/Goddess/All that is. My job as a therapist or healer is not to try and create something that isn’t there already. My job is fundamentally to honor that which is already there (their spiritual connection). And with the honoring, that somehow seems to help their personal connection with that part become stronger, and as it does so, that part itself delivers all the healing that is required. This, for me, was a new way of approaching healing work.
I wondered if this way of thinking was unique to Manuel and Mahayana Buddhists, but some years later I read the words of Rollin Becker, that great master of the Sutherland tradition from which so many UK osteopaths drew and continue to draw, great inspiration. I wondered if Dr. Becker was perhaps talking about something similar when he said: “Patients come to us for the reason that their health pattern has gotten clouded over a little bit and it’s raining on them, but that doesn’t change the fact that above the cloud, there’s a sun still shining and health is still available…..our position as a physician is secondary. It is our responsibility as the secondary physician to work with the primary physician [the health pattern, the sunshine]….to bring this health pattern to the surface.” and “The bioenergy field of health is a palpable sensation; it is possible to literally feel the bioenergy of health at work within our patients. It is a quiet rhythmic interchange between the patient’s body and the rest of his biosphere…There is a bioenergy field of wellness for each individual…When the physician can sense that the patient and his biosphere are interchanging harmoniously, he can discharge that patient with the assurance that he is healthy again.”
The Osteopathic tradition is indeed an amazing thing. A.T. Still described the human body as “God’s medicine chest”, but surely his tradition reveals to us also that it is in fact even more than that; it is a treasure chest of spiritual teachings as well.
I believe it was a Tuesday morning in the autumn of 1993 that I found myself walking across the green grass of Cavendish Square, London W1, just around the corner from Oxford Circus. I was heading for the Osteopathic Centre for Children, which at that time was located in the Square, and I was a little nervous.
Carolyne’s tender ministrations had unlocked a doorway within me, and I had stepped through it with gusto. I gave up teaching at the BCNO and immersed myself as much as I could in the study of Sutherland tradition. I first attended a 5 day postgraduate course in cranial work at my old college, the British School of Osteopathy. That was OK, but a bit bewildering. By day 5 we were already doing intra-oral work for the maxillae, and I still hadn’t felt this “cranial rhythm” that they were all talking about. It all seemed too much to take in, in 5 days, so I investigated the College of Craniosacral Therapy. This course seemed to be presenting similar material, but in bite-sized chunks over a whole 2 year period, rather than trying to cram it all into a week, so I enrolled, and was not disappointed. The only problem with the course was that at that time it didn’t offer any clinical work as part of the training (although some years later it was to become the first UK craniosacral college so to do). As I entered the second year of the training, however, another osteopath who was also doing the CCST course told me about a great training establishment she’d just discovered called the “Osteopathic Centre for Children” (O.C.C.). “It’s great!” she said, “You have to work quite hard, for no money, but you get on-the-job training from excellent practitioners. It’s like a sort of apprenticeship.” I felt some trepidation; I still couldn’t feel the cranial rhythm, and hadn’t really any experience of treating children. But as I had pondered the possibility, for the life of me I really couldn’t think of any excuse not to go along to the OCC and see if they’d have me. Free training by top level cranial osteopaths? How could I ignore that. “Oh, and one other thing…” my colleague had continued, “probably best not to mention you’re doing the CCST course; some of them can be a bit funny about craniosacral therapy.”
And so it was that I nervously climbed the stairs of the rather grand building that was the OCC Cavendish Square, that Tuesday morning. I was ushered in by friendly faces and soon called in to the office of Mr. Stuart Korth, the center’s co-founder and osteopathic director. The boss. And a most amicable boss he appeared too. After a few short questions, checking that I was a fully qualified osteopath and that I’d completed the BSO’s cranial course, he said he’d be happy to have me come along and attend the OCC one day a week, first provisionally for a few weeks, and then see how we felt it was going. That sounded good to me, and I was ushered in to the general common room. My first day was to begin that very morning!
