The Challenges of Dogma in Manual Therapy

An illustration of the parable of the Six Men and the Elephant

We’ve all had those new clients that walk into our practice carrying the heavy load of someone else’s dogma about what’s going on in their bodies. This client may have sent you emails and references before the session, educating you on what they have been told is the source of all their problems. Or they may instruct you on what they understand is the best strategy to “fix” the issue. It’s almost as if this dogma has become a pillar for this client I’m describing to hold onto as they’re navigating the difficult journey of healing. In effect, the dogma that’s been passed on to this person is an incomplete lens for them to try to understand and put into words what’s happening in their body and how to address it. By presenting the client with this single perspective on “what’s happening” or “how to fix it” as if it is undebatable fact, the practitioner has closed off the possibility that there may be more to what's going on than fits into the dogma. It feels reminiscent of the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, represented in the picture above. Most dogmas are similar to each of blind men's perspectives, just one piece of the whole picture.

Now, let me back up for a second and define what I mean by Dogma more specifically than just using an analogy. Oxford Languages states the definition of “dogma” as, “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true”. I wanted us to take a second to understand what is problematic about dogma. The idea of having principles on which to operate in your practice is not the issue. In the Morales Method® Academy of Structural Integration, we operate off a set of principles to guide our work. In fact, this idea of working off a set of principles, established in the SI world by Ida Rolf in her original iterations of Structural Integration, is a common practice among the 20+ IASI certified Structural Integration Programs that exist today. Having a framework to ground us and give us somewhere to start and finish our work is important and I’m not here to discourage anyone from doing so.

Ok, back to the other, more problematic half of the definition of dogma, “laid down by an authority as inconvertibly true.” In MMASI training, we constantly reinforce, that the principles are just a guideline. For example, if we aren’t finding the guidance of the Order of Complexity to be helpful in a certain situation, I encourage my MMASI students to let go of that framework and try to look at the situation outside of the container of the Order of Complexity and the MMASI principles. I don’t want MMASI students to get stuck in the trap of trying to make everything fit into the MMASI paradigm. If they felt bound to this framework, it would quickly become more of a cage that blocks out other possibilities than a helpful guideline to facilitate the work.

Now, you may be reading this waiting for me to bring the hammer down on a certain dogma, but that’s not the intention of this discussion. We’ve all encountered some of the rigid beliefs that inhabit the bodywork industry. It’s not that the ideas are completely invalid. As mentioned above, the problem is the rigidity with which practitioners can hold on to them and then worse, facilitate the embodiment of these dogmatic beliefs in our clients.

The human body is a dynamic, layered, and intricate organism. There is no “one way” to understand it that is all-inclusive. When we choose a way of understanding the body through a set of principles or beliefs, it’s important to keep a loose grip on that framework to leave space for what may not be known to you…..yet.

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