CranioSacral Therapy and Person-Centered Psychotherapy

As an integrative psychotherapist I utilize elements of both CranioSacral Therapy and Person-Centered psychotherapy in my work with clients. I’d like to share what each means to me and how each mirrors the other.

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a healing approach that was formulated by Dr. John Upledger (1932-2012), who followed in the footsteps of William D. Sutherland (1873-1954). Both men were osteopathic physicians and visionaries. Upledger developed a system of assessing and easing restrictions in the central nervous system (cranium to sacrum) to optimize functioning of the whole body/psyche. Central to the approach is the premise that the cerebral spinal fluid has a pulse. By assessing this pulse throughout the body, the CranioSacral therapist notes areas of restrictions to which he/she then attends.

What I love about CranioSacral Therapy is the deep listening that it entails. Because the pulse of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pulse is very subtle, therapists use a very light touch and a deep focus. We tune in in order to deeply listen. And because we’re listening deeply, we can sense more than just the pulse of the CSF. We’re physically and emotionally attuning. The therapist’s hands and heart attune to the client’s physical and emotional “body,” and the client’s body and psyche responds to that respectful touch. It feels to me as if the body appreciates the attention and is therefore receptive to change. The psyche and the body don’t feel judged; they feel affirmed and ready to self-correct. You might call this non-judgemental approach listening from the heart, deep empathy, or focused empathic attending. To paraphrase John Upledger, we place our hands on a client and touch her soul. We energetically enter the client’s world; not to change or influence, but to listen to and partner with.

Another thing that I love about CST is we sensitively follow. We trust the client’s “Inner Physician” to advise and lead.  CranioSacral therapists believe in the body’s wisdom; we refrain from guiding, advising or “adjusting” the client. Physically, this means that the therapist’s touch is so light and and receptive that he/she sensitively follows the tissues as they unwind.  The restrictions in the fascia release with very little help from the therapist. It is as if the therapist attends to, then partners with the body to facilitate the release.  If, for example, the fascia of the abdomen shifts more easily to the right, then the therapist will not force the fascia to move to the left.  He/she would partner with the fascia in its unwinding. The body in CST does not react against the therapist’s touch -- our touch is so gentle that the body feels respected receptive. Similarly, we don’t emotionally manipulate, advise, or counsel, we listen and allow.

I think of CST as a bodywork version of Person-Centered psychotherapy. Person-Centered psychotherapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that was pioneered by Carl Rogers (1902-1987), an influential American psychologist active in the mid 1900’s. Some of the basic tenets of his approach are the therapist's unconditional positive regard for the client, the importance of congruence between the client's ideal and perceived self-image, and a genuine relationship with the client which facilitates the client's self-valuing. Rogers stated “...the client ...has the capacity and the tendency to reorganize himself and his relationship to life in the direction of self-actualization and maturity ...the function of the therapist is to create such a psychological atmosphere as will permit this capacity and strength to become effective rather than latent or potential.”* Implied in this statement are the beliefs that each person has an innate tendency towards health, and that the therapist's job is to nurture this impulse, not to guide, advise, or counsel. Rogerian therapists facilitate health by verbalizing an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference.  They enter into, honor, and acknowledge each client's unique world. They nurture an instinct towards self-actualization by offering the client unconditional positive regard. By “capacity and tendency to reorganize himself,” Rogers means that not only do people want to be healthy, they instinctively know how. Rogerian therapists create a space in which clients can heal themselves. Like a watered seed, a person grows when given the right emotional nurturance. When affirmed with a skilled, congruent therapist's empathetic listening and warm regard, clients thrive.

CranioSacral Therapy parallels Person-Centered Therapy in many ways. Perhaps a motto for these approaches would be ~ what you judge won’t budge… and what you affirm thrives.

*Rogers, C. R. (1950). A current formulation of client-centered therapy. Social Service Review, 24(4), 442-450.