Practitioner Profile: Bernadette Kirwan. Dyslexia Consultant, Cranio-Sacral Practitioner and Massage Therapist

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1. What does your work as an independent dyslexia consultant entail?

“As a dyslexia consultant and coach I work on a one-to- one basis with university students and adults who are seeking to develop skills and strategies to help themselves manage their dyslexia or dyspraxia in study, work and life contexts. It is really important that the dyslexic/dyspraxic person understands how their specific difficulties affect them so that they make the right choices and advocate for themselves in a mature and confident manner.

“The coaching involves discussion to explore the challenges and difficulties the client faces, and strengths and achievements. The intention is always to explore how the client’s abilities and strengths can be deployed to support their weaker skills.”

“My methods differ from generic coaching because they are founded in awareness that the underlying difficulties for dyslexic and dyspraxic people are inefficiencies in working memory and speed of information processing. To that end the coaching also includes practical demonstration and modelling of specific skills including strategic reading for academic and professional life; writing, planning and organisation strategies; memory techniques and dealing with stress and managing change.”

2. On the face of it being a dyslexia consultant, a cranio-sacral practitioner and massage therapist seem to be pretty different areas of practice. What attracted you to all three areas? Which came first?

“Fundamentally I am a teacher and I have always been interested in ideas and knowledge, in how people learn, and in how they create meaningful lives and explore and manage challenges. I started out as a teacher of English literature and language and became interested in dyslexia and dyspraxia because I wanted to understand why apparently very able people struggled to succeed. That led me to studying how dyslexia and dyspraxia affect adults in all aspects of their lives. I have really enjoyed working with university students because I have learned so much from them about nursing, veterinary science, history, philosophy, theories of counselling, and many more subjects.

“Coaching dyslexic adults is about facilitating people’s intellectual and personal development; it is a mind-heart practice. Cranio-sacral therapy and massage are hands-on bodywork practices; they are body-heart practices. Because the range of my work covers body-mind areas I believe that I can work in each domain in a holistic manner.”

3. Is there any evidence to suggest those with dyslexia may benefit from crania-sacral or massage therapy?

“There are no ‘gold standard’ studies (randomised controlled trials) using cranio-sacral therapy for children or adults with dyslexia. Dr John Upledger, the osteopathic doctor who founded cranio-sacral therapy worked with many children with dyslexia and came to the conclusion that ‘brain function problems [such as dyslexia] can and may be due to cranio-sacral system dysfunction’. Dr Upledger found that tight temporal bones in the skull were often observed in people with dyslexia. Anecdotal experience from cranio-sacral therapists shows that people with dyslexia and dyspraxia benefit from the relaxation and stress reduction that cranio-sacral therapy, and massage, can bring. And I know of one person with dyspraxia (perceptual and motor co-ordination difficulties) who finds that she can walk differently, with more fluidity, after cranio-sacral therapy.”

4. For those unfamiliar with two of your areas of practice – cranio-sacral therapy and Tsuboki Japanese Facial massage – can you talk a little more about these?

“Cranio-sacral therapy is carried out on a clothed body, with the person lying on the couch and covered with a blanket if they prefer. The therapist uses light touch to position their hands in different areas of the body, from the head to the sacrum (bone at the base of the spine), but also over the limbs and over the torso. Through touch, the therapist is observing the cranio-sacral rhythm which, after blood pressure and breathing, is the third physiological rhythm of the body. Areas where the rhythm is reduced or abrupt can indicate places of restriction in the body. By using a light, holding touch and waiting patiently, the tissues of the body can begin to unwind and release their restrictions, and increase fluid motion. Often the location of touch can have impacts on distant parts of the body. The cranio-sacral session can be silent or the therapist and client can talk. The choice always rests with the client.

“Japanese face massage is a combination of rubbing techniques and acupressure techniques on specific acupressure points. It works on both surface and deep musculature as well as the skin. Since acupressure points are located along meridians or energy pathways, Japanese face massage works on 8 of the 14 main meridians in the body to balance the health of the whole person. By working on the acupressure points, the facial nerves are stimulated and this increases the flow of energy and blood to the face, which works like a natural facelift.”

5. What are the main benefits of both and what could people expect if they booked in for a treatment?

“The main benefits of cranio-sacral therapy are that it can help release deep tension, release pain and dysfunction and help to improve whole body health. Cranio-sacral therapy can be a wonderful relaxtion therapy and can help to uncover the deeper causes of ‘symptoms’. The types of problems that people have used cranio-sacral therapy for include stress and tension-related problems, migraines and headaches, brain and spinal cord injuries and other acute and chronic conditions, e.g. irritable bowel syndrome.

“In a cranio-sacral session you lie on a comfortable couch and through light touch the therapist begins to evaluate the rhythm and motion of the cranio-sacral system. Soft and precise manual techniques are used to help release any problem areas. The weight of cranio-sacral touch is no more than 5 grams. A session can last up to 50 minutes or longer if required. The therapy can be used alone or integrated with other therapies. Generally people report feelings of warmth, softening, pulsing or tingling and they feel deeply relaxed.

“In Japanese face massage the client lies on their back with their shoulders exposed so that the face and neck areas can be massaged. Make-up would be removed from the face. Gentle massage is applied, light acupressure touch is applied to specific acupressure points on the face, and gentle stroking for lymphatic drainage is applied to both neck and face. Japanese face massage can improve circulation of blood and lymph fluids and help muscles to relax. It can stimulate cell function and the facial nerves and can help in toning and tightening the skin. A session lasts up to 50 minutes. People report feeling either very energised or deeply relaxed after Japanese face massage.”

6. How can possible clients get in touch with you to find out more about your three areas of practice?

“Possible clients can get in touch to ask questions about the therapies or book a session by phone: 07813 618 109 or by email: bkirwan@truetouchmassage.co.uk.”