LIFTING THE VISCERA
The OCC was a bustling and busy place, full of laughter and tears in equal measure, interspersed with the deep healing peace regularly touched upon by practitioners of the Sutherland tradition. A pile of case histories for that day sat at the entrance to the open-plan clinic room, from which the volunteer practitioners would take the top one, read through it, and then get on with it, aided in no small measure by a senior practitioners like Stuart, always on hand to help. Neophytes such as myself and another osteopath who was also new to the OCC that day, were given a wide birth, in that it was understood that neither of us were experts at cranial work, nor working with children, so we would need a lot of help. We were however, as qualified practitioners, naturally expected to be capable at case-history-taking and basic osteopathic examination and diagnosis. And that is what the two of us were assigned to us that first morning – to work together to take a new case history and do the initial examination. We did the best we could to navigate the unfamiliar case history sheet and get all the appropriate details from the anxious mother whose two-year old had a severe case of constipation. We did the examination, identified some spinal lesions, and then called Stuart over for a second opinion (as we’d been instructed to do). Stuart concurred with the lesion patterns we’d found but also added that a key thing we’d missed was the protruding abdomen with visceroptosis – sagging of the abdominal organs. “The key thing we need to attend to today is these viscera – these viscera are sagging. They need to be lifted.” He said as he examined the child. Then our faces fell as he continued: “I want you to lift the viscera. Do the best you can, and I’ll be back in a few minutes to see how you’ve done.” And off he went.
Lift the viscera? My colleague and I looked at each other in horror. What on earth did he mean? I think my colleague was a recent graduate from the BSO, an institution which at that time had not lifted any viscera for several generations. I myself had familiarity with a technique of that name, but only from my experiences with Mr. Wernham in Maidstone. The old Littlejohn technique of “lifting the viscera” involved a rhythmic deep scooping of the abdominal viscera out of the pelvis – I’d only seen it done on adults and it seemed an inappropriately robust technique to apply to a two-year-old. Besides which, as I looked around the large open-plan treatment room in which all the treatments were taking place, I did not see any deep scooping going on. On the contrary, all the practitioners we could see working, were doing so in a seemingly “cranial” type way, that is, quietly and gently, with little external movement visible. We gulped, and decided “When in Rome…” and placed our hands gently on the little mite’s tummy. And then we prayed. Well, I say “we”; I don’t actually know what my colleague was doing; he might have not been doing anything for all I know; but I was praying: “Please viscera! Please lift! Oh Lord, healing angels, God/Goddess/All That Is, please come and lift this child’s viscera!” Five minutes later, Stuart was back and checking our work. He felt the child’s tummy. He concentrated. He frowned. We gulped. Then he frowned again. Then, after what seemed an age, he solemnly pronounced, “These viscera….” He paused again. “These viscera have been lifted!” There were sighs all round. We congratulated each other. The mother seemed very happy, and the child seemed none-the-worse for the experience. And that was my first client at the OCC.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
The rest of that day was spent primarily shadowing more experienced practitioners, but “shadowing” included putting hands on and feeling as much as one could of the treatment process. I’ve always found that Sutherland’s osteopathy is by far the most sociable and congenial form of osteopathy; two pairs of hands are invariably more efficient than one, and even a relatively uneducated pair of hands such as mine were at that time, can still be put to good use in the treatment process. So much can be learnt by a more experienced practitioner saying to a junior, “can you feel that shift?” – eventually one can feel it! It did take me at least a year to begin to be able to feel anything, but better late than never. And even on that first day, though I certainly couldn’t feel “it”, in terms of the specifics, I could certainly feel instinctively that something deeply therapeutic was going on during the treatments at the OCC.
And then there was the curious Mr. Korth. Whilst all the other practitioners seemed to be peaceful, calm, even serene during the treatment process, Stuart’s work seemed a different kettle of fish altogether. He would be called over to give a second opinion, or to give a hand when a process seemed particularly tricky. To make his diagnosis he would often seem to barely touch the child; it was more like he would hover in the energy field just above the body. Then, with his hands still hovering there he would treat. And that was a very odd thing to watch. From calmly hovering he would suddenly seem to have what in all honesty looked like a small epileptic fit, or electric shock; his hands and is whole body would suddenly tense up for moment quite violently, and then release. Then, after a pause, he would invariably take his hands away beaming with delight, and say to the other practitioner “Now, feel that!”, where upon the other practitioner would concur that the blockage or lesion had been shifted. This reminded me of the story of an American chiropractor my Tai Chi teacher had spoken of, who apparently did all his chiropractic manipulations a few inches off the physical body. When the chiropractor had been asked how he did it, he had just replied “it’s all in the hip action”. I had no idea whether what was happening here was all to do with Stuart’s hip action, but it was all very interesting.
