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How to Become A Cranio-Sacral Therapist & 10 things Nobody Tells You About It

Wondering what it's like to embark on a cranio-sacral therapy (CST) training? Curious about what a career change could look like for you? Is it crazy or is it worth it? In this article I discuss the origins of CST work, what it's like to train (I trained in London with the CCST) and 10 things that nobody tells you about what training is really like!

If you're a CST / somatic practitioner looking to deepen your trauma skills please visit the School of Healing Alchemy for a wide range of in depth masterclasses that I have created for you.

What is Cranio-Sacral Therapy?

woman doing craniosacral therapy

We need to start here because quite frankly, you'll need to get used to people asking you this question - alot! The truth is, you probably have an idea of what cranio-sacral therapy is based on the therapists you've seen or the courses you have taken as a physio or osteopath. Craniosacral therapy is based on minimal intervention and uses subtle interactions with the body, to rebalance the nervous system. The practitioner attunes to the structure of the client's whole body but pays particular attention to alignment, balance, tension and other qualities of the membrane and fluidic systems. These are influenced by the nervous system and also have a reciprocal effect on all internal processes. The core premise is that imbalances caused by illness, injury and trauma can be released through decompression and expansion of physical structures and revitalisation and rebalance of fluids - particularly cerebrospinal fluid.

Does Cranio-Sacral Therapy Work?

-A systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2016 found that cranio-sacral therapy was effective in treating chronic neck pain, with a significant improvement in pain scores compared to placebo or no treatment.

-Another study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics in 2015 found that it was effective in improving the quality of life of individuals with fibromyalgia.

-Cranio-sacral therapy has also been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

-A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2018 found that cranio-sacral therapy was effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms in individuals with PTSD.

-Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2017 found that cranio-sacral therapy was effective in reducing depression in individuals with chronic lower back pain.

Who Can Train as A Cranio-Sacral Therapist?

woman doing bodywork

Cranio-sacral therapy training is typically undertaken by healthcare professionals, such as massage therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and physical therapists, as well as by individuals who are interested in alternative therapies and holistic healing.

Often they are exploring this a new treatment option to offer their existing clients, or they have noticed that certain conditions require deeper work and cannot be treated purely with mechanical approaches. It could also be because they desire to branch out and work with more specialised neurological conditions or with babies for example, where manual palpation work could be too invasive.

The training typically involves a combination of classroom instruction, anatomical training, theory and lost of hands-on practice. It can vary in length and intensity depending on the level of certification desired. Individuals who pursue cranio-sacral therapy training are often drawn to the gentle and non-invasive nature of the therapy, the focus on holistic wellbeing including the life experiences of the client, their emotional inner world and relational dynamics as well as the focus on techniques that promote the body's natural healing abilities.

What is Biodynamic Cranio-Sacral Training?

Bio means life and dynamic means movement. Biodynamic medicine is a holistic approach to healthcare that views the body as a complex and interconnected system, and emphasizes the importance of addressing the underlying causes of illness and disease. This approach is based on the principles of biodynamic osteopathy, which focuses on the relationship between the body's structure and function, and the body's inherent ability to heal itself. Biodynamic medicine recognizes that the body has the ability to self-regulate and heal, and seeks to support and enhance this natural healing process. It emphasizes the importance of nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and other lifestyle factors in promoting overall health and well-being.

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Training is a specialized form of training that is less invasive and more based on space holding, deep listening and trusting of the inherent intelligence of the body's internal processes. This requires a profound capacity to actually feel the subtle sensations of the body's internal organs and processes (interoceptive depth) as well as the root causes held in the energy field.

There is more attuned stillness and deeper work in the long tide. This means there is usually less visible, mechanical and physical palpation or interactions. One might consider this the pathway that works more with the body's biofield or subtle energy system.

