img_1787CranioSacral therapy is a unique modality that has a devoted following among many massage therapists. We know that there are quite a few members of our community who would like to learn more about it so we sat down with CranioSacral expert, Lisa Gillispie, for more information.

Massamio: What is CranioSacral Therapy?

Lisa: Craniosacral therapy is a light touch, hands on therapy that uses different holds on the body to balance the structures that surround the brain and spinal cord.

Massamio: How was it developed?

Lisa: Craniosacral therapy has its roots in cranial osteopathy, which was developed by William Sutherland, DO. Dr. Sutherland, while still in osteopathy school, was intrigued by a disarticulated skull. In particular he was struck by the beveled suture between the sphenoid and the temporal bones, they reminded him of the gills of a fish. Knowing that gills are designed to move, he began to explore whether or not the sutures of the skull were designed to accommodate movement.

This exploration led him to design different helmets to compress different areas of his skull so he could observe how he felt when certain areas were compressed and then when they were released. After thoroughly exploring the concepts on himself, he began to apply these concepts to his patients and got excellent results. Word spread and soon other doctors were sending their patients to him whom they were unable to help.

Dr. Sutherland first presented his cranial concepts formally in 1929. John Upledger, DO built upon Dr. Sutherland’s work and developed craniosacral therapy in the late 70’s, early 80’s. He brought educational training in this modality, for the first time, to people outside of the osteopathic field.

Massamio: What do you love about doing CranioSacral Therapy?

Lisa: I love interacting with people and learning more about them and their life. I love helping people feel better. I love when a client has had discomfort or pain for years and finally gets relief. I love helping my clients better understand their body so they can work with it and feel empowered to help themselves. 

I also love that each client teaches me something new, shows me something different or gives me a different perspective. I am never, ever bored and there is always more to learn!

Because CST is such a gentle treatment, people who are concerned that traditional massage may be too much are open to receive CST. I’ve also had some clients who prefer CST over massage because they don’t need to disrobe.

Massamio: What are some issues that CranioSacral Therapy is suited for treating?

Lisa: CST can help a pretty wide range of issues. Some of them include:

  • pregnancy discomfort
  • recovery from a traumatic birth
  • breastfeeding difficulties
  • jaw pain, neck pain, back pain or headaches
  • anxiety, stress, or difficulty relaxing
  • concussions and traumatic brain injuries
  • preparation for or recovery from surgery
  • stress related illnesses
  • fibromyalgia
  • sports injuries

Massamio: How did you get your training?

Lisa: I received my training from the Upledger Institute and Sacred Spaces Seminars (now the Neurovascular Institute). My training was offered as continuing education in a series of 4-5 day workshops. I’ve also done an extensive amount of assisting classes, mentoring with more advanced therapists and teaching craniosacral therapy.

Massamio: What advice do you have for a massage therapist who is interested in CranioSacral training?

Lisa: I’d suggest that you first receive a craniosacral session so you can personally experience what it’s like. Seek out a therapist who ideally has advanced training vs. 1-2 classes. Also, see if you can experience work from therapists who’ve had different training backgrounds. Each school has a different perspective and trains its therapists differently. I’d also suggest reading the book Wisdom in the Body by Michael Kern. This book gives a nice overview of craniosacral therapy from a variety of perspectives. 

You can also explore the different schools that offer training and get a sense of what each of their programs offers. Some schools also offer 1 day introductory courses, which can also give you a sense of what to expect before investing a significant amount of money.

Training programs that I’d suggest looking into are:

Massamio: How long is a typical CranioSacral program?

Lisa: Some programs take place over 2-3 years and some can be completed in 1-2 years depending on how you schedule your training. Typically there is a series of multiple classes with each class lasting 4-5 days long. In order to complete certification (not a requirement but certainly an indication of competence) an average of 6-10 trainings need to be completed as well as a minimum number of treatment sessions. 

Massamio: What continuing education options are there for those to want more advanced training?

Lisa: There are a variety of options for more advanced training. All of the schools that I mentioned previously offer advanced training. Some of the courses focus on working with the pediatric population, some with birth and pregnancy, specialized work with the brain. I also offer additional training courses through my website that explore different areas of craniosacral relevant anatomy more in depth.

Massamio: What do massage therapists need to know before starting CranioSacral training?

Lisa: Good people skills and a passion for learning are really, really important. Familiarity with the anatomy of the skull bones and brain is helpful, although that will be taught more in depth through your training.

Massamio: Anything else you would like to add?

Without trying to sound totally corny, craniosacral has changed my life. It’s helped me through incredibly challenging times. It’s helped me be more aware and in tune with my body. It’s taught me how to listen deeply and be present with people. It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to help people find relief from pain and experience more joy in their life. I feel very, very lucky to be able to do what I do.

Massamio: Thank you, Lisa! We really appreciate your time and your passion for CST.

Lisa: Thank you! Always a pleasure 🙂

Lisa Gillispie, BSW, LMT, CST has been specializing in craniosacral therapy since 1995. She has a private practice in Columbus, OH where she works with clients of all ages to help them improve their health and wellbeing using CST and whole body alignment. From 2004-2006 Lisa taught craniosacral therapy for Sacred Spaces Seminars. Now she teaches through her website,, and mentors craniosacral therapists around the world helping them deepen their understanding of relevant anatomy while expanding their expertise so they are able to serve their clients more effectively. Lisa is deeply passionate about helping more therapists take this work out into the world. For fun she knits, dabbles in cooking grain-free, sugar-free recipes and goes on long walks with her 3-year-old girlie.

Comments from original Massamio post:

It’s kinda amazing to me that you write to debunk the myth of massage affecting toxins in the body in the name of good practice, yet throw fluff questions at someone still promoting CST, and probably teaching workshops in this bunk. It has been proven bogus soooo many times in so many research studies we should have put it in the myths debunked trash can right along with detox massage long ago. — Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 5:55 PM by Dianna Linden

Thanks for your comment, Dianna. Our goal is always to bring good information to people and allow them to make their own decisions. We encourage you to share the research that you mention, so that our readers have an easy way to access two distinct perspectives. Thanks! — Posted @ Saturday, December 29, 2012 3:15 PM by Sarah Cafiero

I cannot fathom why on earth you would include this article on “craniosacral therapy” as if it is a legitimate therapy whatsoever. It has been shown repeatedly to be nonsense and if you had the slightest clue yourself about what constitutes scientific “evidence” in the research literature, you would not promote it. Can you tell the difference yourself? How about this as a starter… Provide the searchable citation of one single high quality study that has shown CST to be effective for the treatment of any condition. Even a study that demonstrates the validity of, and/or the reliability between therapists in palpating this magical rhythm. Wow, amazing. Try some science on that snake oil. — Posted @ Saturday, January 05, 2013 9:46 PM by Finny

One of the challenges with CST is that there is a definite lack of high quality, published research. Two articles you might consider looking at are: and  There’s a lot we don’t know about how CST works and the mechanism(s) behind it. There are theories and speculations. But there are results. Not for everyone of course but then I don’t know of any technique that is 100% effective for everyone. Humans are complex creatures after all, as much as we long for predictable, consistent results all of the time. Even traditional Western medicine can’t claim to be 100% effective for many (most?) things. And yet there is still a very valid role that Western medicine plays in healthcare.  It can certainly be argued that the placebo effect may play a role. Maybe it does. Although I’m not sure how that would explain the changes I’ve seen & felt (and parents have also noticed) in infant’s head shape or an infant’s ability to breastfeed. It could be argued that those changes may have happened all on their own with out any intervention. Perhaps. I don’t know and there’s no real way to know because, as I said above, human beings are complex & don’t necessarily fit neatly into double blind studies. There’s a lot we don’t know. And what gets really tricky is we don’t know what we don’t know.  I wish I did have a stack of research articles to show you and the ability to say that yes, this particular CST technique, 100% of the time, produces these results. But I don’t.  I do, however, still have a lot of clients who’ve experienced good results with CST helping their headaches, jaw pain, back pain, knee pain, burning feet, dizziness, etc. Which I realize isn’t going to satisfy those of you wanting high quality, double blind, randomized studies. However, quite simply, if I wasn’t getting positive results with my clients, I wouldn’t be practicing this technique. — Posted @ Monday, January 07, 2013 12:17 PM by Lisa Gillispie