Then there was the rather curious and wonderful “group still point”, a process for the practitioners alone, which was performed as a kind of ritual in the common room to begin and end the day. This would have looked to an outsider, more like a Victorian séance than an osteopathic technique, but it was massively helpful to all our energies. It simply involved all the practitioners sitting holding hands in a circle for a minute or two until a “still point” was felt. At the beginning of the day, it felt like it was joining us, harmonizing us into a single unified practitioner fulcrum for the day’s work. At the end of the day it had a most miraculous effect – we all felt the suffering of all the children we’d seen that day literally “lift” from our shoulders during the still point, so we could go home in peace, not “carrying” our clients’ energies with us.
So this was my first day at the OCC. Eccentric? Possibly. Exciting? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Did I want to go back for more? Absolutely. My fellow newbie and I shook hands in the street outside the OCC as we prepared to go our separate ways that evening. “See you next week?” I asked him. “No way! They’re all mad!” he replied, and he stomped off down the road, muttering to himself. I never saw him again. For me however, I sensed this could be the beginning of a rather excellent adventure.
There is a Japanese word, “dojo”, which literally means “Way-Place”, or “Place where the Way is practiced”. Though we most commonly come across this term in reference to martial arts training halls, “Place of the Way” is by no means exclusive to the field of martial arts. “The Way” in this context actually means not only “method”, but “path”, as in, “spiritual-path”. In Japan, almost all arts, crafts and skills can regarded as potential spiritual paths. The idea of noble apprentices, devoted to their teacher and to the perfection of their art or craft through years of hard work and service, and through that, eventually achieving a deep sense of meaning, peace, and spiritual fulfillment in their lives, though somewhat lost to us in the west, continues unabated in the East, and is regarded in Japan as one of the bedrocks of society itself. So it is then, that amongst the hundreds of possible examples one could pick, we have such things as “Aiki-do” the Way of energy-harmonizing, “Cha-do”, the Way of tea ceremony, and “Shiatsu-do” the Way of shiatsu. Each of these is regarded a spiritual “way” and is practiced in a “do-jo”, a “Way-place”. More than just a physical place however, the dojo is also an energy field, which is held together and created by the intensity of the teacher, their “ki” (energy), and their devotion to the art, and to the tradition.
The spirit of devotion, service and humility is paramount in any place of the Way. Not only do the apprentices serve the teacher, the teacher also serves the apprentices in the form of his or her teaching, and all of them together serve a greater spiritual purpose for society at large. This is said to be presided over by the spirits of ancestors, the forefathers and foremothers of their tradition. When one walks into a true dojo, one feels it in one’s midline; an alignment starts to take place, which may be subtle, almost imperceptible, but none the less profound. Indeed, just being in a dojo, awake, listening, can be transformational in itself. The OCC, in my experience, was an excellent dojo. I can think of no greater complement than that. Built upon love, sustained and maintained by love; a living breathing testament to the great compassion of a man called Still, and those who followed him, the OCC in my opinion, is a true star in the osteopathic firmament. I immediately felt at home there. Stuart, the master, weaves his magic, the spirits dance, and budding osteopaths as if responding to a distant heart-felt call, find there way there, as knights to Camelot.
Many years earlier, in my difficult teenage years, one of my dearest karate instructors had been a gentle old Croatian fisherman called Matko. Once, some students had asked him, “Sensei, why do you practice karate?” He had shrugged, and smiled and then simply said, “When I am in the dojo…. I know I am doing something good. When I’m outside the dojo…(big grin)…I’m not so sure”. We had all laughed, but we knew what he meant. When one is in the dojo, it’s as if one is held in the vibratory field of Dharma (the spiritual tradition); this makes the practicing of the Dharma so much easier. In my early thirties my life was quite emotionally chaotic; a woman I’d fallen deeply in love with had dumped me, I was no longer a Buddhist and had no real idea where my life was heading, nor even what I wanted out of life. All I really knew at that time was….when I was at the OCC I knew I was doing something good….I experienced it as being like a kind of river of light… into which I plunged every week, with gusto.
