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Massage Today
February, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 02

Giving Voice to the Issues

By Sharon Desjarlais, CC

A therapist once asked me in a CranioSacral session if I wanted to talk to my ovaries. I didn't, thank you. I was afraid they'd talk back. But, I did become intrigued with the art of dialoguing, a feature made popular by Dr. John Upledger in his particular model of cranial work.

I recently caught up with Dave Tomlinson, RMT, CST-D, a certified instructor who teaches dialoguing skills in his "Become a Better Therapist" classes through the New England Center for CranioSacral Therapy. "Dialoguing is much easier than many therapists make it out to be," Dave said. "It's just another tool to help the body release the story it's holding onto."

Easy? Sure, some CranioSacral Therapists seem to take to it like kittens to catnip. But, I've seen others struggle, not sure where to start, what to say or whether the process will lead to huge emotional releases they don't feel comfortable facilitating. So, I asked Dave if there's always a major emotional component to dialoguing, a verbal process some therapists use in their hands-on sessions.

"I actually think the emotions play a smaller role in dialoguing than most therapists assume," Dave said. "Certainly they're a huge part of our clients' well-being, and sometimes they're front and center in a session. But more often than not, we're simply dialoguing to get the story out, to help people relax into the process and feel what's going on in their bodies.

"There are months when I'm only using dialoguing to get someone into their tissues. I can be hanging out in an area with a restriction and the tissues just aren't releasing. For me, that's a sign to initiate dialoguing to help the client become more aware of what's going on. Even if it's just saying, 'Can you come on down and be here more?'"

"I don't think everything needs to be significant one-hundred percent of the time," Dave commented. "Sometimes people need to drop in, feel what's going on, talk about it, then come out and talk about baseball."

The Hallmark of the CranioSacral Dialogue

As you're getting comfortable dialoguing in your CranioSacral sessions, Dave believes the most critical point to remember is to "stay out of your own head and let the client's tissues lead you. The questions have to come from the client. Yes, we can bring different words and phrases together into an idea, but it all has to come from the client."

According to Dave, that's one of the factors that differentiates the Upledger model of dialoguing from some of the others. "We never introduce an agenda," he said. "It's the client's experience of what happened in whatever way they want to process it."

Now I was confused. How do you initiate a dialogue but still have the questions come from the client? "The questions just pop into my hands," Dave said. "The same way you can feel restrictions releasing in the tissues, you can feel the questions come in. I'm not forcing anything. Even if it's a really awkward conversation, there's a flow to it."

And if you don't know which questions to ask? "I just sit and I'm quiet," he said. "I think that's one of the big things a lot of therapists need to learn. The most effective dialoguing begins when you're quiet, because that's when you can feel the questions come in."

Out of the Mouths of Babes

"When I was living in Ireland, a mom brought her 6-year-old son to see me once or twice," Dave said. "The first time he had full-blown pink eye. I looked up at his mom and asked, 'Why is he here?' She said, 'We know you do weird stuff and I thought you could help.'"

"That was right about the time Dr. John was getting into dialoguing with the immune system, so I thought, why not? She's open to weird. I'll give it a try it. So I talked to her little boy about what his immune system does and how his thymus works. And I told him he could have his thymus come and take a look at what his infection needed to get well."

"As we were dialoging, he had this whole conversation going with vampires and pirates and ghosts. Were there actually vampires and pirates and ghosts inside of him? I don't know. But it doesn't matter. It's the client's story. It was significant for him and it worked. He had a 50-minute treatment. By the time he left his pink eye was gone. As he walked out the door he looked at me and said, 'You know Dave, this might mean I never have to be sick again.'"

"That's a big part of cranial work, too," Dave said. "Empowering our clients to learn how to use the work to take care of themselves. We initiate a process that teaches them how to dialogue internally with their own inner physician to find out what they need to heal."

So how can therapists become more adept at dialoguing to bring the client's inner physician to the table? "Work with a more experienced therapist," Dave suggested. "There are so many good CranioSacral Therapists now in every corner of the globe. Offer to work with them, shadow them. That's how you learn, because you don't have the pressure of having to come up with the right question at the right time."

"Most importantly, let it be easy," Dave added. "That's the true gift of the work."

Click here for more information about Sharon Desjarlais, CC.


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