There are actually several other published papers on the positive benefits of CST. As well as the paper on Fibromyaglia there is a second paper on this topic which again shows that CST helped in several important areas for people suffering from fibromyalgia for between 6 months and a year after treatment, especially for sleeping issues. I believe Dianna that that is a far better result than can be achieved by taking a cousre of sleeping pills! There is another published paper on CST for treating and improving the symptoms of people with MS. And a second paper is waiting to be published on this topic as well.  So although there are papers that have said in the past that there is not enough good evidence to support CST being effective , there is now a slowly growing list of papers to support the benefits of CST.  Furthermore the paper which assessed all previous papers just says that there was not enough rigour involved in the research, and more research needs to be done. This is not the same as saying that CST does not work.  Now these new papers refute the claims made in the 1999 paper – i have had this confirmed for me by a research doctor from a leading London hospital.  It is a pity that many of the practitioners of CST do not have access to organise, receive funding for and run research in the same way as many doctors in hospitals do. I think this is a reason for the dearth of research papers to date. — Posted @ Monday, January 07, 2013 1:18 PM by Daniel

I find it interesting that those insisting CST is “bunk” claim research supports their position but don’t offer links for us to read said research.  I think resistance to CST comes from exposure to bad or inexperienced practitioners or thinking it is strictly “energy work”.  My initial experience was with someone who presented it as a mix of phrenology and qigong; not inspiring or credible but I couldn’t argue with the results. The clients were rested, refreshed, and pain-free. Upon review, I think presenting it as a “quiet practice” where client and practitioner BOTH “must still their minds and focus on the desired outcome” played a large role in the clients allowing themselves to let go of their stressors and accept nurturing touch (especially in as sensitive an area as the neck and attachments).  I appreciate this information (light as it is) about CST and where to get more info. As for using it in my own practice, I don’t need to know exactly why something works to use it. I only need evidence that it works without causing harm. — Posted @ Monday, January 07, 2013 1:24 PM by Stefanie Gregory

In 2006, after 30 years of pain and eye dysfunctions (I was hit in the head by a bat at age 6), I took an Upledger course in CranioSacral Therapy. I kept asking the teacher questions, which led him to use me as a demo for one of the location specific techniques. Within 5 minutes my eyesight went from left eye farther down in sight than right, to being able to see each side equally. I went from having difficulty aiming a fork to my own mouth to being able to do that, and so many other things, accurately. CranioSacral transformed my life from being a ‘curiosity specimen’ in a doctor’s office, to being able to handle most tasks easily without difficulty. I now treat people with CranioSacral Therapy. When they express how other family, friends, associates, and medical personnel do not understand their physical and cognitive difficulties, I’m able to at least compassionately listen, and hopefully help their body release the tensions that are restricting their ability to function normally. Without the training at the Upledger Institute, I would be among those still suffering without knowledge of how to get better. — Posted @ Monday, January 07, 2013 3:03 PM by Julie Deramo

Actually Stefanie, I did try to submit some links to studies and a follow up comment but it wouldn’t go through. After several attempts I gave up. Your criticism is a bit thin IMO, since I don’t see you using any of your time to to attempt to dialogue substantially on this topic. Let’s see if this comment goes through before I try to submit the links to studies yet again. — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 1:33 PM by Dianna Linden

