CranioSacral Challenged!

Posted on April 1, 2011


This month the Nightingale Collaboration are looking at CranioSacral Therapy CST) and the wildly extravagant claims therapists routinely make for this unproven treatment.

I thought this would be an opportune moment to take a quick look at how the ASA view the evidence for this treatment and the claims being made.

In the past I looked at the claims being made on a leaflet distributed by the CranioSacral Therapy Association (CSTA)   What is CranioSacral ? This leaflet was sent to the ASA, who looked at the evidence. The CSTA decided to try defend their claims but as they have no reliable evidence, the end result was that the ASA upheld all the points of the complaint: ASA Adjudication on CranioSacral Therapy Assoc

Despite the ASA’s remit changing on 1 March to cover website claims, many CST websites continue to make claims similar to those in the CSTA leaflet.

The CSTA leaflet I looked at was being distributed by Pat Hughes, a craniosacral therapist who works from a number of locations close to where I live. At the start of March I looked at Pat Hughes website (Dynamictreatments) and she was making all the same craniosacral claims as the leaflet.

DynamicTreatments before the ASA

She was making very similar claims for another therapy, Bowen Technique.

I also visited a local health food store who distribute here leaflets and the CSTA leaflet was still there, with Pat Hughes business/contact details on the back.

This website with the CranioSacral and Bowen Technique claims was reported to the ASA along with the fact that Pat Hughes was still distributing the leaflet almost 6 months after the ASA ruling.

The ASA responded saying that they would be looking at all the issues raised.

On 30 March the following appeared on the ASA’s list of informally resolved complaints, this was for the continued distribution of the leaflet.

Informally Resolved

At the same time some significant changes were taking place on Pat Hughes website:

DynamicTreatments after the ASA!

It remains to be seen what claims and conditions remain after the sites ‘routine maintenance‘ but I would hope conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and drug withdrawal have all vanished.  Actually it is doubtful that evidence could be provided for any of the original conditions!

On 31 March I paid a passing visit to the health food shop and the CST leaflet is still available, along with a new one for Bowen Technique, making claims like this:

Bowen Technique claims

The changes can be found here:

DynamicTreatments (2 March 2011)

DynamicTreatments (29 March 2011)

ASA (informally resolved)(30 March 2011)

Of course Dynamic Treatments are not alone in making these claims, they are common place on craniosacral therapy sites. The CranioSacral Therapy Association (CSTA) provide a list of their registered members Finding a Craniosacral Practitioner Listing practitioners by location, many repeating these same claims.

The CSTA also have a Code of Ethics, that requires all its members to conform to the ASA/CAP advertising guidelines

All advertising in any medium must be legal, decent, honest and truthful and must conform to the guidelines such as the British Code of Advertising Practice.

Clearly these claims do not comply with the ASA/CAP guidelines and therefore CSTA members making those claims are in breach of their own Code of Ethic.

Membership of the CSTA is on a purely voluntary basis and despite the existence of a Code of Ethics and Conduct, it would appear to be an organisation more closely focused on the promotion of CranioSacral rather than providing any form of professional regulation.

They do have a web page dedicated to ‘Research‘ although it admits that they rely mostly on anecdotal evidence. The bottom of the page does invite people to send in research should you find any …. I suspect they only mean studies that report a positive result!

I don’t think we can expect too much from this research page, or from the CSTA willingness to enforce their Code.  The contact details at the bottom of the research page are for one David Ellis.

This is the list of conditions his own website used to offer to treat, however this list changed in May 2010 after I reported him for a breach of the Cancer Act 1939.

Reported and removed

Other than the cancer claim, the list is remarkably similar to that of Pat Hughes website. Today his site still makes some bizarre statements, but the list of conditions has been removed.

Where claims and conditions have been removed from these websites, it is worth remembering that IF they could substantiate the claims then there would be no reason to remove them!  As they can’t substantiate them, they shouldn’t have been made in the first place!

CranioSacral Therapists claim to treat a wide range of conditions and some are of a serious nature.  This therapy is lacking in any credible evidence to support it and the vast majority of practitioners have no formal medical training.

The level of training of craniosacral therapists can lead to tragic consequences and not simply from attempting to treat serious medical conditions:    Dutch Infant Dies after CranioSacral Therapy

In the tragic case of this Dutch infant, many may not class the description of the treatment given as typical of craniosacral, and to some extent I would agree, but the therapist did it under the banner of ‘CranioSacral’ and I doubt the parents knew any different.  However it does serve to highlight the dangers of therapies performed by people with no medical qualifications, using weakly defined methods to treat vulnerable people.

It doesn’t really matter if this therapy is being offered by a therapist on your local high street or the claims are being allowed to flourish in areas where they should be under far more scrutiny, it deserves to be challenged.

Prof David Colquhoun is doing an excellent job tackling CST at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine.

My previous CranioSacral Posts:

If you haven’t already done so visit the Nightingale Collaboration to see how you can help.