A Student’s Project: Survey of Trans-structural Experiences in Phase II

Pages: 8-9
Year: 2010
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 38 – Nº 2

Volume: 38

The following collection of articles offers insight into part of the current process of training Rolfers at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI). The starting point was a Phase II project by then-student Vivian Gettliffe. Her instructor, Thomas Walker, suggested that she write up her class project to submit to Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute.

The timing coincided with our theme on professional development, and we encouraged Gettliffe, her instructor, and her mentor Darrell Sanchez to develop an article giving us not only Gettliffe’s project but also a window into the broader context of the educational objectives of the Phase II projects and the optional mentoring chosen by some Rolfers-in-training during their studies at RISI.

Anne Hoff, Editor-in-Chief

Robert McWilliams, Managing Editor



For the Phase II required presentation, I surveyed my classmates concerning non-structural or “trans-structural” effects of Rolfing SI received from their classmate-practitioners during the eight weeks of Phase II training. By the time we were given the assignment, it was clear that the Rolfing process had impacted many students in ways that went far beyond their physical structure: bringing up significant life experiences, deeply moving their emotions, and transforming perceptions. Our instructor, Thomas Walker, and his assistant, Heidi Thrasher-McReynolds, helped many student-clients and their student-Rolfers to work through these experiences together. They also helped us to process and learn from the experiences as a class, placing them into a larger perspective and suggesting ways to support future clients who might undergo something similar. I am working concurrently toward a master’s degree in counseling, and decided to learn more about my classmates’ experiences and the implications for my future practice through questioning them via an anonymous survey.

Our class of sixteen responded to the survey after the seventh session of the Ten Series had been received. Although the percentage results cannot be extrapolated to Rolfing clients in general due to the small sample and the unusual context, they were informative nonetheless. I presented the results to our class in terms of implications for our future practices. Afterward the survey was discussed with Darrell Sanchez, a Certified Advanced Rolfer and licensed professional counselor who has served as my mentor, supervising my work with clients between Phases II and III (see “Through the Lens of Experience: Mentoring on Trans-structural Experiences” on page 10. This further helped frame the results within the larger perspective of how Rolfing sessions may unleash transformative processes across many channels of human experience.

To see the survey, go to www.pedroprado.com.br. What follows is a summary of the key results and what I felt I learned from them, as summarized for my classmates.

Lessons Gleaned from the Survey of Sixteen Phase II Students Who Underwent Sessions One through Seven

Some of our clients are likely to experience effects from Rolfing sessions that go beyond the structural or physical (referred to here as “trans-structural experiences”).

Table 1 shows what the students reported experiencing. Eleven of the sixteen student-clients, 69% of the class reported at least one trans-structural experience: either sympathetic activation, emotional responses, unsolicited memories, shifts in thought or understanding, or shifts in behavior. (Note: at least two more experienced some of the above in relation to Rolfing experiences outside the parameters of the survey, either with an outside practitioner or during a later session, pushing the percentage up to 81%.)


Table 1: Trans-structural Experiences of Student-Clients

<img src=’https://novo.pedroprado.com.br/imgs/2010/1135-1.jpg’>


We can expect some of our clients to experience sympathetic nervous system reactions in response to Rolfing SI.

Of the respondents, 56% experienced sympathetic activation of the nervous system at some point during the first seven sessions as a response to the Rolfing work.

Sympathetic activation may manifest in a variety of ways, some of which are easier to recognize than others.


See Table 2 for a list of signs of sympathetic activation and the number of student-clients who experienced each.

Table 2: Signs of Sympathetic Activation Experienced by Student-Clients

<img src=’https://novo.pedroprado.com.br/imgs/2010/1135-2.jpg’>

* Additional signs reported by individual student-clients included cranial pressure, breathing difficulty, twitching, loss of balance, and drowsiness.


Watch the breath; be ready for the tears.

Over half of those experiencing sympathetic activation noticed that their breathing accelerated. Of those reporting indications of discharge (the dissipation of energy released during sympathetic activation), 80% experienced deep breaths. Of those reporting sympathetic activation, 55% experienced crying as part of the discharge.


Some clients are likely to take trans-structural experiences, including sympathetic activation, home with them.