For some reason the longer comments I submit with links in them are not effectively uploading. I’ll try breaking it up in case there’s a maximum word limit and that’s the reason why.  I appreciate, Lisa, that you submitted some links, but your argument that a method doesn’t need to be 100% effective to be valid is not relevant, since no one suggested that 100% effectiveness was a necessary criterion for validating a practice, even slightly specifically effective when actually studied would do. It is understood in scientific sound practice that an anecdotal positive experience here and there does not constitute genuine validation for the method itself, since placebo can offer as much as a 30% positive result and we know that placebo’s effectiveness is not in the method or substance being presented as valid, but in the working of the human brain/spirit itself, thus the need to distinguish what methods are actually effective and what is placebo. Although I do appreciate that someone like Julie, who had a positive healing experience with CST would now believe in the method, her anecdotal experience can also be characterized as a spontaneous recovery, of which we hear stories regularly. It does not constitute a validation of CSTas a reliable method for her particular injury. Several repeatable txs of that injury with a more than 30% positive response might, however. Individual’s stories alone do not validate the methods used to invoke the healing experience. If they did, laying on of hands healers would be considered other than quacks taking advantage of desperate vulnerable people in search of freedom from pain or disease, even in the scientific community.  Regarding the 2 links you submitted, Lisa, the first simply says more studies are needed cuz the methods weren’t up to snuff in many,”moderate methodolical quality”. That has been the consistent critique of the studies Upledger himself oversaw many years ago as well. When a practitioner is biased and the study isn’t a RCT then the observational studies often are interpreted in favor of the favored outcome. Thus the need for RCTs. Several systematic reviews, each with their own criterion for what gets included seem to have come up with that suggestion, tho I don’t see any studies clearly demonstrating even that these rhythms can be reliably and consistently perceived by more than one tester. This seems to me to be a foundational requirement to validating this method as an effective method. The systematic review you submitted suggested that RCTs (randomized controlled trials) could be done, but the abstract doesn’t articulate upon what the reviewer based that opinion. IE: from what little we’ve read, we don’t know what studies he reviewed that caused him to say ” CST assessment is feasible in RCTs and has the potential of providing valuable outcomes to further support clinical decision making.” Good, so let’s see even one of those studies supporting even one of the basic premises I have mentioned 2 paragraphs down.  The second is more difficult to assess or contemplate since not enough information is present in the abstract and I’m not gonna pay for the full text. Neither am I trained as a researcher. My understanding of statistics his paltry at best. Anyone else in this comment community know what the heck is meant by ‘standard deviation of RR segments” I’m guessin not. From a quick reading it looks like some reduction in pain occurred in 13 of the 18 of the tender spots AFTER 20 WEEKS of tx, but only 4 of those lasted for the yearly follow up. 20 weeks of tx is a lot of sessions to improve a few trigger points, in my experience. I can get improvement in one session, but in the case of fibro, it doesn’t hold. Fibromyalgia is a clinical mystery. It’s not even agreed among rheumatologists if it is a valid diagnosis, or simply a conglomerate of symptoms that have been erroneously lumped together. I don’t want to enter into that discussion, there’s no consensus at this point, and the opinions of folks with fibro have much emotional investment fuelling their defense of the dx. Many of the complaints folks with fibro have are due to sleep problems, digestion, etc. We have no idea if CST positively effected any of those more comprehensive symptoms from this study’s results. If it made a comprehensive effect in the way it is described by the proponents to, from the brain’s improved functioning, then the whole magilla of symptoms should have been improved, seems to me. This study does not indicate that occurred at the yearly follow up in my reading of the brief abstract. … — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 2:52 PM by Dianna Linden

What is it with these links, that they don’t upload?!*** This is my third attempt, too much work:  Many studies have shown that there is no inter-tester reliability when practicing CST, nor is there diagnostic reliability. So much so, that the British and Canadian Osteopathic boards have disqualified CST as a legitimate billable osteopathic practice, even though it was originally conceived and taught by osteopaths. That’s a pretty big deal and quite a revealing occurance, seems to me, not just one osteopathic board, but two, disqualified it as valid osteopathic methodology.  Several of the basic premises are quite questionable; that a rhythm exists, that it can be felt and that the bones in an adult cranium can still be moved at all, let alone with the minimal pressure being applied are 3 major ones. That the accurate perception of this rhythm (which has not been shown to be possible in any studies as far as I know) has any diagnostic reliability is another biggie that has not been shown to be true. This is so well known that even wikipedea is willing to come right out and call it pseudo-science, “The settled scientific consensus is that craniosacral therapy is pseudoscience,[2] and its practice quackery.[3] Medical research has concluded that there is no evidence for the therapy’s effectiveness.[4]”” and wiki provides several links in support of that statement, if any of the proponents here want to do further reading:  — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 2:58 PM by Dianna Linden

i’ve tried and tried to submit the additional 6 links I have but my comments don’t post. It shouldn’t be this much work to try to have a substantiated healthy dialogue on this topic. Sarah find out what’s going on. My first attempt to comment with links was days ago and I submitted the links at least 4 times before giving up. Today I had to divvy my comment up into 3 sections this time and the third section with the majority of links in it still won’t upload, after half dozen attempts. The only link your blog accepted was the wikilink. It’s a frustrating waste of my time to work this hard to attempt to substantiate my POV in dialogue on this topic. Sarah please see if there’s a filter on link submissions or some other problem when attempting to submit them. Bummer. — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 3:07 PM by Dianna Linden

