Interview with Michael Shea, PhD
With Kathleen Martin
“Michael, you have studied many healing modalities in depth in your career from Rolfing to psychology
(hence your doctorate in somatic psychology). I would like to start a dialogue about the nature of healing
as it presents itself within the Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, the teaching focus of your International
School of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. I guess the first question is: What is Biodynamic Craniosacral
|“Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is the creative application of a set of principles.
In general, I would say that there are 3 categories of principles. The first would refer to
biodynamics in general and especially what the human embryo has to teach us. I would like to say,
along with one of my mentors, that when we put our hands on a client, we have more embryology under
our hands than anatomy and physiology.
Clinically, biodynamic work is a technology that interfaces with fluid metabolism of the body.
The second category of principles has to due with the therapeutic relationship, especially the therapist’s attitude.
By this I mean, specifically how the therapist is able to shift between states of consciousness and especially a witness
consciousness. Finally, there are healing principles in general, that come from numerous traditions and sources.
For example, one of the main ones we work with is to re-connect the client to nature. This comes out of the osteopathic
|“If healing is something that occurs within a person, where is the therapist in relation to this occurrence?”
|“The therapist does need to be self-differentiated.
This does not really add any insurance to the possibility that such a therapist is a better healer per se,
but a better person who is capable of meeting and matching the humanity of the client. I just need to be
able to sort out what are my sensations when I am in relationship with a client, what sensations am I
holding for the client that are coming through the right brain to right brain resonance and finally, what
sensations of mine are triggering my own issues. This is called the cycle of identification. In order to
identify who’s who and what’s what in a therapy session, I need to have a degree of witness consciousness.
This is both a cognitive type witness and a heart witness that can hold both the therapist and the client
with clarity, compassion and kindness. Thus, the work of self-differentiation is important; however this
happens, whether it’s in therapy, meditation, watching Dr. Phil, etc.”|
|“So what we are talking about here is how well a therapist is facilitating
the client and holding space for a healing to occur?”|
|“That’s right. This leads to the principle of the therapist being able to have a greater
degree of sensory awareness than the client which includes the capacity to make distinctions
between ‘my stuff and your stuff’. The classical understanding is that the client ‘projects’
their unmet needs into the therapist which end up as sensations in the therapist’s body.
The neurology is complex but that’s the way it works. It happens naturally. It’s a big story
for another time perhaps. Likewise, the therapist is projecting into the client. So it
behooves the therapist to be self-differentiated and also able to access a slow state of
consciousness in their body since the client will also bring that in as well through the
resonant field and respond in a therapeutically beneficial way. Just don’t pin me down on
‘therapeutically beneficial’. This is also a very important principle in healing.
Specifically, that the ability to access slower tempos in the body and mind as well as stillness
is incredibly beneficial. This is one of the main foundations in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy,
which is working within very slow tempos found in the fluids of the body.
It relates to embryology which is another big story. |
The therapist is consciously holding both himself and the client and at the same time is managing the
space between the two. The therapist in traditional cultures was more like a manager and mediator of the space
and its occupants. It was spoken of as incubation. The client was incubating a healing or facilitating a revelation
about the bigger energies in control. The therapist is kinda like a new age yenta trying to get so and so hooked up with
so and so who just happens to be God’s grace or clear light or whatever. In contemporary practice this means managing the
office and all the accoutrement in it, then the hallway outside of the office, the building and its employees, the parking
lot, the city, the planet, etc. Some clients may need to have you holding the whole planet or solar system depending
on where their consciousness is located.”
|“Ah, so the therapist must maintain their personal integrity?
And I mean by this, remaining wholly themselves, knowing themselves
well enough to leave their baggage at the door in a session.”|
|“Well, in an ideal world, the answer is yes. But the way it works is that it
is nearly impossible to maintain that degree of integrity all the time. So the
question then becomes whether the therapist has the capacity to recognize when there
has been a breach or a break in the continuity or boundary of the session and has the
confidence to interactively repair it. This is the important piece. This really creates
a healing response because it is consistent with the neurobiology of brain development
during infancy and childhood. In other words, there is no perfect mothering but a child
can learn that its growing self (whatever a self is) is capable of being repaired when the
mother or caregiver is willing to repair a break in the relationship. The ability to be
met in a therapeutic relationship creates safety and trust. Safety and trust are earned
by the integrity created by the therapist, which includes interactive repair and the
ability to hold the therapeutic space.|
What’s interesting is that this leads to the principle that the client-therapist relationship is a direct
analog of the mother-infant relationship. This research has come out of the field of Affective Neuroscience
with Dr. Allan Schore and Daniel Siegel currently leading the way. In addition, these principles of how a mother
and an infant metabolize each other’s stress levels have been a mainstay of the pre and perinatal psychology community.
