Thank You Dr. John – Paradigm Shifter

What follows is excerpts from my talk at the international conference for CranioSacral therapy, Beyond the Dura in April 2012 . This is a wonderful story, so sit back and enjoy it. We are dealing with a huge storm here in the Washington D.C. area so I do not know if I will have power to blog for the next couple of days!

My journey with Dr. John began in the spring of 1983, when he came to Washington D.C. to teach CranioSacral I at PMTI. It was five days of cranial bones, membranes, subtle to gross palpation, and all kinds of wonderful stuff. It was fascinating to me, and it all felt familiar in some strange way I cannot put to words. I know a number of others here in this conference who have described to me similar ways that they felt intuitively drawn to this work.

In that original class, the real kicker was the fifth day  – where he spent time demonstrating his new “whole body” stuff that he was exploring. Today we all know it well, as SomatoEmotional Release. 

I had been in a bad car accident in 1980 that had left me with a fair amount of residual chronic pain, and as I watched that demonstration, every part of my body that still had stored pain, and trapped traumatic memory started to ache and speak to me. It was saying, “Get this work – this is what we need to heal.” I really wanted to be the demo, but it didn’t happen that day.

However, I did meet my husband in that class and after class we started to trade work – which began the process of peeling away the layers of my chronic pain. And eventually, in 1987, my CST Advanced training, Dr. John did release the last of my chronic pain. He gently placed his fingers right here in the front of my left rib cage and went in – non-invasively of course – until it felt like he had reached the front of my spine. And when his hand came out, the last of my pain was completely gone. So my body was right – this work was my ticket out of pain. There is nothing like having a personal experience of that nature to give me the confidence to step into this newly birthed work. I was totally convinced from the core of my bones right on out. Pun intended.

 So enough about me and how my journey got interwoven with Dr. John’s – what is important for us to realize is that this work we do is just short of miraculous at times. And this is because of who Dr. John Upledger has been across the last 40 years, as a ground-breaking innovator. He has created a shift in the paradigm of healthcare on many levels – some of which we take for granted today (like the interface between professions) and some of which are really just starting to emerge (like the patient participation in their health and wellness process.)

Like all good innovators, he took what he found in his world – we all know about his now famous surgical experience with Delbert, his black feet, and cervical membrane that would not be still – and used it in entirely new ways – he cracked the container of Cranial Osteopathy wide open and let it spill out into the world in ways that changed the game of hands-on healthcare forever.

 Innovators are known for making brand new connections – breaking down walls in existing structures. Steve Jobs is an example of someone who took the known structure of the computer technology world and made new connections to give us a totally different world in terms of how we utilize technology today.

Dr. John did the same thing in the healthcare world – and I am not even sure he realized the magnitude of it all as it was happening – but some part of him knew it was important because anytime one of us tried to stray from what was most important we heard about it.  

What exactly do I mean by this? Well, let’s start with that fateful day somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Dr. John was working with those autistic children and he had that handful of grad students hanging around with nothing to do. The way he tells it an idea popped into his head and he said, “Hey, as I am cradling this child’s head, why don’t you gently take the child’s right leg, and why don’t you gently hold their other leg and you hold their arm, and how about you taking the other arm, and let’s see what happens?”  I heard that story at least half a dozen times early on. It didn’t mean a lot to me initially except for being an example of how an idea would pop in and if it felt right in his gut, he would follow it. He was such a curious, intuitive man – and when something felt right, get out of the way. 

Today we can recognize that it was the birth of the multiple hands on work we all know and love in the CranioSacral world. It certainly wasn’t the first time in history that multiple people put their hands on someone with a therapeutic intention, but it was the start of an intentional process that has grown into the wonderful intensive programs that now happen all over the world thanks to Chas and Kat Perry, and to the off shoots like what I co-lead at Esalen Institute every year for their staff; and in any place where you get more than one advanced level CST therapist. What happens when multiple people put their hands and intention together is way more powerful that one alone. The paradigm shift began right there. One small crack in the container of “one therapist with one patient or client at a time.”

 Did I just say one patient or client at a time? What’s that about? Well, the next crack he created in this huge paradigm shift was that he wasn’t wedded to keeping this incredible work – he’d found and researched and codified into a simple ten-step protocol – within his own profession. This was a huge game changer – and most of us in this room would not be here today if he had not had the strength – some might call it stubbornness or bull headedness – to stand his ground and insist that the world needed this work and he was going to teach it – safely and with integrity – to whoever needed it.

 Most of us are familiar with the story he tells about doing his research with the children with learning disabilities in the Michigan state school system and how he looked at the number of children with LD issues in the state school system at the time and then looked at the number of trained Cranial Osteopaths in the state (6 at that time) and realized someone else had to be added to the talent pool. So he sat down and figured out how he could teach something light touch and non-invasive enough to not harm the children, but potent enough to effect some significant therapeutic results. He started with the teachers of these children and the few he interacted with initially were excited and willing to try because they could see first hand the wonderful changes he was making in their population of kids.

 So here comes one of the next characteristics of a true innovator. When he tried to expand the pool of  teachers who knew how to treat their students with CST, he got a hard dose of  the reality of fear consciousness – yet it did not stop him. He tells the story of standing in front of a room of these Special Education teachers and explaining the basics of CST as he talked about how it would help their students. He said, “If their eyes could have been guns, I would have been Swiss cheese.” They felt incredibly threatened by what he was suggesting. He was busting open their paradigm – offering them a real game changer in how they worked and the results they could get, and all they could see was something new, something unknown that threatened the status quo.

 So true to form for any good innovator, he looked around and went to the next group that made sense. The stories get a little murky here, but I believe he went next to a group of medical doctors and their abilities to touch non-invasively were so bad he moved on. Also, MDs rarely have enough time with their patients to be able to do good CST. Next were the chiropractors, who loved his work. However, they told him, “Whatever you do, don’t teach it to the Physical therapists – they don’t have our skill set and they won’t be able to do this subtle level of work.” Well, we all know what Dr. John did with that. He next taught a group of PTs (who told him not to teach it to the MTs.) Next he expanded to the MTs, and kept teaching right on down the line until he eventually was allowing family members of someone with a chronic pain issue that could be helped by CST to attend a class.

I have to say that in 1987, when I was first teaching CST I, one of the things all of us as Instructors had to have was our opening speech about how wonderful it was to have all these different professions sitting in the same room. I would invite them to open their perceptual lens and get to know each other. Practice with each other, don’t just stay within their own profession. Be open to the possibility that someone from another profession could have skills that are therapeutic and helpful for you. Then I would breathe deeply, ground and fill and pray that my speech sunk in. In those early, early classes there were times when the tension in the room between professions could be cut with a knife.

And yet now, we take this totally for granted. It is considered at benefit to have multiple professions in a group you are working with in a class because we all now recognize that each profession – heck, each person – comes with their own unique gifts and talents and all of them are probably going to be helpful in whatever healing process we are about to embark upon.

 So thank you, Dr John, for taking down that wall between professions so we could learn more and grow more with each other.

 I need to include here that the cadre of Instructors for UI is from all professions as well. It has been from the very beginning. Dr. John believed deeply in what he was doing and was willing to stand up for it. In the beginning the Cranial Osteopathic community was not happy with him. But he prevailed, and slowly as the years passed and the Cranial Academy saw that the therapists and people he was training were not hurting anyone – in fact we were putting CranioSacral therapy on the map in a big way – they have softened and allowed as perhaps we were not all that bad.

And, as many of you may remember from the first day in CST I, in the 1970s, the Cranial Osteopaths were seen as the “Weird Harold” cousins in the osteopathic family at that time. The osteopathic world was fighting to keep its place in the medical world at all, so this wing of their profession, that did this incredibly intuitive, hands-on work was viewed with suspicion. And manual therapies themselves were – in a way – fighting for validity. 

One of the very few places that The Upledger Institute did do battle legally was to keep CST in the hands of all therapists and to not allow state licensing boards to mandate that it could go only into the hands of only one profession.

