Rolfing as a Third Paradigm Practice

Pages: 25-27
Year: 1996
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – (Genérico)


As part of the effort over the past several years to create a national certification for body-workers, a great deal of time and effort was expended in trying to categorize the many forms of bodywork. Out of that process has come a three-paradigm model for characterizing bodywork. First paradigm methods are characterized as palliative in nature (perception and measurement); second paradigm methods are corrective (cause and effect); while third-paradigm methods are integrative (relationship). I have included the parenthetical comments to connect this hierarchy with that of the epistimological profiling of Gaston Bachelard. The first paradigm most likely relates to the first and second levels of Bachelard, the second-paradigm with his third level (the level of laws), and the third paradigm with his fourth level. Once I began thinking in this way, $ fourth paradigm entered my thinking, the level of transformation (transcendence and intuition). I mention this early in this article because I believe that many Rolfers have created practices around such a fourth-paradigm. However, since only the first three-paradigms have been discussed in previous Rolf Lines, I will direct the rest of this article to questions about paradigms one through three.

Practitioners of first-paradigm methods work within the realm of feeling and sensation. For them, technique is most likely minimal as the feelings and sensations of the client are of primary concern. Second paradigm practitioners must have more knowledge about anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology to be competent in the realm of cause and effect. Their methods are more likely to show a wide range of techniques to alleviate symptoms. Third-paradigm practitioners, by working at the level of relationships, must combine the knowledge and techniques of the second paradigm with an overview of the relationships between and within the many systems of the body. Examining the three-paradigm model from this view certainly gives third-paradigm practitioners the lofty high ground of bodywork.

We as Rolfers are convinced that our work is deeply enmeshed in the third-paradigm. In fact, this might be considered one of the primary foundations of our training. This is the position of healers in the world. If we are to live up to that position I believe we should be able to ask ourselves a wide range of questions about how we function as third-paradigm practitioners. Questioning some unexamined assumptions about Rolfing and the third paradigm is the focus of the rest of this article.

How do we know that we are doing third-paradigm work?

From my personal experience as a Rolfing client, it is clear that the work has deeply affected my self and has had effects far beyond the physical and symptomatic. Most sessions were not linear. It has taken years for some of the changes to become manifest in my structure. In fact, many aspects of my structure are still in transition in ways that I cannot easily articulate. It is also clear from the comments of many other Rolfing clients that they have experienced the work in a similar way. So, is this the defining characteristic of third-paradigm work, that the work is nonlinear, non symptomatic and slowly evolving? And if it is, what specifically makes this happen? Is there something inherent in the form of the work that makes it integrative (transpersonal and transformative)? Is it some thought or intention held by the Rolfer during the sessions that evokes these changes? Is it somehow related to the expectations of the clients? Is it the recipe?

As the teaching staff has worked to take the mystery out of Rolfing manipulations, they have created a large body of knowledge related to changing the form of the human body. Much of the information takes the form of second-paradigm manipulations and has been derived from a wide range of other related professions. That is, these are specific manipulations designed to correct specific distortions in the structure. The teachers have also incorporated information from other integrative schools into the basic body of Rolfing knowledge (i.e. cranial, visceral, and movement modalities). Integrating this wide variety of specific manipulative techniques into a single third paradigm practice is a major challenge for the Rolfing faculty.

In expanding our view of the human body and the process of integrating structure, our school has begun to examine the underlying laws of form and function and how those laws were incorporated in to the 10-session format of the original Rolfing series. A result of this exploration has been movement away from looking at the body in relation to those ten sessions. In place of a static recipe is the process of working directly with form, function, and relationship using the above laws to design sessions geared toward the unique client on the Rolfing table. Although I strongly support this direction, I question how we know that we are not losing something vital that may have been imbedded in that ten-step recipe. Remember that in their training, out faculty was deeply impressed with both the importance and specific form of Dr. Rolf’s recipe, probably to the point where looking at a body through the lens of the recipe became second nature to them, It may be impossible for them to see that the recipe is suchdeep part of their background knowledge that they are longer aware of its impact on their thinking, even as they are trying to create the new laws of integration that are to become the foundation of the Rolfing training. If there are any occult formulations contained within the 10 session recipe, we need to examine the basis for any such hidden knowledge so as not to lose something important. Perhaps the answer to this question will only become evident as new practitioners begin active practices after training in a program that makes minimal use of a recipe.

