(This is the first of a three-part post exploring the differences between Rolfing and massage. Read part 2 and part 3.)

Massage is extremely helpful, but it won't usually remodel your posture in the way that Rolfing can.

Massage is extremely helpful, but it won’t usually remodel your posture in the way that Rolfing can.

Rolfing, eh?

As a community, Rolfers still have to work against the perception that Rolfing is ‘a kind of massage’ (and an expensive one, at that). It isn’t.

And it’s the way in which Rolfing is different from a standard Swedish or deep-tissue massage that explains why the work is organised around ten sessions of treatment, rather than ‘one-off’ or occasional trips to the masseur.

I’d like to start by saying – for the record – that I have undertaken a number of massage trainings and hold a professional qualification in massage. I rate a good massage very highly.

At its best, and in the hands of a very skilled practitioner, massage can begin to have some of the long-term structural effects of a therapy such as Rolfing. But your standard off-the-peg massage simply does not aim at the more comprehensive analysis and structural change and what I am going to call ‘co-journeying’ that are at the heart of the Rolfing ten session model.

Rolfers expect change, which is why we’re willing to present ‘before and after’ images of our handiwork, and required to do this as a part of our training. And a typical Rolfing session begins and ends with a ‘body reading’: where we bring a trained eye to look at the client’s posture from the front, from the back and in profile. That kind of attention of detail brings our work closer to the work of osteopaths and other highly-skilled clinicians. Like them, we use a ‘medical model’ of the body, which is to say that Rolfers do not require their clients to park their scientific rationality at the door: you don’t have to ‘believe’ in Rolfing for it to work. Don’t forget, as well, that Rolfing’s founder, Dr Ida P. Rolf, was a successful research scientist with a doctoral degree in biochemistry in the first part of her life. But where we do differ from the standard clinical modalities is that we place relationship at the centre of the therapeutic encounter.

In Rolfing we are taught that we facilitate a journey of change and exploration: we’re not ‘fixers’ and we’re not ‘experts’. Humility, curiosity and openness are as much a part of a Rolfer’s toolkit as their undoubted skills in certain kinds of postural awareness and touch techniques. The reality of working with people’s bodies is that you can never be entirely sure that what worked on one person will work on another: people’s bodies are different, and they respond in myriad surprising ways.

For some clients the approach will be more touch-oriented (structural); for others, a movement or functional approach will enable the client to discover something new about his or her habitual ways of doing things. Some clients will find it meaningful to connect the work to their emotional lives and their history; others again will prefer a more clinical approach that shares more with physiotherapy than psychotherapy. As Rolfers we need to be sensitive to all of this; in addition we need to consider the particular resources that we can bring as therapists and the places where need to keep learning. At its best, Rolfing emerges as a unique and transformative encounter between two people both committed to finding ways to live more fully.

Intrigued? Read the next part of my blog.

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