STUART, SUSIE, GABY, TAJ, et al…
A few words about some of the wonderful senior osteopaths at the OCC with whom I was previlaged to be apprenticed to (for working at the OCC is like being an apprentice) for three years. Firstly, the maestro himself, Mr. Korth:
There’s a wonderful website, www.osteopathy1000.com, in which Steve Sanet DO, interviews a whole host of amazing osteopaths from both sides of the Atlantic. It is a veritable osteopathic “Meetings with remarkable men – and women” (Steve, and his colleague Marcia Hugell who organized the interviews, should definitely get “services to osteopathy” awards for this endeavor). Stuart Korth is one of those interviewed by Steve, and his responses to Steve’s questions are considered, enlightening and profound, as one might expect. What’s particularly interesting to me however, is the effect that Stuart seems to have on the interviewer. Watching through the majority of these wonderful interviews, as I have done, I notice that Steve seems to be a classic number 9 personality type on the Enneagramme. That is to say, he is the archetypal diplomat: measured, empathetic, readily able to sense other people’s points of view and get onto their wave length (ideally suited, in fact, for gathering the views and opinions of different practitioners). He also seems to display another classic number nine quality – he sometimes comes across as a little sleepy, a little slow in his speech rhythms (despite being always intelligent and respectful none-the-less).
Not so with Stuart. In his conversation with Mr. Korth, Mr Sanet seems to talk considerably faster than he talks in his other interviews. Not that he talks too fast – he certainly isn’t rude, he just comes across as considerably more “wide awake” and energized, than usual. In my experience, this is a typical effect that Stuart can have on the practitioners around him: a sort of galvanizing, astringent, energizing effect, which I noticed time and time again over the years I studied with him at the OCC. Indeed, he galvanized me, and in many ways woke me up. Stuart is just so passionate, and so thoroughly gleeful and determined, in his enthusiasm for both osteopathy, and the osteopathic quest for the reformation of medicine itself. He is exquisitely sensitive; and at the same time humble, realistic, and very responsible and caring in his approach to both students and patients. In terms of osteopathic technique, if I were forced to choose one thing he taught me above all else, I’d say that Stuart taught me the enormous value of panache in the work. Now at first glance that might sound a little trite, perhaps even flippant. And certainly “panache” is not usually a descriptive term one associates with working with the Involuntary Mechanism (which was Stuart’s primary modus operandi). But none the less, Stuart does all his work with great panache.
What is panache? For me, panache is putting so much of your heart into a technique, that your heart energy literally “spills over the edges” and the work becomes firstly, eccentric, that is to say “outside the circle” (the circle of slavish adherence to prescribed classical form), and secondly transcendent for as we carry our heart with us into the heart of the work, at those points of interface, where our passion and compassion meet the heart of the lesion pattern, we are all lifted as one, into another sphere: a sphere of transcendence in which transformation occurs and revelation is at hand. Stuart’s work was eccentric, in that it just looked bloody weird – I’ve never seen anyone else before or since, work like that. But the weirdness was totally authentic: he wasn’t just being weird for the sake of it. He was tuning in and then with all his concentration, all his passion and compassion, all his knowledge and awareness, simply allowing his own system to do what it needed to do, without worrying “this might look a little weird”. This is being willing to put compassion in front of worrying what others might think. It is also allowing the flow of passion – the panache – to be free and integral to the process. His work was transcendent in that he was always open to the mystery. Open to the mystery of what? To the mystery of life, to the mystery of the treatment process, to the mystery of everything. With all his years of study, with all his knowledge gleaned through years studying with the direct students of Sutherland, at any given moment he was always open to the very real possibility that “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio…”.
My spiritual teacher Lazaris once said that it is unwise to seek to be one who knows (who is certain). Instead we should seek perpetually to be one who is on the brink of knowing, standing teetering on the edge, with all our yearning, opening to mystery and the unknown, for however much we think we know, there is always more. My experience of Stuart was that he stood perpetually in this place, and encouraged others to do so. “If you would be willing to join hands with me as we leap together into the unknown…” I remember him once saying to the group of us, as we held hands prior to a group still point. Another time I remember watching him working with a junior colleague on a patient. Stuart was reeling and writhing as he does, following the twists and turns of the Tide, and things looked like they were coming to a dramatic head. “What do I do now?” cried the concerned junior, as the drama suddenly took an intense turn. “Forget everything you’ve ever learned!” was the only reply, “Hold to the Tide!”. Stuart is a keen yachtsman, and it certainly shows.
