Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 44 – Nº 3

Volume: 44

From the Editor-in-Chief: For many, Emmett Hutchins was a beloved personage in the Rolf lineage, an inspiring teacher, practitioner, mentor, or friend. For others he was a controversial figure because of his pivotal role in ‘the split’ and his acrimony toward the Rolf Institute® after he left. This presents a challenge in writing about his passing and his legacy. It may offend some who expect only tributes, yet it seems imperative to present the full man, in order to perhaps understand more about both his contributions and the wounds that linger in our community. I am grateful to Nicholas French for taking this on with honesty, compassion, and a depth of insight into a man who he knew variously as teacher, colleague, and friend.


Emmett Hutchins, September 2015, shortly after his eighty-first birthday. Photo by Amber Leigh Burnham, used with permission.


In 1979 we had to accept the death of Dr. Ida P. Rolf, the brilliant, far-seeing founder of our work. In 2005 we lost Peter Melchior, the first of her students that Dr. Rolf asked to teach the work, a man whose knowledge, sure touch, and sense of humor made him a legend in our Institute (though he scoffed at such an idea). Now we must say goodbye to another pivotal figure in the evolution of our Institute: Emmett Hutchins, an intellectually gifted man whose shyness and need for solitude often earned him a sense of mystery, or at least detachment. In 1971 he and Peter were the first two of Dr. Rolf’s students that she entrusted with teaching her work. Both men were brilliant Rolfers and fine teachers and gave the greater part of their lives to that work, and they are deservedly honored for that by their students and faculty colleagues.

Peter and Emmett had very contrasting personalities, but when they taught together the contrasts seemed only to add to the clarity and effectiveness of the ideas they offered. Similarly, the way they demonstrated the possibilities of seeing what was needed and the hands-on contact that would elicit the required change tended to draw great admiration from students – fairly normal for basic Rolfing® Structural Integration classes, but somehow the Hutchins/Melchior chemistry seemed to magnify the effect.

But those close to Emmett knew that teaching was often a serious challenge for him, because he also struggled with a psychological disorder that could suddenly elicit overwhelming fear or rage, often robbing him of reason. Emmett’s intellectual brilliance would suddenly be lost to emotions he couldn’t control; people he loved might seem frighteningly dangerous, the familiar world lost and nightmarish. After an early, terrifying experience of being confined in a hospital as psychotic, he made his partner, Dick Stenstadvold (for years the Executive Director of the Rolf Institute), swear never to hospitalize him again. And so his close friends and the members of their household did their best to conceal that struggle and protect him from both his personal demons and the outside world.

Emmett told me that when he was a boy, his mother, a fervent believer in a Christian sect, would call him inside at a certain time every day and do her best to “. . . Beat the sin out of me, to cleanse me of the devil’s influences.” How does a child, especially a sensitive boy, find a way to balance such drastic opposites, especially when a central figure in his world presents them as inescapably real? The gifted Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote about the need to recognize that no matter what one believes (or wishes to believe) about oneself, it is deeply important to uncover the darker aspects in the unconscious, to know our ‘shadow’ side. I never heard Emmett mention Jung, but he did spend a lot of time studying astrology and striving for perfection; perhaps those efforts were his way of trying to fight off those personal demons. And well before Colorado legalized marijuana, he smoked a lot of it, perhaps seeking escape from his nightmarish thoughts and emotions, eventually becoming so habituated to it that the effect wasn’t noticed unless one looked closely at the pupils of his eyes. Even so, Emmett would periodically lose his balance and Dick would suddenly have to call Peter to take over the class Emmett had been teaching.

Clearly, life was often very problematic for Emmett. His devotion to his personal understanding of Dr. Rolf’s work often led him to criticize the views of other faculty members. It’s possible that was a projection of his own sense of being imperfect as a teacher, but he often focused it on other teachers, especially if he thought they were trying to change what was being taught. In a group of intelligent and creative people who were following their own intuitions and experience, being treated like heretics or unbelievers was understandably disagreeable. If the tension hit a certain level, Emmett would simply walk out on the meeting. Even though we all saw our teaching as sharing what Dr. Rolf had taught us, it was clear that there was increasing dissension in the faculty.

In 1990, an audit of the Rolf Institute’s books and accounts revealed irregularities indicating that someone had been misappropriating funds. Dick, the one in charge, quickly resigned. In a letter to the membership he denied any wrongdoing, but added that if he had used Institute funds improperly, it would have been appropriate as part of his work as Executive Director of the Rolf Institute. While many Institute members saw that as a confession of guilt, many others defended him. Emotions on both sides became so heated that many members worried that the Institute would not survive a split, though one was clearly inevitable.

Dick quickly took up the idea of having a separate school, calling it what Dr. Rolf had originally called her group: The Guild for Structural Integration. Emmett was its first teacher, and later Peter and a couple of other Rolf Institute faculty joined them. Both schools have been training ever since, and though a few attempts have been made over the years to find peace, they were unsuccessful. The shouting died down over time, but opposing beliefs have left us with a wound that has never healed. Because so many contradictory stories spread through our Institute so quickly, most of them inaccurate and based on heated emotions or old disagreements, lines of opposition formed — each side certain it had The One And Only Truth. As usual, no position was without some mistaken impression, but friendships suffered and ideas of wrongdoing have hung on too long. Is it possible to face that old wound and move toward healing?

While the Guild maintained an office in Boulder and held classes there until a year or two ago, Emmett and Dick moved their household to Hawaii, where they continued to hold classes. Dick died there several years ago, and the Guild’s board of directors shifted the office to Salt Lake City, Utah. Emmett continued to teach as long as he was able.

Whatever disagreements remain from the past, I hope Emmett’s passion for structural integration and his teaching skills will stand as a contribution of great value. They did not disappear with Emmett’s passing; their influence lives on in a large number of his students and has undoubtedly touched a great number of clients — deeply. After all, that was Emmett’s style.

May he finally be at peace.

Nicholas French, PhD, has been a member of the Rolf Institute since 1976. His first teachers were Emmett Hutchins, Ida Rolf, and Peter Melchior. He later was made a teacher and taught Rolfing classes in Boulder, Munich, Paris, São Paulo, and Adelaide, Australia. He has twice served on the Board of Directors of the Rolf Institute. In 1991 he left the faculty to enter seven and a half years of training as a psychoanalyst at the Jung Institute of Dallas. He lives in Dallas, Texas, and continues to stay busy in both practices.[:][:pb]Emmett Hutchins: In Memoriam[:]

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