Exploring alternative therapies
Struggling with increased family commitments and the loss of her dad, Arlene Harris tries craniosacral therapy in a bid to de-stress and get back on track
We've all heard of reiki, many of us have had acupuncture, most of us know what a cranial osteopath is and some may even know what kinesiology is - but I for one, had never heard of Craniosacral Therapy (CST) and knew nothing about it until I found myself lying on a therapist's table waiting for my treatment to begin.
As with many alternative therapies, there is a certain amount of mistrust surrounding it. People who swear by conventional medicine only scoff at the mere notion of 'quackery', but I am willing to try anything and refuse to dismiss something until I at least know more about it.
Like practically everyone else, I have been plagued with various ailments for most of my adult life - a bad back, a dodgy foot and the occasional bout of IBS. These are all physical problems which I can deal with, either by taking medication or seeking out an expert to help me to overcome the problem. But dealing with a huge emotional crisis is something I haven't really had much experience with. Sure my life is full of ups and downs but I was never faced with real trauma until my larger-than-life father was diagnosed - at 68 years of age - with a rapidly growing cancer with took his life just three months after diagnosis.
I was shell shocked and devastated by his sudden departure and while attempting to keep other family members on top of their grief, I neglected my own - which is not an advisable course of action as trying to deny or hide feelings will only make them worse.
On top of this, a heavy workload combined with increased commitments and the rapid fire pace of family life caused me to feel stressed and have difficulty sleeping.
So when craniosacral therapist, Maria Miniter suggested that she may be able to help me to get a handle on my emotional state, despite having no idea what to expect, I decided to give it a go - I had nothing to lose.
Arriving at her plush treatment room outside Ennis, Co Clare, I was immediately put at ease by her warm, chatty demeanour.
Having trained as a both a paediatric and disability nurse, she has a good knowledge of the mechanics of the human body and began the hour-long session by explaining what the craniosacral system is and how it can be manipulated by a light, hands-on treatment.
"CST aims to release any areas of restriction in the craniosacral system which includes the fluid and membranes protecting and nourishing the brain and spinal cord," she explains. "Any imbalances can affect the central nervous system leading to possible sensory, motor, neurological, digestive or behavioural disorders. CST treatment helps to release restrictions or tensions which can arise from our life experiences and the emotions associated with them."
Still none the wiser about what would be happening to me, I lay down on the treatment table, closed my eyes and tried to relax as Maria started working on my feet. It appeared that all she was doing was holding on gently behind the Achilles tendon but after a few minutes, I began to feel incredibly calm and relaxed.
Working her way up the body to legs, hips, chest and finally head, Maria's touch was very light, but extraordinarily, her hands felt extremely hot through my clothes.
When she reached the back of my neck, she placed two fingers at either side - I could hardly feel them but, once again, the heat was very intense and after a few minutes I felt as if I was floating. I experienced a very strong sensation of flying above water.
Then suddenly I began to shake uncontrollably all over, becoming very cold and shivery - the sensation was akin to what I have experienced whenever I receive a physical or emotional shock.
The shaking continued for about 10 minutes but stopped abruptly when Maria moved her fingers from my neck and placed her hand on my forehead. I then began to feel warm and soothed as she continued working on different areas until the end of the session.
Once the treatment was over, I was instructed to relax for a few minutes before getting up and facing the real world again.
While CST can help people overcome many issues, apparently some can have a variety of different feelings and/or ailments after a procedure. Once I was in an upright position, Maria warned me that I may suffer from a mild headache, stomach cramps or simply feel very tired.
"CST can be used for a broad variety of conditions and can treat people from prenatal to the elderly - it can help in the treatment of both physical and emotional issues," she says.
"But I always tell people what side effects might happen afterwards because even though most won't experience anything untoward at all, if someone does, it is good for them to know that it is a completely normal reaction to the treatment."
I walked away feeling much lighter emotionally - as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders - and had no adverse reactions whatsoever. Maria felt that I needed a few more sessions to unlock my pent-up grief and if these are anything like my first experience, I am looking forward to some more relaxation and unwinding in the near future.
However, as with all alternative treatments, conventional practitioners would urge caution. Dr Mark Murphy, chair of Communications for the Irish College of General Practitioners, says GPs, in conjunction with physiotherapists, manage a variety of musculoskeletal complaints and all treatment is evidence-based.
"This means there is scientific proof that they work," he says. "The scientific evidence comes from randomised trials of the treatment comparing it to a placebo. When a trial shows there is no evidence for a treatment, patients can trust that their general practitioner will not recommend its use.
"Similarly if no trial has ever occurred - this absence of evidence precludes its use in conventional medicine. We are very clear therefore; prescribing treatments, which lack evidence, is unprofessional, unethical and unsafe.
"GPs are always concerned when patients visit a health professional who practices un-evidenced therapies. Many of the claims by some craniosacral therapists have not undergone the scientific rigour, which is expected from conventional medicine."
To this end, the ICGP has recently written to the Government regarding the proposed changes to the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005.
"We support the Government in its desire to regulate all professionals who manage musculoskeletal conditions," says Dr Murphy.
"Such regulation will protect the public and our patients from persons who practice un-evidenced therapies. So if any patient has any concerns regarding a musculoskeletal complaint the ICGP would recommend they talk with their GP or physiotherapist."
All this information aside, the only thing I was sure of was that I felt a lot better when I walked out of the therapy room than when I walked in.
I don't know if this was all down to the treatment or the fact that I was able to relax for the first time in months - maybe it was a combination of both, but whatever it was, it seemed to work wonders.
* CST is a therapeutic technique founded by Dr John Upledger which aims to help re-establish the proper flow of cerebral spinal fluid throughout the dural tube - a tadpole-like structure surrounding the brain that extends through the centre of the spinal column all the way down to the tail bone
* It's described as a system of alternative medicine intended to relieve pain and tension by gentle manipulations of the skull regarded as harmonising with a natural rhythm in the central nervous system
* It claims to relieve a variety of ailments including stress, depression, back problems, minor infections, respiratory and digestive problems, behavioural issues, emotional and sleeping problems
* The governing body in Ireland for CST is the Upledger Institute of Ireland which is a satellite of the Florida institute of the same name
* The number of treatments required varies but averages between three and six
* Cost of treatment varies between €50 and €80 n For further information see cst-ireland.com; upledger.ie; neuropaths.com or icgp.ie
To book an appointment with Maria Miniter call (085) 110 3636