I believe this level of passionate work is available to all of us but we may need to dig deep within ourselves to find that passion. Sometimes when we meet someone who is already working at that level it just may be the wake up call, the inspiration that we need. Panache for me, is also working with elegance and beauty, and in osteopathic terms, with an appreciation for the healing and life-giving significance of elegance and beauty. This was evident at the OCC, not only in the osteopathic techniques, but also in the décor, the Feng Shui, the newsletters, and even the particular children’s books chosen as suitable to have in the waiting room. Through beauty, to health; through attention to detail, to healing. Stuart brings all these qualities to the table.
In addition to Stuart, there were many other shining stars at the OCC, who helped me immeasurably in my development as a practitioner. The first to mention is undoubtedly Sussanah Booth DO, who in many ways was Stuart’s right-hand-woman when I was at the OCC. Susie was so in tune with Stuart and created such a comforting and harmonious energetic space for us all to work in – she was like an angel. She was also a tremendous osteopath in her own right. In her osteopathy Suzie combined the qualities of infinite gentleness with infinite tenacity. She was actually like a small terrier in her tenacity, but it was kind of hidden. All one saw on the outside was exquisite gentleness. In the inner world of the Involuntary Mechanism however, I have never come across someone so tenacious. It was as if she would enter the inner worlds of these children’s physiologies, which were often quite dark and scary – many children came in with histories of severe trauma or abuse, with sometimes the addition of heavy medication on top of that – and in amidst all this darkness, like a little terrier, undeterred, she would search for the light, that glimmer of potency within the child’s system, that would let us know that somewhere, deep down, this child’s positive spirit was still alive. And then she would hold to it with a tenacity that took my breath away, gently but insistently fanning those embers until a flame would once more emerge.
Then there was Gabriella Collangello – Gaby, a delightful Italian osteopath whose enthusiasm and skill were like a dancing flame, and whose Italian accent was sometimes so strong it could lead to humorous consequences (Gaby: “Stuart, please take a look at this child. Ee ‘asa little feet.”, Stuart: “…His feet look normal-sized to me…” Gaby: “No Stuart, ‘ee ‘asa little feet, a little epileptic feet”). And then there was Tajinda Deora, an osteopath whose straightforwardness and positivity always refreshed us – and one of the few practitioners who continued to enjoy crunches and clicks as much as the subtleties of the IVM. She is also the author of the excellent “Healing through Cranial Osteopathy”. Aside from these four, there were so many others that I also learnt from and became friends with. It was a wonderful time.
FOUR STYLES OF OSTEOPATHIC DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT
By the mid-90’s I had studied at four different osteopathic institutions: the British School of Osteopathy (BSO; 1981-1984), the British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy (BCNO; 1985-1988, which later became BCOM, the British College of Osteopathic Medicine), the Maidstone College of Osteopathy (1989; which later became the John Wernham College of Classical Osteopathy), and the Osteopathic Centre for Children (OCC; 1993-1996). Each of these institutions had their own distinct methodology, style and language of diagnosis and treatment. I thought it might be of interest now to take a brief sojourn to briefly compare the four.
The British School of Osteopathy taught what I would call allopathic, or orthopaedic osteopathy. It is perhaps exemplified in Allan Stoddard’s manuals of osteopathic practice and technique. Stoddard was an allopathic doctor who had also studied osteopathy, and saw it, as many people do, as first and foremost a treatment for bad back, bad necks, and general musculo-skeletal problems. In the clinic at the BSO, emphasis was placed on allopathic diagnosis, and anything that smacked of a non-orthopaedic problem was immediately referred to the GP. This approach is of course anathema to Still’s osteopathy, none the less it is what osteopathy had become, at the BSO. The main question we mostly had to answer, diagnostically, in the clinic, was the question “Is this a disc problem, or is it a sacro-iliac problem, or perhaps a facet-lock?”. This was because the majority of the patients presented with bad backs, and we needed to know if we had to be extra careful with our HVT’s – High Velocity Thrusts (if there was already possible disc damage), or whether we could be a bit more relaxed (if it was a Sacral Iliac or facet lock). Of course, sometimes BSO osteopaths got this diagnosis the wrong and HVT’d an already damaged disc, with disastrous results.