 Now let’s talk about how Dr. John brought a whole new level of sophistication and structure to how we do manual therapy, AKA, hands-on work. 

We are now looking at a world where the bulk of incoming physical therapists are moving away from manual therapy and toward having an advanced degree to practice – using machines and data and codified exercises for injuries. More book learning, less hands on knowledge being passed down.

 Then you have the massage therapy profession where hands-on work abounds, but in codified, technical ways that don’t include listening to the body’s intelligence in the ways we are trained to do here. Or, it goes in the other direction, and works with energy fields off the body, which always risks a level of ungrounded outcomes.

What Dr. John developed in all the levels of the CST Curriculum  is a system grounded in the body; yet an open-ended structure that listens to the wisdom of our very cells for our cues as to how to proceed in our sessions with people. He taught us intricate anatomy, from the cranial bones and membranes to fluids and tissues. From the immune system to the hormonal system, to brain structures. He wanted us to be able to interface with the rest of the medical world, not just hang out in the metaphysical aspects of what we do, as wonderful as those may be.

He wrote about PTSD and the central nervous system long before anyone else was looking at it holistically. In 1996 he wrote about the issue of TMJ pain and its relationship with the rest of the body. He challenged the status quo in the mid 1990s when everyone was jumping on the magnet therapy band wagon, when he took a long hard look and said, “Be aware of the problems and the benefits of this therapy and these products, and do not use them blindly. Please be careful.” With other new ideas and products he looked at the risk to benefit ratio and said, “Now this warrants further study and exploration.” He taught me how to be discerning but open minded where the body is concerned.

 However, the biggest contribution that he has made in my mind, is that he taught us how to dialogue – with the immune system, with the brain, with any part of the body or mind or spirit that needs a voice. This dialoguing process takes the longest to learn, but is one of the most worthwhile parts of his legacy – his paradigm shifting for us.

 All of us grew up running to the doctor or someone similar when we were sick or not feeling well. Dr. John taught us how to drop inside with our clients and start a dialogue that was open ended, intelligent and simple, yet at times extremely sophisticated. Most of us who have gone the distance to really master the dialoguing process will tell you that our clients come away from our tables knowing better how to dialogue with themselves when we are done. Dr. John gave us the model of empowering our clients through dialogue with their Inner Physician to know themselves better and to be able to intuit what help to reach for in times of challenge. And he made it clear and understandable.

 This has huge ramifications in our health care system today. One of the statistics about our current system is that the largest under-utilized resource we have in healthcare today is patient participation and interaction with their healing process. Our work helps people engage much more intelligently and actively. 

 I know that Dr. John got us on the right track with this idea of inner dialogue because as I look around in the last decade, there are a growing number of systems, which will remain unnamed, with titles that reference dialoguing or talking with the body. None of them that I have found actually have a real dialogue where the client or patient is consciously an active part, and can feel and own the changes as they are occurring internally.

 So if you are sitting here today having not taken an advanced workshop where dialogue is a major component – I am talking about SER I, II, Therapeutic Imagery and Dialogue, Advanced CST, Immune Response, Brain Speaks I and II, take the time to do that. These are exciting, lens widening courses.

 I am so sold on this inner dialogue process that I wrote Full Body Presence: Learning to Listen to Your Body’s Wisdom and created an audio series all geared to sharing the “how-to” skills of having that inner conversation or dialogue with your own system before you step up to the treatment table – it is a profound and powerful process that is badly needed in the culture today – in our practices and in our families.

 So Dr. John was a huge door opener on many fronts for all of us and his work over the last 35 years has brought us all together here today. We know how to dialogue with our cells, we relish interacting with others with licenses different from our own, we are comfortable with and welcoming of multiple hands on work – knowing that in times of great need there is nothing like an excellent multiple-hands-on session to effect healing change.

Thank you Dr. John for your legacy and the ways in which you have shifted the paradigm of healthcare – I personally would like to take a moment to send him a huge wave of thanks. He changed the course of my life and probably most of you in this room with his vision and his fortitude about CranioSacral therapy.


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