All types of trans-structural experiences included in the survey occurred both during and outside of sessions. Of the forty-six total trans-structural experiences reported, 46% occurred during the session and 54% occurred outside of the session. Emotional release, emotional upset, and unusual thoughts occurred more often during sessions; unsolicited memories, shifts in meaning, and changes in behavior occurred more often outside of sessions. All types of sympathetic activation included in the survey occurred both during and outside of sessions. Of the thirty-six total experiences of sympathetic activation, 75% were experienced during a session, and 25% were experienced outside of a session. It is interesting to note that some student-clients never revealed their trans-structural experience to their practitioner.


When we touch our clients, we have our hands in their histories.

Of those experiencing sympathetic activation, two-thirds cited trauma or memories of past events triggered by touch as a factor in the activation. This is over one-third of the original class of sixteen! Almost 40% of the class experienced unsolicited memories as a response to the Rolfing work.


Safety matters.

Of those reporting a trans-structural experience, 36% checked that “the safe context led to an experience of change or healing,” and 80% of those reporting a positive outcome checked this same statement.


The relationship matters.

Just under half of those experiencing sympathetic activation cited stress in the relationship with the practitioner as a factor in the trans-structural experience. In all cases where a negative or mixed outcome was experienced, stress in the relationship with the practitioner was identified as a factor. This was only true in 20% of the cases where a positive outcome was reported.

How the practitioner responds to the trans-structural experience makes a difference.


Highest satisfaction with the handling of the experience was associated with:

. allowing the experience to cycle through naturally versus attempting to end it;

. switching to a more grounding touch or removing hands entirely; drawing the client’s attention to physical sensations, or engaging the client in conversation. Students’ written comments also validated the above approaches as most helpful. Also reported as helpful were walking as a means of grounding, encouraging the client to keep his or her eyes open, and helping the client to remain aware of the present moment.

Lowest satisfaction was associated with student-Rolfers who continued work without regard to the client’s experience. Suggestions for improvement included better awareness of the client’s autonomic response, removing hands entirely, and improved practitioner self-awareness and communication.


Structural changes can lead to significant positive emotional change.

Of those who experienced a positive outcome of their trans-structural experience, 80% included structural changes as a causal factor, and 80% of those experiencing a positive outcome felt that the trans-structural experience led to significant emotional change.

Of those reporting a trans-structural experience, 45% reported a positive outcome, 27% reported a mixed or negative outcome, and 27% were neutral or did not report the outcome.

It is interesting to note that only 27% of those who experienced a trans-structural effect during the first seven sessions felt that it had been fully processed at the time of the survey. Might this percentage have been different if the respondents had received the final three integrative sessions before responding to the survey? Or perhaps this is in line with Darrell Sanchez’s comments from the discussion that follows (“Through the Lens of Experience: Mentoring on Trans-structural Experiences”, page 10) about an inner transformational necessity that is always present in a tensional balance with our stability. In other words, perhaps the process of self-organization, once engendered, is always in progress.



Engaging in this project while the Phase II Rolfing work was still in progress allowed me to tune in to non-structural layers of our group experience that might otherwise have gone under the radar. It also alarmed me somewhat, as I wondered to what extent my interactions with future clients might trigger some of the same surprising reactions. The project and discussion with Darrell Sanchez that followed confirmed for me that training in counseling or psychology is a good adjunct to SI training; if these other channels of human experience are so affected by changes in our structures, then I want to be as prepared as possible to support the client in those aspects as well. Even before the counseling training is completed, I believe what I have learned here will contribute to a greater awareness, sensitivity, and respect for what my clients may be experiencing on many levels, even if they choose not to reveal it. Hopefully this increased awareness will translate into a capacity to offer them the resources and referrals that will help them to obtain the best possible long-term outcomes from their investment in the Rolfing series.

The assignment and subsequent discussion increased my curiosity about the Rolfing principle of holism, vividly illustrating how our bodies, minds, and emotions are one. During Phase II, we learned to visit the “edge” zones of our clients’ bodies, the junctures between dense and spacious, distressed and resourced, dysfunctional and organized, immobile and mobile structures. It seemed that by bringing clients’ awareness to these contrasting elements through touch, their bodies responded with release and transformation. It’s intriguing to think that this concept also applies at emotional or conceptual junctures of our lives. Perhaps such junctures are not only affected by Rolfing sessions, but are, in a way, different sides of the structural junctures – places where old patterns encounter new possibilities. I am learning that as our structures change, evidently these other edge zones of our lives also shift and evolve, offering changing yet fertile ground for transformation in the ongoing process of adaptive self-organization.

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