I remember one lecturer, Phil Latey, advising us during a lecture that one of the key things we first needed to do when setting up our own osteopathic clinic when we qualified, was to befriend the local orthopaedic surgeon, so that we could make use of his services on those occasions when our technique precipitated the need for emergency decompression surgery in our clients’ lumbar spines. This comment did not exactly inspire confidence either in the use of HVT nor indeed in osteopathy in general. Having said all this, I do not feel my time at the BSO was entirely in vain, osteopathically speaking. It was good to learn anatomy, and it was good to learn the basics of allopathic medicine and diagnosis – it’s all useful background knowledge. And one could pick up little bits of osteopathy here and there; I mentioned John Meffan as an instinctive and classical osteopath of the old school, although it must be said, he was not even a main college lecturer – his tutorials were optional and not all students attended them. In the BSO student clinic, sadly, a “wholistic” approach to osteopathic treatment was basically – “If you’ve HVT’d the lumbar spine, you might as well HVT the thoracic and cervical spine too, because it’s more wholistic”.
Although I have perhaps been less than complementary about the British College of Naturopathy and Osteopathy thus far, I must say that it was a breath of fresh air for me after my experience at the BSO. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, its smaller size; I just found it much more enjoyable to study in a class of 30 than in a class of 90. With the smaller class size you also got the opportunity to have more individual attention and coaching in the practical classes and develop more friendly educational relationships, both with the staff and with one’s fellow students. Although the osteopathic treatment and osteopathic diagnosis were pretty much identical to that at the BSO (with the exception of a couple of young lecturers who were interested in researching and teaching the previously mentioned “Soft techniques”), a large difference came with the inclusion of Naturopathy in the syllabus. “Naturopathy” is an odd thing, with very little clear definition. I’d say “Naturopathy” is really another name for “Alternative medicine in general”. Modern naturopaths may include nutrition, exercise, psychology, osteopathy, acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal medicine in their work, in addition to the classical old-school fasting-and-hydrotherapy routes of the German and Austrian naturopathic traditions. At the BCNO, the naturopathy came in the form of lectures in nutrition and the use of vitamin and mineral supplementation, along with bits and bobs about hydrotherapy and fasting. It was not particularly well taught, and indeed “Naturopathy” was subsequently abandoned from the title of the college when it became BCOM. However, the fact that at that time, the college was advertised as a college of Naturopathy as well as Osteopathy, did make a big difference to the type of student that was attracted to study there.
I much preferred the type of student that was attracted to the BCNO than those at the BSO. BSO students were generally school leavers and to a certain extent, degenerate slobs, pretty much like allopathic medical students. BCNO students however, were people who were actually interested in health, in alternative medicine as a whole, and in keeping themselves healthy. They also tended to be older, and more well-rounded and mature as individuals. Many of them seemed to know more about naturopathy than some of the college lecturers, and indeed it was interesting being around such fellow students. In the 1980’s “Candida Albicans” for example, was still not well known-about; I learnt about it first from my fellows at the BCNO. I do think it is blatantly obvious that what we eat, what we do, how we feel, and what environmental toxins we may be exposed to, and our general lifestyle, can all have a massive effect on our health, and this can be important in the forming of realistic diagnoses and treatment plans. All of this was taken much more into consideration at the BCNO than it was at the BSO. This, in my opinion, produced more balanced, sensible and effective practitioners. It was also good to be able to engage with visceral and metabolic problems in the BCNO clinic, and not feel compelled to shove such clients off to their GPs. In general, my experience of college life at the BCNO was a pleasant and growthful one.