How Long Does it Take to Be a Cranio-Sacral Practitioner?

man doing osteopathic treatment

The length of training depends on the specific school you go to. I chose to study at The College Of Cranio-Sacral Therapy in London to embark on their intensive, full time 1 year course. I learn best when completely immersed in something and because I am an experiential learner (I have to experience something to truly understand it) this made a lot of sense for me. It also meant I could completely focus on my training and not have to split my time and energy between my existing career and my future CST practice. There also a 2 year part time option. In the USA the training is around 700 hours and in Switzerland it is 900 hours, usually taken part time over long weekends.

What Qualification Do You Get?

In the UK the qualification is the equivalent to a PGDiploma or post graduate diploma in the UK. Every country has a different level and duration of training for CCST work. Please check your individual country.

10 things nobody tells you about training to become a CST practitioner

1) You'll Learn to Embrace the Unknown

The process of learning to work with the body is less mechanical than you might think. It's less about doing and more about listening. As you go through the training you'll understand that the real mastery is in learning how to read the body's signals and unique messages of the bones, fluidic system, the brain, the organs etc. So much of this work is about helping do 'undo' rather than to do more, especially when a person has been through alot of trauma including childhood trauma. You'll have to get used to not knowing what you're doing and not being tempted to freak out, shut down, compare yourself or give up. Embracing the unknown is actually very powerful because it is within this space that we are shown the unknowable, the unspoken, the most sacred aspects of the body's innate levels of intelligence including organ consciousness and more subtle energetic realms that carry information such as our ancestral history. If you feel like you have graduated and you still have no idea what you're doing then feel free to reach out to me. One of the skills that is not often taught but is so important when it comes to body work, especially somatic integration is your dialogical skills.

2) You'll Heal Yourself During the Training

On the first day of my counseling training the tutor opened the space with 'Welcome. If you're not all seriously disturbed by the end of this training year, you haven't done this right.' I remember wondering 'what on earth is this strange guy talking about' and by the end of the year I knew. My entire perception of the world and human interaction had been turned upside down and inside out. Everyone was me, and I was them? What? The only thing that was real was the present moment and that's just my projection? OK. After my counseling year of realisation I did more personal development and learning. So I went into my craniosacral therapy year, after many ayahuasca and plant medicine journeys in which I befriended my demons, died and was resurrected and purged giant black beetles into the bucket in front of me, not expecting to be phased much. 'I've done it' I said in my head. I've been disturbed, and I've survived, nothing can phase me now. Oh, how wrong I was. The craniosacral training takes you on a journey that is incredibly difficult to put into a description. It's wild and real. It's a journey through your DNA, through the very fabric of the ancestral choices that made you, you. It's a journey through your organs and everything you've done to hurt and harm yourself without even realising. It's a journey deep into the shadow of your being, and into your highest and brightest potential.

3) You'll Make Friends For Life

I met a group of people who I watched open up, week by week, into such raw, authentic honesty that my heart craved that connection more and more. I met a group of people who were so willing to challenge their perspectives of reality, to be shown new ways and to embrace new experiences, that I started to get excited whenever another training week would come along because i'd get to see them again. I met a group of people who didn't pretend to be ok when they weren't and who seemed to so fully accept whatever was emerging within a room, with a gentle curiosity that I started to wonder if I could make them my friends. But I couldn't. It was too late. They had become family. Together we clawed each others hearts open, held one another up in the air (literally) whilst our bodies unwound a lifetime of injuries or trauma. Together we looked across the room either confused or in awe at stuff that happened, and convinced one another to keep going when it felt like we could quit and go back to a quiet easy life. I remember the day we came together. It had taken us a few stages and a few people did drop out, but suddenly we had a closing circle after six days of intense training together and all we could feel in the room was an overwhelming love. I think there was about 25 of us left by this point. We knew we had arrived, together. And whether we were shrieking in pain, sobbing in grief or roaring with laughter, we did it together.

