"The craniosacral field lacks a culture of research” one of my teachers told our cohort at the Body Intelligence training. Nevertheless, the effects of craniosacral therapy are strongly evident to many who experience it. From a good session, clients have experienced a life-changing sense of connection with their bodies, felt a deep, full-body relaxation for the first time in their lives, and seen shifts in long-standing holding patterns related to trauma or injury. Some clients with terminal cancer find that receiving the therapy they are able to forgo pain medications, while others experience recoveries of a variety of ailments in such a way that may easily appear miraculous.
Many practitioners take the beneficial results they see in their clinical practice as proof enough that their interventions work. However, an impassioned contingent of online skeptics express concern over misleading claims of clinical efficacy and criticize the scientific basis of the therapy as unsound or lacking. On wikipedia Craniosacral therapy (CST) is characterized as “pseudoscience” and “quackery”. Indeed, I have found in my clinical practice that a lack of specificity about what the therapy does exactly leaves both therapists and clients guessing about which conditions can actually be successfully treated. Unsurprisingly, this causes a headache for everyone involved. Throughout my training, we were largely under the impression that the therapy itself was generically healing, and could be beneficial to most in the way that a walk in the park might be. Due to its ability to bolster the inherent healing forces in the body, any condition could potentially be treated or even cured. The exact mechanisms of treatment were rarely discussed in scientific terms.
I, myself, first visited a cranial osteopath (A Doctor of Osteopathy who specializes in manual therapy that looks like Biodynamic Craniosacral therapy crossed with Chiropracty) in search of help for chronic pain from a knee injury that I acquired five years prior. In a misguided college dorm dance mishap, I slipped and fell knee-first onto a concrete floor and was unable to walk on it for weeks after. In the subsequent years, I made several attempts at physical therapy to no lasting avail. It wore on me emotionally, keeping me from becoming active for any sustained period of time. I couldn’t dance like I used to without it flaring up, I couldn’t walk for very long two days in a row, I even had trouble riding my bike. I reached a breaking point when, after standing and working on my feet for a 10 hour catering shift, my knee was so painful and inflamed I was unable to stand at all for the entire following day.
My experience with the osteopath was revelatory. After feeling stuck and frozen, both fundamentally uncomfortable on a physical level and in relationship with others, I felt a completely new sense of fluidity, ease, and comfort in my body. I began to get an inkling, perhaps for the first time, that I belonged. My breath deepened and opened up, becoming expansive and easeful. Friends noticed a shift in my demeanor.
I even noticed that in my music playing, I was finally able to overcome a wall of rigidity that had held me back for years. The way that the therapy connected me to my own internal rhythms had extended also to the rhythms I create. The quality of my playing vastly improved, and my ease and feel for it became much richer. The difference was so tangible, I was playing around on the drums at a music center, and was pulled into a jam group for an instrument I had previously never touched. My experience with this therapy was so profound that I decided that that is what I wanted to offer in the world, and inquired with the osteopath how I could learn it, which led me to the training I ultimately completed.
However, despite the life-changing impacts I did experience, my knee remained exactly as it had been. As much of the therapy as I recieved, it never improved. Prominent teachers I asked about it suggested that this was likely due to a failure of the practitioner. I felt confused, disappointed, and defeated. I went on to more physical therapy with comparable results to my initial attempts until I found the actual solution: Flip flops! Well, there was a bit more to it than that. But the experience really solidified for me how important it is to demystify the clinical efficacy of this valuable therapy. It underlined how much of a weakness it truly is to not know this in our field, and how important it is to teach correct information to new practitioners. What can it do and what can't it do? To know this, we must first ask: how does it work? What is the mechanism?
Join me as I dive into the science, and the stories, behind this therapy. Let's separate fact from fiction once and for all!