It was at John Wernham’s Maidstone College of Osteopathy that I got what I’d call my first taste of anything resembling true osteopathy, that is to say anything resembling what Andrew Taylor Still did and was about. Wholistic awareness: the actual and immediate palpatory awareness of one’s osteopathic impact on the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the nervous system, and the fascial system, corner stones of Still’s work, almost entirely absent from the BSO and BCNO, were centre stage at the Maidstone college. Old osteopathic terminology that honors these corner stones and facilitates their usage was taught: the art of “inhibition” for example – sustained, specific segmental pressure to the paraspinal musculature, for the specific purpose of diminishing over-excitation of cord segments was taught. You pressed until you felt the level of excitation diminish. This is classic Still. “Lifting the viscera”, “Lymphatic pump”, “Liver pump”, and many others were also taught, and are still taught today by Wernham’s top student Mervyn Waldman. Wernham was also full of nuggets of empirical diagnostic gold (“Palpate the buttocks! Cold buttocks equals congested Uterus!” and other such gems). He also taught, although did not always explicitly state, the massive importance of awareness and the impact it had on the process of osteopathic treatment. I also learnt from him about the importance of how one used one’s body as a practitioner, combined with how one used one’s awareness.
The bottom line is that we, as living sensing humans, really have no idea as to the possible breadths and depths of our potential awareness, and the breadths and depths of the possible therapeutic impact we can have on each other, using our awareness. If you relax, center yourself, and use your “whole person” (as Wernham used to put it) in each and every technique, this will have an enormously transformational effect on the work. Further, if you hold in your mind the detailed knowledge of the anatomy: the fascia, circulation, lymphatics, viscera and nervous system as well as the mechanics, when performing any technique, this will actually change the impact of the technique. This was quantum awareness direct from the tradition of Still, and long before quantum awareness was either known about or trendy: how you use your mind and awareness alters the physical effect of what you are doing to the client. I’d imagine that it was difficult to articulate this during the 1950’s without sounding weird or nonsensical. Wernham knew it instinctively, as did Littlejohn, but those ruling the roost at the BSO at that time did not know it, and were enamored instead, with dry medical logic and reason. Those such as Audrey Smith, who did not feel that such things as Littlejohn’s “lines of force” made any sense, were missing the point. Littlejohn’s lines of force are not supposed to make sense; they are empirical tools to facilitate wonderfully effective treatment. They are not logical and reasonable, they are empirical and magical. The imperative is not then: “Work out, with your left brain, this client’s mechanical diagnosis according to the lines of force.” No, the imperative, as I understood it was much more, “Interact with this client’s system whilst holding a knowledge of these lines of force in your mind; allow the lines of force to inform your consciousness, and that information will change how the treatment works, spontaneously, in a wonderful way.” In many ways, this was akin to Manuel Schoch’s Psychic development work which said – “Hold a remembrance of this in your awareness as you interact, and notice how this changes things”.
Having said all this about the wonders of Mr. Wernham’s treatment method, I’d also say that I don’t think diagnosis was his strong point. In all honesty he didn’t seem particularly interested in it. When asked for his diagnosis of any particular client he was apt to be either rather general (e.g. a diagnosis of “self-neglect”), or give the cliché’d “right anterior inominate” which seemed to apply to almost everyone. Diagnosis and the specific addressing of that diagnosis in a left-brained fashion seemed just not the way he worked. Of course he would take in information in an extremely subtle, fine, and detailed level from his client’s system, but he seemed to have little interest in summarizing, packaging or presenting that as any finite “diagnosis”. All clients and all diagnoses were ongoing transformational “works in process”; the lines of force emerged in the client, with osteopathic care, as shimmering rippling lines of healthy connectivity, magically emerging out of the previous quagmire of compromised mechanics; and the patient recovered. Anything more seemed by-the-by.