How many modalities need to be incorporated into a third-paradigm practice? At the level of the body does it have to include the whole body all the time or can it be limited to considerations of the appendicular or axial skeleton? Does integration need to consider core/sleeve relationships even though we have difficulty being precise about this concept? Can a third-paradigm practice focus exclusively on symptoms or on a single system of the body and still retain its third-paradigm integrity? In this categorization of three paradigms it is implied that the higher ranking members include the lower rank. That is, third-paradigm practices include first- and second paradigm techniques. What percentage of a third paradigm practice is composed of first and second-paradigm modalities? How much of a given session will be related to first or second-paradigm concerns? If we define a practitioner profile as the relative importance of first-, second-, and third paradigm modalities in that practice, will different practitioners have different profiles? Of course, but what determines the acceptable mix of modalities for a valid third-paradigm practice?

There are larger questions than just what part of the body is to be included in a given session. Can we have a third paradigm practice without taking movement into account? Why? Why not? What school of movement education? I believe that movement is embedded in the unconscious response of the body to manipulation or any other physical challenges to our system. By using verbal movement clues as part of a conscious treatment strategy, we are bringing that embedded non-conscious information up to the conscious foreground of the work. However, I’m not convinced that this is always necessary or, even useful with every client. There are times when it is valuable to just observe and note the changes in a client’s movement patterns and to hold those images in our thoughts (intention) as we continue to work with that client. If this is true, what is the balance between bringing movement to consciousness and letting it be as background, even perhaps being totally oblivious to any movement component to this work?

Does a third-paradigm practice necessarily include psychological aspects in the sessions? What form of psychology is appropriate? If we are thinking of an integrative form of depth psychology should it be Jungian based? Reichian? Hakomi? Will the incorporation of psychological aspects change the very nature of Rolfing? Remember, Dr. Rolf said gravity is the therapist, implying that getting too involved in the verbal aspects of psychology would not be appropriate use of our time and skill. Yet, a great number of our clients are presenting physical symptoms that have roots in old traumatic events that may emerge during a session. What is the best way to handle such events? What are the requirements of a third paradigm practice in this matter?

What about spiritual aspects of bodywork, so-called spiritual emergence? There is a well-documented body of knowledge addressing the energetic aspects of long-term meditative, breathing, or yogic practices. Some of these energetic patterns seriously interact with the structure and function of the body, as during the emergence of Kundalini energy. Must we know when this is the case and what to do with such emerging events? Is this a requirement for training or something to learn subsequent to certification?

What a full plate of educational material. Just how much of this should be required training prior to certification is a difficult question, just as difficult as determining when a given student is ready for certification. And even all this does not exhaust the field of inquiry.

How does client participation define a third paradigm practice? Does each client have to know consciously everything that is going on? Is it a requirement of such a practice that every client be educated about and in agreement with the approach of the third paradigm? That is, does he she have to want anything more from a session than just to be free of some localized pain? Or are there elements of working with the unconscious (body) that preclude that type of participation by some clients? Are there some clients that would disrupt the Rolfing process by too active a conscious participation? Are there some practitioners who work best at a naive, unconscious level rather than at an active teaching level? Can we assume that by following a format like the old ten-session recipe that the clients needs will be taken care of automatically? Certainly this was an assumption made in the past.

Much of our language revolves around our intention in the work. But what exactly is our intention? Is the intention to do good work and to help the client enough, or must we be more precise in our thinking? Are there times during the session when we need to have a specific intention directed toward the long-range patterns of the work or can we work in some free floating mind-space where we just know everything will be taken care of? Clearly I do not believe that blind trust will take care of everything; yet it is an unspoken assumption around much of our work.

As we speak about intention, what does it mean if no apparent changes happen during a session? Can we trust that our intention is working to effect change even though we cannot see it? Does this mean that our manipulative skills have outstripped our ability to see and evaluate our own work? How long should we wait to see changes in a client? What are the signs that a slow unfolding is occurring rather than no change at all?

Because Rolfing is becoming more accepted by the insurance world, it is important to think about the affects of insurance coverage on our third paradigm approach. Most insurance payments are for corrective therapy (second paradigm). To satisfy the requirements of insurance, must we limit our practice to second-paradigm work or can we continue as integrative practitioners and then bill insurance on the second-paradigm aspects of the sessions? How does insurance involvement change the nature of our clients? Our practices? Is that change something we can incorporate easily into a third paradigm Rolfing practice?

By writing about these questions, I hope to stimulate further discussion in future issues of Rolf Lines.

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