There is a lot of interesting reading and research on this. Of course, what I call interesting may not be so for others.
It is kinda like recommending a movie to a friend which is always dicey.”
|“Michael, many other therapies work for a catharsis as a healing mechanism.
How does Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy differ from this?”|
|“The therapist works with containment of the strong affect rather than release-based catharsis.
The principle of containment allows for greater tolerance of sensation, feeling and emotion to arise
and be transformed without recapitulating or being re-traumatized by memories or from earlier events in
the life of the client or the therapist. Containment teaches the client that they can auto-regulate
their emotions. This capacity was lost somewhere along the line usually in the prenatal and perinatal time.
It’s a big story and containment is directly related to the therapeutic goal of helping the client
learn self-regulation. You need a lot of patience to work with others and one’s own self.”|
|“Getting back to the origins of stress and trauma is a focus of the work, and that means
the earliest relational events, yes?”|
|“I wouldn’t say that trauma resolution is a focus of the way I teach Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy.
Trauma resolution is an evolution of certain body-centered therapies that arose back in the 30’s and 40’s.
This culture is dealing with such a high level of shock and trauma that it is natural that specific trauma
resolution therapies would be developed to fix the problem, so to speak. I left military service in my 20’s
with a good case of post traumatic stress disorder. So I have personally made trauma resolution a high
priority in my life. But along with that I learned there was something deeper that wasn’t being touched
and I found that the cranial work touched and met that part of myself and others. Back in the 40’s
Dr. Sutherland said that the fluid fields of the body can hold stress and trauma in their own way.
Part of the design of the Cranial Concept is to relieve the stress and trauma in the fluids.
It’s a good piece and a fabulous technology and another part of the technology is taking the submarine
deeper in the fluids than just the trauma level which is at the surface of our ocean. |
This is why this therapy has become so popular and it may or may not include trauma resolution. When you touch the
original matrix of the embryo as biodynamic work does, you can bypass the trauma because you are essentially working on
the main circuit board and not the broken software, so to speak. So the work happens outside the nervous system which
is on overwhelm and shouldn’t be given additional input anyway. There’s just one small hitch in that theory. Since I
have my hands on a client by definition I am giving input to the nervous system. Even though the touch is intended to
be neutral contact, it may generate a response or awaken an old imprint or the client is having a bad hair day or whatever.
So, the therapist holds both the nervous system and the fluids outside the nervous system with the intention to make
space and contain both. Sometimes all you can do is pray.”
|“Tell me more about going back even further with the client – like to prebirth.”|
|“This leads us to the principle in depth psychology called ‘regressum ad uterum’
(regression to the uterus). What is meant by this is that healing requires a movement back to origin.
This is like the way Jesus responded to Nicodemus’ question in the New Testament. He said:
‘Unless a man be born again of the water and the spirit, he shall not reach the kingdom of God.’
Now, as an embryologist who sees the sacredness and the mystery of life around the event of conception,
I would suggest that what Jesus also meant was that we need to be reconceived in our original wholeness
when we were actually one with the Divine. This is the intention of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy,
which is to touch the movement of wholeness in the embryo because that movement is still present in our
adult bodies. So wholeness is a tempo which implies a living palpable connection to the Great Mystery of
our own divinity. As one of my teachers said, ‘we are all capable of experiencing our own divinity’.
Ultimately that’s what I think this therapy is about and so did Dr. Sutherland, the founder of the Cranial
This leads to the principle of the Midline. All sacred space is organized and can be identified as having a Midline.
This is the focal point, line, axis or sacred spot where God’s grace or the Medicine Buddha’s aquamarine light or whoever,
manifests into the physical. It is a process of revelation. This is not an easy thing to describe or understand.
You can’t get there from here as is said. It requires a ritual space, some sacrifice, some special prayers, etc.
The therapist is pretty busy in the beginning because the therapist must embody all those principles in a post-modern
practice. Sacrificing a chicken or a lamb in your office brings to much attention from the neighbors.
The early cranial osteopaths were fond of quoting Psalm 47 in which at the end King David says, ‘Be still and know’.