It was at the Osteopathic Centre for Chilren that I believe I first came across true Stillian diagnosis, and indeed true Stillian treatment, in the sense of “Find it, fix it, and leave it alone!” And in this regard we have an interesting example of the paradox of Andrew Taylor Still: his combining of a deeply intuitive magical way of working, with an insistence on the application of strict logic and reason to the work at the same time. Still’s osteopathy is simultaneously magic and science. Stuart made two particular insistences when it came to cranial osteopathy at the OCC: firstly, we should never call it “cranial osteopathy”. “There is no such thing as cranial osteopathy!” he would always say, if anyone ever dared mention the term. By this he meant that there is no form of osteopathy that specializes in the treatment of one part of the body above all others, and of course he is right; the body is a unity; everything effects everything else; this is the first principle of osteopathy; we treat what ever needs treating. Secondly, we should most definitely avoid milling around aimlessly in the IVM, assuming something good is going to happen just by us milling around. We should always make a diagnosis first, then make a specific, conscious, willed intervention, then complete. He made the point that many cranial practitioners (either osteopaths or craniosacral therapists) have a habit of just engaging with the IVM and then just hanging out, milling around aimlessly. Now this can have some beneficial effect sometimes; the IVM may take the opportunity to make certain spontaneous therapeutic shifts, and perhaps the fluid Tide may pick up, and the membranes may soften a bit. But all of this may add up to no greater nor significant effect than if the patient had gone and had a general massage. General unspecific treatment generally begats general unspecific results. There is not necessarily any inherent benefit in being tuned into the IVM if one is going to be general and unspecific. One might as well give a massage. I myself would actually go further than this. I would say that sometimes it can be positively harmful, or at least disrespectful, to be general and unspecific in one’s approach to the IVM. It can be a bit like wandering into a sacred temple and just chewing chewing-gum and picking one’s nose. It can actually damage something in the atmosphere. If you are going to enter a sacred temple, then enter, pay your respects, do what it is you need to do and respectfully take your leave. Find it, fix it, and leave it alone.
So this was our task at the OCC: to make as complete a diagnosis as was possible; to devise from that the appropriate plan of action, with concordant rationale; and then carry that out, recording the system’s reaction to our intervention, and our thoughts as to what the next treatment’s aims and objectives probably needed to be. All cases needed to have an established “aims of treatment”, so that we could assess week by week how we were doing – whether we were being successful or not, and a “treatment plan” – indications as to how we were going to achieve the stated aims. Diagnoses were written in a five-fold form, that is to say Diagnosis (the name of the condition), Tissues Causing Symptoms (TCS – what was actually causing the pain or symptomatology), Aetiology (Aet – the main cause of the condition), Predisposing Factors (PDF – the contributing factors) and sometimes Maintaining Factors as well (reasons why the client hadn’t gotten better thus far). So an example might be: Diagnosis – colic; Tissues Causing Symptoms – gastro-intestinal tract, due to vagal dysfunction with irritation and compression at the jugular foramena, plus shock held in the Solar Plexus; Aetiology – birth trauma (long labour, occiput posterior lie); PDF – pre-birth shock (mother had a severe fall at 6 months pregnant, and the husband left); maintaining factors – mother is also in shock and stressed out, and needing treatment, and her stress is feeding through to the baby and. Treatment plan: release cranial base compression to free up the jugular foramena; release shock from the Solar plexus; re-assess after 4 treatments; if it seems appropriate, offer some treatment to the mother to help reduce her stress levels. This was really a very good way of getting us to think about conditions, what was really going on, and what we could expect to achieve through treatment. Recording everything in detail like this also made it relatively easy to pick up the case history of a child one had not seem before and immediately have a sense of where we were in the treatment process, and what needed to be done. Of course, the treatment plans and diagnoses were always flexible – something new might pop up that hadn’t shown itself before, and a change in the treatment aims and treatment plan might need to be made. This was always done with consultation with a senior osteopath, and recorded thoroughly in the case notes to make it clear for future sessions.
In terms of treatment, I learnt many new techniques and methodologies at the OCC – things I’d not come across before in my regular cranial osteopathic or craniosacral trainings. The concept of “time fulcrums” was a new one for me. This is the idea that in the midst of a therapeutic process, an awareness of the particular event that caused the trauma in the system, can be of great benefit and may seem to ignite and energize the whole process. I first saw this is action when I was working with Stuart once on a child. The whole process seemed a little woolly and misty. Then Stuart asked the mother “did something happen at 6 months old?”, and as the mother recounted the trauma that had happened to the child at age 6 months, it was literally as if the patterns we needed to work with emerged for us out of the mist, and the treatment process spontaneously engaged. Beyond this, there are so many methodologies to mention: examples include such things as the figure-8 fluid drive, the mysteries of the left fibula, the first breath syndrome, the way to work with intra-osseos lesions, when and how to engage the long tide, and most importantly, how to interact with children and parents. It was steep learning curve but a very enjoyable one.