Human Dissection Classes FAQs
In 2006 I attended my 1st dissection course with Gil Hedley in San Francisco. The whole process was a revelation to me and since then I have started to run my own dissection courses along similar lines as Gil’s.
The process is called Integrated Anatomy and differs from normal anatomical approaches because it looks for the connections rather than the disconnections. I often show slides of my dissections and teaching and a lot of people are very fascinated but raise concerns about their own ability to attend one of these courses. So I thought I’d put together a list of frequently asked questions that will hopefully help you to overcome any concerns that you might have. Any I’ve missed, please do get in touch and I’ll be happy to handle anything I’ve missed.
As with all good top tens, we start at 10!
10: Do I have to be a great anatomist to attend one of these courses?
Not at all. Often it’s the people who have a very clear idea of anatomy that they have learnt from books and get very confused and disoriented by the type of dissection that we do.
We do provide books and resource materials on the courses for you to be able to find a point of reference and I encourage you to brush up on your anatomical grounding before you come. However these courses are about taking yourself on a journey of discovery and also finding out what you don’t know, what you need to know and also what you don’t need to know. Sometimes the anatomy books can be confusing as they don’t always clarify what you’re looking at.
9: Do I have to participate in everything?
In my classes, you do what you are comfortable doing and nothing else. There is no compunction or pressure for you to do anything that you don’t want to do. You can work at your own pace and observe or take part as you wish. At all stages you are guided and helped and although I hope you will feel comfortable to participate in the dissection process, at the end of the day, it’s your experience that counts.
8: Can I undertake my own projects?
We have a layout of the five-day course and within that period of time we aim to get through a certain amount of material, dropping down through the layers of the body. Within this there is plenty of time for people to work on individual aspects of their own study. If there is anything that you particularly want to look at or understand, then I encourage you to discuss this with me beforehand. This will make sure that we design an approach which will allow you to see what you want, and also stop the particular area from being taken away before you have had a chance to work with it.
You are also working with a group of people and will need to ensure that any personal approaches don’t impact on the rest of the group.
7: Can I take photographs?
Absolutely not. The Human Tissue Act is clear on this and breach could be a criminal offence. We are very protective of the lab and the donor programme and no-one is allowed in the lab with a mobile phone or a camera. This is an incredibly strict rule for us and breach of this will find you removed from the lab, together with your phone!
6: I’m squeamish and don’t like the sight of blood does that matter?
Unless otherwise stated, the cadavers are all preserved, using a process that fixes the body at the time of death. As a result there is no blood that comes out when we dissect and depending on the type of technique used, no blood left in the body at all. We do work on fresh frozen/unembalmed cadavers in Nottingham, and these are a bit wetter. Please read this explanation here for more detail.
We will have regular breaks through the day, but also will keep an eye on you. Sit down if you need to or take yourself out of the lab and get some water. There is always someone around to take care of you.
5: Why would I want to do it, I already know my anatomy very well?
You think you do! All the more reason. The chances are that you know your anatomy from what you have learned in a book and maybe even in a dissection. But this is a very sanitised and cleaned up version and not really how the body is at all. The dissections or prosections are created to conform to what the books show and the books draw what the prosections reveal. It’s a vicious circle that no-one needs to break, because, after all everything is already documented isn’t it?
The trouble is that these illustrations don’t show how the body moves, stabilises or changes. A medical view of anatomy is a book learned, two dimensional exercise in naming parts, not a way of understanding the relationships between systems and functions and certainly not a way of examining movement, lack of movement or compensation. In short, unless you’ve done an Integral Anatomy style dissection, you only have half the story. Holding a complete piece of tissue in your hand, all your anatomy suddenly makes sense. It’s a game changer!
4: How does it relate to my therapy?
If you are touching the human form, then my courses will not only change the way you look at the body but also the way you touch it. Because we drop through the layers, the dissection process we use allows you to see clearly what it is you are affecting and what tissues you are working on.
People often comment that after this class, they have a new view of how they are working and are able to understand how multiple presentations and problems can be condensed and worked on. Instead of thinking of muscles and tissues ending or beginning or having a specific, isolated function, we start to see how things work in a tensional way.
Most therapists report that after a dissection, their results go through the roof. They are better able to identify the origins of pain and function and treat more clearly and directly.
3: I’ve never seen a dead body before and not sure how I’ll cope. I’d feel a bit bad about dissecting someone
The cadavers we work on are all donated by the person themselves. They recognised that after they passed away, their body would no longer any use to them and so they gave it up. They did this, not just so that people would be able to learn from their form, but also that other people would be helped. The generosity of this gift cannot be underestimated and we always hold in our minds how incredibly appreciative and fortunate we are to be able to do this work. The gift is also one that comes from the family, as they have not had a funeral or a chance to say their goodbyes, but are fulfilling the last wishes of the donor.
Ultimately however this is no longer a person as such but rather the material that the person has left behind, much like their other belongings that were left behind after they died. The lab is not a funeral home or a place of mourning, but is a chance to fulfil the last wishes of the donor and their family. We look after that donor and it’s a great honour to be in that place.
However we do understand that the process is a challenging one and one that will ask you to look at your own body and sense of self. You are guided carefully and sensitively into the experience and at any time can move away from the table and take some time out.
2: I might pass out…
No-one ever has! The main reason we get light-headed in the lab is because we are standing on our feet all day. The lab can be quite cool and for a lot of the day we are standing still and concentrating. We encourage you to move around, not hyper extend your knees and keep hydrated. Water is always available outside of the lab and you can take a break at any time.
We have lunch breaks and tea breaks and again you are encouraged to keep well fed and hydrated.
1: Does it smell?
The number one concern! I’d say no, but with a couple of caveats! The smell that people fear is one of some kind of decay and that is definitely not one that happens in these workshops or in any dissecting room I have been in.
The cadavers are fixed very soon after the time of death. This means that a fixing solution is pushed around the circulatory system, destroying all the bacteria that cause decay. It makes the cadaver effectively sterile and no breakdown of tissue and can occur, hence no unpleasant smell.
The odour that comes off is vaguely chemical but completely harmless. If you remember from your school days the smell of the science lab, then the dissecting room is much like this. Half science lab, half hospital without the smell of cabbage!
Some people prefer to wear a face mask and we provide these on our longer classes, but not on the short one or two day ones. If you want to add a dab of essential oil to the inside of this, then you are very welcome to bring some along for this purpose.