5) Your Body Will Restructure Itself

For me, my major edge was in my spine (oh and my throat, and my left hip, and my neck, and my right ankle, and my jaw.).On such an intense journey into the body it's not a surprise that you'll come up against some difficult areas, some dark corners or some joyful synchronicities. You'll feel things, in other people's bodies and also in your own, that surprise you or scare you. I remember when I felt one of my lower vertebrae move - I almost couldn't believe it. I looked up at my practice partner as I lay on the couch, who was a qualified physiotherapist, and asked him if he felt it too. 'Yep, it moved!' he replied. I remember seeing the tutor from across the room and I almost yelled with joy at him because I couldn't have ever imagined a bone could move. 'My L3 just MOVED!' I shrieked. He just smiled and nodded. In the meantime, I was flushed with joy and sent a 6 minute voice note to my friend describing all the details. If you stick with whatever your body wants to show you, you will heal at deep levels through this training and it will show you something very beautiful. Your sensitivity or felt sense will expand to include different ways of knowing, hearing, tasting, feeling more, seeing visions. Yes, you'll see stuff. That takes me to my next point.

6) You Will Deepen Your Spiritual Perception

During what you will soon find are incredibly sacred encounters with someone's body and spirit we naturally start to get a feel for the spirit world. They don't talk about this in the textbook (obviously) or on the course (probably to keep people grounded) but it's in the field. You could call this a deeper attunement. Whether you're spiritually inclined or a staunch materialist, your views will be challenged through this training as your energy body clears and you start to be able to feel more. This includes, well, everything that is spirit, including spirit guides and angels. So if you didn't believe in angels, when one comes to sit next to you during a treatment and starts telling you what to do, you soon will. Your dreams may also become more vivid and more meaningful on this journey. You'll learn to listen to the messages they hold for you. Enjoy your telepathic connection with your colleagues and your psychic abilities. This is real too. Stay grounded though ;) Oh and you'll learn what grounded actually means, which really comes in handy when you're flying out of the room to avoid your own stuff.

7) You'll Enjoy Anatomy (even if you're not an anatomy geek)

craniosacral therapy skeleton

As a practitioner of craniosacral therapy, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of the anatomy of the craniosacral system. This includes knowledge of the bones, membranes, cerebrospinal fluid, and other structures that make up the system.

Specifically, a craniosacral therapist must have knowledge of the cranial bones, including their shape, movement, and articulations with one another. They must also have an understanding of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, including the dura mater, arachnoid mater, and pia mater.

In addition, a craniosacral therapist must have knowledge of the cerebrospinal fluid and its role in the body, including its production, circulation, and absorption. They must also understand the anatomy of the spine, including the vertebrae, intervertebral discs, and spinal cord.

Other structures that are important for a craniosacral therapist to understand include the sacrum, the cranial nerves, and the fascia, which is the connective tissue that surrounds and supports the structures of the body.

I had no anatomy background going into this training, except Biology A-Level. I remember flicking through it and wondering how I would ever understand let along remember all of this information. All I can say is, if I can do it, anyone can! Yes, there is a lot to learn; cranial bones their movement and articulations, fossa's and fissures, cranial nerves, nervous system, organs and much more. Flexion Extension etc. You'll learn more than you ever thought you could in one year, mostly because you have to. There is no time on the 1 year course to procrastinate. You're tested frequently so learning as you go along is useful and encouraged.

8) You'll Learn To Regulate After Big Emotional Days

Intense somatic work, such as craniosacral therapy, can release a lot of emotions in the body because of the close relationship between physical tension and emotional stress. The body is a complex system, and physical tension or trauma can create energetic blockages that can manifest as emotional or psychological distress.

I thought I knew my body quite well. However, after every stage of training, my body would completely reorganise itself. The body doesn't operate alone, it operates with emotions and energy. When the body moves, everything else moves. It's something nobody tells you until it actually happens. Yes, it is as intense as it sounds but contrary to what it feels like when it's happening, it won't kill you. The melt downs I came to learn, are completely normal and they're part of the reconfiguration that needs to take place in order for you to deepen your interoception and somatic skills. Some days I would just sit there staring out of the window at my garden waiting for my body to stop moving. It felt I was in a washing machine. When I would finally come out of the spin cycle I would literally feel like a different person. My advice is to let the process happen, don't try to stop it. Trust the timing and trust the process. You need to be changed to do this sort of work.

