What Just Happened?
How does that feel then? Any better?
I have spent years around therapists, doctors surgeons and practitioners of all kinds and have been one myself for most of my life.
The key motivation of being a therapist is that you want to help people. To improve the quality of their lives, to relieve pain and to alleviate suffering.
Every year I run a class where therapists from all over the world converge to take part in a dissection class at medical school in Scotland. The facilities include an extensive clinical skills suite where therapy tables are available and the swapping of treatments and ideas is a popular pastime.
I have been fortunate to be the recipient of many of the therapeutic approaches that are brought to the class and as a touch junkie, it’s no hardship for me to lie down and let someone work their magic on me.
What I struggle with however, is answering the question that I generally get asked at the end of the session, which might include, “How does that feel? Better? Is that easier? Is that less stiff?” and so forth.
It begs the return question of, “What do you think the mechanism of action might be whereby what you have done might change the way that I am physiologically responding?” In other words, how in hell’s name is what you have just done going to change 45 years of structural development to the point that my shoulders don’t hurt any more?
The feeling I am left with is that I am almost expected to say that it feels better in order not to hurt the feelings of the person who is working on me. The trouble is that humans are not cars or machines that have specific, duplicatable problems that can be fixed by addressing, changing or removing one part.
It’s also led me to ask, “Is this something I do as a therapist?” I hope not. What actually happens during a hands on session in terms of a change in the physiology of an individual is…? Probably not that much!
We can be reasonably sure that in the space of 45-60 minutes and with the usual degrees of mechanical force, using hands, equipment or needles, fascia isn’t going to change, muscle isn’t going to change and bone isn’t going to change.
So what’s left? The central and autonomous nervous systems are being prompted to be involved for sure and there may well be physiological responses in respect of a change in blood pressure and heart rate. But actual changes are going to take quite some time: weeks maybe months before sessions are truly integrated and absorbed into the structural behaviour of an individual.
To my mind, the changes happen after the session, not during it and anything a hands on therapist does is not a means to an end, but a contribution to a process that is on going.
Put simply, the therapist is not the ‘fixer’. The therapist does not get someone ‘better’ whatever that means. The therapist simply provides information to a system that then gets interpreted and hopefully acted upon in some way.
So no, right now I don’t feel better, but it was a very nice/painful/boring/intense/interesting/awesome session thank you and I’ll let you know if I notice anything.