Stillness is the heart of the work in Biodynamics. It is the source and is a function in the organization of the body
and especially the embryo. In Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, we say the Midline of the human is dynamically still
because that is what the great German embryologist Dr. Blechschmidt discovered. He found that all growth and development
in the human embryo was oriented to the embryonic Midline because of its stillness. Isn’t that amazing?”
|“This Midline – it is such an important reality in terms of healing since it brings us back to our
being in touch with the divine part of conception. This Midline in the client is the place for contacting
true healing, don’t you think?” |
|“Well now, theologically I understand the dynamic stillness as offering me the experience
of God’s grace being revealed. So, the Midline is imminent since it is in the body and I can
look there for divine help. There is also the extension of the Midline to the transcendent or
experience of Divine outside of the body. The connection of the imminent Midline with the transcendent
Midline is seen in an image such as Jacob’s ladder. That’s really the job of healing-to connect those
two Midlines together. It’s the yenta thing again.”|
| “So we facilitate the healing process within the client by knowing the Midline within ourselves,
our own embryonic origin. This is a resonant state between client and therapist, isn’t it?
Can you tell me about this dynamic state of resonance and how you see it as healing?”|
|“I call it neurodharma. The brain and heart are designed to take in another person,
recreate them as a neural network in the right hemisphere of the brain and then generate a felt
sense of the totality of that person in my body. It’s happening all the time unconsciously but the
therapist works with it consciously and augments it so he or she can read their own body and tell what’s
happening in the client. This is none other than compassionate action. Compassion and empathy, loving
kindness and joy are conception rights and occur naturally in relationship, unless you are in jail I guess.
Even then that capacity is still there. It is never too late to experience love and compassion and be healed by it.
This is one of the more unique aspects of being human. Animals can be permanently damaged from early trauma whereas
humans are quite pliable and can be repaired. Since I’m taking in the client, I am metabolizing a certain degree
of their stress. If at the same time I can recognize this, maintain a witness consciousness and access stillness
and slowness, the client likewise will take this in and shift their brain and heart physiology as an act of digestion, so to speak.
It’s a two way street in relationship. This witness is critical. It is the essence of presence,
the voice of stillness, the voice of the divine if you will. In Biodynamic work we spend a lot of
time developing this type of witness in the mind, the heart and the gut.”|
|“In your personal experience with this work, have your contacted that divine place of healing within yourself?”|
|“Yes. For me it was contacting the force of love. Some years ago I had a wonderful
mentor who was also helping me with the embryology. Every time we talked he would ask me
‘did you find your embryo yet?’ I would say no and then go back and keep reading books about embryology.
He kept asking and I kept looking in books. Finally, one day, sitting on the beach I experienced a very
slow tempo in my body while I was looking at the horizon. I was immediately filled with a sense of awe,
beauty, and love. The love was a whole body experience and what immediately came to me was a greeting
from my embryo. I suppose you could say it was a state of grace that is part of the original fluid
matrix of the embryo because the embryo is all fluid. So I called my mentor immediately and said
‘I found my embryo.’ He knew it and I knew it. I’m grateful to my teachers for tolerating me for
as long as they did before this was revealed to me.”|
|“Don’t you think that every time you work with a client that going to your own Midline
facilitates your own continuing healing?”|
|“Certainly. It’s the same as going to church all day except better. I don’t have to give money to a priest.”|
|“So this thing we call healing, it’s within us and can be contacted and asked to ‘work’ for us with a person who understands the methodology of our origins, especially in the embryonic
progression of development?”|
|“Yup. One of my teachers said that the wisdom is not in the body but passes through it.
You don’t really get to ask it to go to work, so to speak. It already is doing a marvelous
job maintaining a healing response in the body given the medical complexities of the contemporary client.
The job of the therapist is to synchronize their attention with the therapeutic process already happening
inside the client. This augments the self-directing and self-healing forces in the fluids under the principle
of ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name…’ etc. Beautiful, huh?”|
|“Yes, it is beautiful. Thank you, Michael Shea, for sharing your thoughts about Biodynamic
Craniosacral Therapy and the nature of healing.”|
|Michael J. Shea, Ph.D. is the Director of the International School for Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy.
Please visit his website: www.sheacranial.com for further information.
Kathleen Martin, LMT, RCST®, is a practicing Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist in
Santa Barbara and a graduate of the International School for Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy.
|Our Mentor Series is a way that, through the intimate relationship between teacher and student, we can
deliver delicate and insightful interviews with integrative healthcare practitioners in our community.