9) Client Work will Trigger and Fascinate You

Teaching Clinics can be Triggering. That's kind of the point really. You're now working with real people. There's a load of stuff that comes up when you're stuck in a room with a tutor, 3 other students and a client, with no break in between except lunch and having just negotiated a day off work and paid to be in the clinic. Some days I genuinely felt were a total waste of time. For someone who always wants to be learning something new, sometimes I just felt like I wasn't. So what came up for me? My shadow! The frustration, my relentless ambition, and my inability to just be with someone without needing to excel myself. Some days were just completely confusing; we all felt different things and it wasn't clear to me how it all fit together to benefit the client. I remember in one clinic where it felt like a client had almost 'flatlined out' everyone there felt the birth trauma of a client but I felt her embryo in the vast void, yet to be created. I remember being confused-why am I feeling something different? Should I agree with the others? Do I need to get this right? (see next point below on learning to speak your truth). In some teaching clinics I'd feel like a hero, as i'd celebrate (quietly inside of course) a brilliant rapport with a client and a treatment well done. Some days something special happened - it felt like we had merged somehow, and become the singular field that we aspire towards, perfectly synchronised and all feeling the exact same tiny details. That's when we would really feel the magic of this work. You never knew what to expect but there was always plenty to reflect on and be triggered into a deeper reflection by.

10) You'll Learn to Speak Your Truth

What does this even mean? Of course I speak my truth. Well, you probably don't always. Especially if your truth is vague and blurry and awkward to say out loud, probably uncomfortable or a little confrontational. You probably don't, when you're not sure of what it is that you're feeling and everyone else seems sure, or when the sphenoid had taken off like a flashing spaceship and is heading for the exit door of the room. However, you will learn that whatever is happening, it's better to just describe what you are observing and own your observations rather than try to rationalise or make sense of them.

Another aspect of learning to speak your truth is learning an authentic language to communicate your truth in. This means developing your dialogical skills. Yes there is technical terminology to describe particular movements or articulations of bones and joints etc. Anyone and their monkey can learn that stuff. When it comes to speaking your own language, it means the more subtle qualities of a body's expression that need to be translated from the hidden, subtle dimension into the dimension of language and form.

You are the translator and therefore you will need to use a language that is true to your heart and your expression. This is not always easy. When you put your hand on someone's sacrum and you feel like someone's switched on a dyson hoover, or you feel it shaking like jelly on a plate how do you describe that? You will learn that every sensation can be communicated, but rather than trying to find a technical language for a sensation, find a language that is natural and feels true to you. Then the body knows that it's you that's listening. And that's all we are here to do, really. The tutors are amazing and encourage you to stay in your truth and develop your unique practice and approach, rather than trying to 'be' anything you think you need to.

The Transformational Journey of Becoming a Craniosacral Therapist

Some people feel like doing a craniosacral therapy training will sharpen their existing palpation or massage skills and get them some CPD points. But the growth is much deeper. You'll actually grow as a person, deepen in your heart and emotional awareness. You'll feel much more comfortable reading your own body and other people's. You will come into a new relationship with yourself, with your friends - finding the ones that you really do connect with deeply and authentically, and with your family - seeing the traumas they carry unknowingly, feeling their twisted sacrums and tense TMJ's from across the room perhaps.

You'll grow in compassion for everything that arises because you will understand the deeper reasons they arise. To help you heal. You will grow out of your old narratives of how hard your childhood was to understand how it made you the warrior you are today. Your inner child will grow up and heal. Nature will open infinite doors to you to experience a profound connection. The grounding and earthing you will practice throughout the course will help you to feel natures energies in a more real way. You'll learn that what you put into your body is so critical to how you feel, which sounds obvious but it really comes alive on this training course. You will grow in passion, in embodied truth and authenticity for human kind. And for me, that is the best type of growth I could ever ask for.

You might enjoy listening to this interview I did with Ryan Halford about how distance CST works with clients experiencing trauma.

Ready to Deepen your Healing & Therapeutic Skills?

If you're a practitioner looking to grow your practice and deepen your trauma skills please explore my online courses exclusively at the School of Healing Alchemy.


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