The Great Schism of Craniosacral Therapy

The other day, while out to lunch with a colleague, I was introduced to a craniosacral practitioner who works here in my area. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long until we got on the topic of cranial work. When I told her that I had devoted much time to the study of biodynamics and found it useful in a clinical setting, her face slowly tightened as she said “So, you’re one of those people that just sits there and doesn’t do anything, huh?” As you can imagine, her tone wasn’t particularly pleasant.

There remains a schism in the cranial field over the efficacy and practicality of the biodynamic approach.

Now, this is not the first time I have had a comment like this thrown my way by a practitioner who has not given any serious time to the exploration of biodynamics. Her viewpoint reflects the attitude of many practitioners with a background in the traditional approaches of biomechanical/functional work. There remains a schism in the cranial field over the efficacy and practicality of the biodynamic approach. While it is primarily those without any training in biodynamics who hold negative views, some practitioners who have taken classes in the work hold a critical position as well.

To me it has always been clear that biodynamics represents a natural progression of our understanding of how to effectively work with the primary respiratory system. I have often wondered why we have a schism in the field when the various approaches appear to my eyes as a continuous body of knowledge. I would like to elaborate on a few key points that I hope will shed light on some of the problems facing our field as we collectively consider the question “What do we do with Biodynamics?”

1)      Tribalism

There is a tribal quality to some of the camps I see in the cranial field. Strong allegiance to teachers or certifying organizations is one source of this staunch exclusivity. Unfortunately, this attitude can come from the top down when teachers indoctrinate students with the belief that the approach they teach is superior to all others. Fellow therapists and teaching assistants do this as well, as they try to build “troops” in their camp to advance their professional influence. When I hear therapists denigrate either biomechanics or biodynamics, it usually turns out they have not really given the approach in question a fair examination in the classroom or treatment room. Their opinions are often given to them by others and not formed from personal examination and exploration. This is understandable for beginning students who are looking for a foothold of confidence in their work, but it is undoubtedly counterproductive for them in the long run. They may avoid trainings that could be of tremendous benefit for both themselves and their clients out of blind allegiance to a school and baseless denigration of the unknown.

2)      Inaccurate Categorization

Another problem I see is the attitude of “all or nothing.”  This is characterized as the belief that therapists fall clearly into one of two camps, mechanical or biodynamic. Now this can clearly be the case, as discussed earlier. But the possibility that a practitioner can practice both forms of the work still seems to be completely off of the radar for many. There is still relatively little cross-pollination between major schools, but there are a growing number of clinicians who are learning to utilize both styles. The numbers are fairly small, but this is a good trend that will benefit the whole field. The sooner we can understand that it is now possible for one practitioner to utilize both approaches to the phenomenon of primary respiration, the sooner we can get over inaccurate and disrespectful categorization of colleagues. This belief that we need to have a working knowledge of both approaches is a major tenant for my school. I suspect that this standard will spread as biodynamics grows.

I would like to point out Rollin Becker, D.O as an example of natural integration of the two approaches. Even though Dr. Becker had broken new ground in clarifying awareness of the Long Tide, he still utilized mechanical techniques in treatment for years as he learned to work with more refined motion. Just because he “knew it was there” doesn’t mean it was always the best therapeutic choice for the situation in front of him. His published writings clearly reveal his flexibility.

3)      Craniosacral Fundamentalism

Biodynamic cranial work is now officially on the map. It is not a fad. It accurately reflects reality. Likewise, biomechanical cranial work is not dead (as some might claim.) It is useful. It also accurately reflects reality. Neither application is the “One True Path.” The therapeutic conundrum present in the patient/practitioner dyad dictates which is called for. The better therapy is the one that is appropriate to the situation in the treatment room.

For the biodynamically-oriented therapist who is having a bad day and cannot access potency in deeper tides, then biomechanical work is the more powerful application in the moment. Similarly, if the client needs to be manipulated in order to feel like they are being met, then mechanical work is called for at that time. If a biomechanically-oriented therapist finds themselves invasively engaged with a client who needs more space, then a shift to biodynamic contact is called for. It goes both ways.

I will stand by the experience that if you can get results biodynamically, then that is the preferred method because chances of iatrogenesis are lessened and there is a powerful sense of deep authenticity that arises when biodynamic forces are consciously encountered. But that statement is not meant to intend absolute superiority of the approach for all situations. There is a subtle difference here that should be understood.

I, and many others, have come to believe that biodynamics gives us access to deeper healing forces than we can access with a pointed and directed will. But this position always needs to be tempered with a sense of correct timing and appropriateness. The position that one approach is always superior just doesn’t play out well in real life. It locks the practitioner in a rigid position and can leave clients floundering in their suffering.

4)      Craniosacral Tourism

For those practitioners who have sampled biodynamic work, but claim that they do not find it useful, I think several things should be considered. Firstly is the matter of experience with the model. Working with primary respiration, for most, is not a very easy task in the beginning. I have found that it requires some in-depth examination, sensory development, and disciplined practice before a meaningful degree of ease and efficacy can be expected. Some students just don’t give it a chance if it does not come easily in the beginning. Out of frustration they throw the whole approach in the discard pile.  Conversely, I have yet to meet a biodynamic student who, having completed an entire training, holds the position that the approach is not valid.

Another factor to consider is the personality of the practitioner. Biodynamics requires a deep receptivity and willingness to allow outside forces to pace the spatial movement present in the treatment room. Not everyone feels inclined to put themselves in this position. But just because it is difficult for a particular therapist to work this way does not mean that some (or many) of their clients would not benefit from this way of working. And it surely does not mean that other practitioners cannot be effective with it.

These are just a few observations I have made while navigating the world of cranial work. I am no Pollyanna. I understand that we will always have disagreements amongst teachers and practitioners regarding many facets of this complicated work. These differences are useful stimuli for growth and exploration. Hopefully we can keep a healthy dialogue as we all find our place of personal authenticity in the work. What a different experience my lunch would have been that day if my colleague had said “Biodynamics? I’m not so sure about all that. Tell me why you like it. I’m interested!”

ryan-hallford-craniosacral-therapist Ryan Hallford is a craniosacral therapist and educator. He offers certification programs in basic and advanced cranial work through the Craniosacral Resource Center in Southlake, TX.