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Author: Hugh Milne
Title: Other People's Therapies

Cranial Work - a Continuation of Nature Cure

As far as I can tell, J.C. Thomson took what he learnt in the U.S.A. before the First World War and, over a period of forty years, distilled it into what he called 'Straight Nature Cure.' Part of his own training was in osteopathy, and as late as the 1930s he was still titling himself - 'J.C. Thomson D.O.,' the title that appears on his flier for his Usher Hall lecture in Edinburgh. Perhaps because he did too much forceful osteopathic soft-tissue work, by the time he was 55, JC had ruined his hands: he could no longer do osteopathic adjustments without severe pain. This may have been an important catalyst for his increased interest in non-manipulative healing methods.

Thomson trained perhaps a hundred naturopaths at his school. But I am not aware of any substantive change in his practice or philosophy after 1950. After his death in 1960, the school devolved to what I think can fairly be called an apprentice system, with only a handful of skilled graduates. The only new ideas at Kingston during the 1950s and after 1960 came out of Sandy Milne's gift for sensing what really troubled people, and his ability to put his in-sight into words.

Osteopathy itself was founded in Missouri by a 4th generation Scottish immigrant, Andrew Taylor Still. His most famous student, William Sutherland, was the founder of cranial osteopathy. He began teaching cranial work to osteopaths in 1944. The interest in cranial work amongst osteopaths in the U.S.A. and the U.K. flowered in the 1940s, and became established as a minority interest within the osteopathic profession by 1960.

Sutherland, like J.C., practiced for more than fifty years. Where J.C. evolved his work from osteopathy and German 'Heilpractik' (health practice) into straight nature cure, Sutherland evolved from osteopathy to cranial osteopathy. Sutherland never stopped tinkering, improvising, learning from his mistakes, and introducing new ideas. Thomson did stop, and this is a crucial difference. Cranial work seems to have inherited this openness to new ideas, ideas which are focused upon learning how to most effectively meet the client's needs, not on emphasizing a philosophy.

J.C. made a rich personal contribution by modifying what he had been taught, and by harnessing his own gifts to better help people in need. But somehow these changes became sanctified, then institutionalized. This is a mistake. It is putting the cart before the horse. What matters is not a system of beliefs evolved by a gifted healer 100 years ago; what matters is meeting the client's need for help, support and guidance, and helping them to release the healing power of nature within them. J.C. contributed a therapy that matched the needs of his time. Now times have changed, and therapeutic approaches must change. If they do not, they die. What matters is not what you believe in, however splendid. What matters is that people come to you, and that you can help the people who do come.

Cranial training lasts 2 to 3 years, teaches anatomy, psychology, shamanistic principles, visualization, and refined methods of touch, amongst many other skills. Cranial graduates can make a living in the modern world, reaching people where they are troubled, touching them in a way that meets them. Just like skilled Straight Nature Cure graduates could do, sixty years ago.

When I began teaching craniosacral (also known as 'cranial work') in 1984 I felt sure that this was just a fad, a passing fancy for bodyworkers and massage therapists. I was wrong. There has been an on-going interest in cranial work that astonishes me. It is now widely accepted throughout Europe and North America. When I first began to teach in Zurich, Switzerland, I was one of just two teachers of cranial work. Today, seventeen years later, there are ten established schools, and a suitably qualified graduate in cranial work receives substantial health insurance reimbursement. That is, cranial work is an accepted part of society, and fulfils that essential public role of offering a genuine alternative to prescription-based medical care. A good cranial therapist can see what troubles someone in the deepest of ways, sense what they need, and knows how to touch them in such a way that the healing power of nature is released. In this sense it can be said that cranial work is a continuation of nature cure. I have now taught more than 600 cranial classes in 8 different countries these last 20 years.

I teach a visionary approach to craniosacral work, where we consider that the whole person is the starting point in healing, and not the symptom that a person happens to be burdened by. I also consider that the therapeutic relationship that gets established between practitioner and client is a powerful force towards healing, and is sometimes more powerful than the modality being used. This is one of the many things that Sandy taught me. What matters is the quality of contact between two people; healing often occurs, as the Buddhists put it, from warm hand to warm hand.

None of this differs in any substantive way from my understanding of the core principles of naturopathy.

About three years ago the British men's magazine, Esquire, published a road test of the new Aston Martin Vanquish. It said that if you were one of the lucky few who were rich enough to afford such a marvellous car, then you had better take as good care of it as you do your craniosacral therapist. It seems that craniosacral work has come of age.

So what happened to Nature Cure? Why did Esquire not say, 'your naturopath'?

I was touched by the energy and care that went into publishing the Nature Cure Files, even though not a single PG student or graduate contributed. But after a year I am left with the feeling that there was nothing new. That is, while nature cure has a solid philosophical foundation, tying cause to effect, emphasizing personal responsibility, a healthy diet, fresh air and exercise, and treating your body as you would a good horse, these are now widely-accepted beliefs in the field of CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) and are not new, or news. These beliefs and practices do not get people's attention as they did when JC began to practice them in 1912.

There is probably not a single truly new idea in cranial, in the sense of something the world has never seen before. They are ancient ideas in new packaging (many of them shared with acupuncture, ayurveda, vipassana and yoga), in the same way that N.C. can be said to be an evolution of shamanism, whose primary tenets include the understanding that you have everything within you that you need for your own healing, but that you may need the presence of a perceptive helper to guide you to the right path.

New-sounding terms that appeal to today's students are now taught in cranial, terms like dynamic stillness, tide, potency, automatic suspended shifting fulcrums, and the delineation of the bodies involuntary motility patterns into four different states of consciousness and wave frequencies. Thus the spiritual is an inherent part of cranial teaching and practice. Neither Still nor Sutherland were churchgoers. But both men made repeated references to the spiritual - not to séances, but to the centrality to healing and of achieving harmony in the spirit. Here I think Straight Nature Cure missed something. And paid for it.

I don't know if you ever read Marion Zimmer Bradley's masterful work of fiction on the Arthurian legend, 'The Mists of Avalon'. In it she describes the eventual ascension of Christian beliefs over Pagan and Druid practices. Bradley expertly describes the way in which Christianity adopted most of the practices of the worship of the mother goddess of the Druids, and how some Druid priestesses adapted to this political sea-change by simply becoming Christian nuns. Thus I think that many young people who once would have gone into naturopathy, now go into cranial.

There is a continuity. The container may change, and the leadership in cutting-edge thought certainly does get handed over. Again and again and again. As it should be.

The world has changed. Therapies need to change, too.