My last post was a kinda test to see if I could upload without the links after my recent half dozen attempts to submit them or if it was a web thing in general. It posted successfully, so looks like the links are a problem for some reason. So I just made 6 more attempts to submit them. It doesn’t work so I give up. Beleive me, Stefanie, it ain’t because I’m not willing to come up with the goods to back my POV.  Unless Sarah can offer me an email address where I can send them to her so she can submit them the effort to do so has sucked too much of my time already. Sarah, you might want to look into why these links won’t upload effectively. Gimme an email address to send em to and I will. i can’t find one on this site. — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 3:15 PM by Dianna Linden

Sarah, I just noticed that the links Lisa submitted in her comment back to me didn’t hyperlink as did the ones in your blog post article. Neither did the wikilink that successfully uploaded in one of my comments show up as a clickable hyperlink. That causes me to suspect that your blog formatting has some kind of filter on it negating hyperlinks in the comments or even as in my experience, rejecting them altogether. You might want to check with tech support on this, cuz it’s a bummer to sincerely try to submit hyperlinked information resources and not be able to — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 3:28 PM by Dianna Linden

It took a long time to prove the earth is round. Sometimes we know things intuitively long before we can prove it. If this work helps clients, then it works. If it is not your cup of tea, do some other kind of work that matches who you are. — Posted @ Tuesday, January 08, 2013 4:15 PM by Elizabeth Bosse

Elizabeth, that is the kind of flakey thinking that is the reason the quote “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” exists.  Actually it took only one ocean voyage reported back to Spain to debunk the Earth is flat myth still believed in Europe during Columbus’ time. There’s paltry yet reasonable evidence that some earlier civilizations might have already made that voyage and therefore known better. Galileo was arrested for proposing that the Sun is the center of our solar system, the publication of which did much to dispel the myth the church proposed, that the Earth was, yet the church punished him for proving something other than their popular myth. If science offers us sound understanding of our world that replaces myth with information, then it is upon us to be clear thinking enough to understand the difference. Factually sound information is not just feeling based belief. There’s a difference. Your statement above suggests there is not.  CST is not always benign. I attempted to submit several links demonstrating circumstances in which folks were seriously negatively effected by folks practicing it for situations that the Upledger Fdtn does not even teach as contra-indicated. One of my problems with the way CST is taught is it seduces massage therapists to believe that they should be working as healers on conditions that are beyond the actual scope of our practice, legally and ethically and effectively.  If your POV actually made sense then we might as well be practicing leeching for the pneumonia, a practice that killed George Washington. or we could be bruising and burning someone with dripping heated alcohol spilling from glass vacuum cups, causing unnecessary additional suffering, applying cupping when the person is actually suffering from ascites, due to organs too riddled with cancer that they can no longer process fluids effectively, a condition cupping can no way positively effect. That actually happened to one of my loved ones in the hands of an OMD quack. This is mythologically based practice, it is based upon faulty thinking and suggesting that we are justified in using this kinda pie in the sky thinking does not enhance our credibility in the larger community of health practitioners.  With this as your basic filter as to what is worthwhile then you might still be selling your clients those massage myths Sarah went to the trouble to debunk in another of her blog post, since you seem to be proposing that trusting your feelings is the barometer that can be relied upon to sort the bs myths from effective tx methods. Saying that folks should practice whatever they are attracted to seems to be the basis of your above statement of belief. This kind of loose thinking is not only silly, it’s stupid and can be at times dangerous. Our field deserves better. — Posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 12:08 AM by Dianna Linden

Dianna, Thanks for letting us know about the issue with posting links. We will follow up with you via email to get it worked out! — Posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 4:23 PM by Sarah Cafiero

Here’s more reading for those interested in gathering information before forming emotionally attached opinions:   — Posted @ Friday, January 18, 2013 10:21 AM by Anon