Doubt, Humility, & Truth

Catherine Cowey

Critical Thinking in Education

Lots of people have come up with amazing insights and methodologies of how we should work and treat the body that are based on good science. There are also methods out there based on complete rubbish with no reputable scientific research behind them. In either case the methods usually stem from either one person or sometimes a handful of people’s ideas.  Keep in mind that each method consists of the founders’ interpretation and distillation of science combined with their own thought process and bias intended to create their training or treatment method. Sometimes this can be brilliant, but sometimes not so much.

These workshops are geared to personal trainers and manual therapists. In the case of personal trainers their lifespan in the business is at most five years and they sometimes end up schooling themselves only in these distilled methodologies without ever setting foot in a basic biology class. Twenty years ago there were a handful of certifying bodies that tested for foundational knowledge on how the body worked and how it responds to training. You learned the fundamentals to earn a legitimate credential and then later learned specialized methodologies. If you took a specialized course hopefully you would have taken the basic science classes to serve as your validity barometer.

Today there are hundreds of certifications, methods, modes, and systems making up a proverbial acronym soup that are serving as the personal trainer academy du jour. A person who doesn’t have a firm background in science can easily get swept up in a flashy method if they have no ability to discern its validity. Often trainers become converts to the method because it was transformative and possibly even life altering for them. “It’s an amazing system, look what it did for me!”

This can be a problematic education model and create an almost religious devotion to certain methods and systems. This religious fervor is bolstered by social media hype, group think, and sometimes the instructors themselves whose livelihood is now dependent on gaining more and more followers. This is not conducive to the promotion of knowledge, but only the promotion of knowledge burgeoning and reinforcing the creators own systems, methodology, and pocketbook. Unfortunately the line has become blurry whether their number one goal is profit or education.


At workshops, instructors also often overstate their methods effectiveness saying it works for everyone. A collegue recently attended a workshop and said the instructors purported that their method would work well with all body types. When asked by an attendee about hypermobile bodies, they concurred, for them as well. Both myself and this colleague work with hypermobile folks and know how their bodies respond to different techniques. The technique had loads of stretching and traction methods which he knew to be problematic for hypermobiles.

He was happy overall with the technique they were teaching and knew that it would be helpful for many, but was frustrated as I have found myself frustrated when they tout that their method is applicable in all cases. That information in the hands of someone who may not know any better might use the technique on someone that it will not help, and worse case end up being harmful. It might be a great technique and tool to use, but don’t say it will cure cancer and works for everybody.   

If there is a method you are learning, be mindful and try not to drink the Kool-Aid, learn the science and rational behind it, and know its limits and boundaries. Also check out the origins of the method. Was it a tool they used to heal themselves, was it created mostly for athletes, or people with chronic pain? Is the originator a clinician, trainer, or researcher? Some methods are great in the beginning but once made for mass consumption the original idea becomes diluted and can lose its efficacy.

 

PAIN RELIEVING INDUSTRY

When we are looking at methods that treat pain or dysfunction this is where you can get even more devout followers. This industry has churned out a menagerie of products and systems that aid in pain relief. It is one thing to get someone stronger and more fit, it is a whole other experience relieving their pain and anguish. If you have helped someone remove themselves from years long debilitation, people have a tendency to feel a bit savior like which can solidify their devotion to the specific modality used.

Now it seems that I am bashing all the teachings and certs out there, but I have actually found many of the modalities that I have learned to be extremely helpful and useful with my clients. When it becomes the one and only method and philosophy that informs your work, however, it might become a problem. Or if it’s the only method you use, make that known, and if the method isn’t working for a client send them to someone else.

I would find it refreshing if there was a bit more humility in the founders. It would be good if they could note the limitations of their methodology as well as saying, ‘Hey this other technique is really good as well you should check that out’. Some cross promotion might actually help everyone, you know, rising tides lifts all boats.

In my own work I sometimes find myself moving in and out of several different techniques that I have learned throughout the years. Other times I might find I don’t have the skill set to help an individual and refer them out to a different professional.

THE MANY, MANY MECHANISMS OF HEALING

Even when you have helped someone in one session with a certain technique it is a bit of hubris to say that treatment was the only reason for the relief of symptoms. We can’t pretend to always know why someone feels bad one moment and better the next. Can anyone state definitively that a specific treatment intervention or exercise protocol relieved someone’s issues? Can we say a medication is what made them better in consideration of the placebo effect? What serves as the healing element in a person’s body? Was the cure the passage of time, a specific treatment, lower stress level, the clients’ help seeking behavior, or simply a down regulated nervous system from the simple act of human touch, and a caring listener? These have all been found to decrease pain sensation. So which one was it?

 

I know you can get a bit paralyzed thinking along these lines. That is why it’s important that scientists attempt to figure out and explain the physiological mechanisms of how an say an SSRI (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors, or anti-depressants), Tylenol, stretching, training, or manual technique create a treatment effect. Sometimes the mechanism alludes scientists so they also test for the methods’ effectiveness ruling out the anecdotal experience.  Good practitioners have the knowledge and humility that treatments don’t work all the time for every person, and sometimes that person might just feel better because the wind changed direction.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s usually a good idea to educate yourself, or in a classroom on the basics, including biology, chemistry, physics, physiology, and anatomy. These are the foundational bricks of your knowledge house when working with human bodies. If you’ve just been to a workshop let the high of a group environment that can sometimes impede rational thought subside. Return home and check out if there is any research behind the methods tenets and techniques. If it’s super cutting edge and there isn’t much research go back further to see that it’s not breaking any basic laws of science.  

We have all experienced those clients that you used a technique and they gush at you with gratitude because they either achieved their goal or no longer have pain.  Hold on to your humility; remember back to the client you had that got absolutely no result using that same supposedly game changing technique.  Presenters rarely, no, actually never tell the story of when his or her technique had no efficacy.  But there must have been one.  Again, try to remember that it is just a technique there are thousands of factors that we can’t even begin to understand that are in play in terms of how a body reacts.

It is also true that science definitely doesn’t have all the answers. If a client has found a technique they have found helpful that doesn’t have much scientific rational but, as far as I can tell it isn’t harming them, I’m not going to stop them from doing it. They have found relief. After all, meditation was once seen as an out there woo fringe activity with no science behind it. Now there is a boatload of science showing it has vast healing effects and an ability to create beneficial plastic brain changes. Just remember blood-letting was a regular practice as well, not all practices shake out. For lack of a better system out there I still defer to science.

Constant research and questioning helps inform the industry on the efficacy of our techniques. It’s always a good idea to revisit your methods in light of new information. Keep learning, be humble and have deference to the wonders of the human body. Finally, be willing to let go when needed and evolve your practice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *