2019 ArticlesGillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy Articles

The Authentic Release of Craniosacral Fascial Strain

Heather Sabin Bryan asked me to further discuss why I believe you cannot just easily stretch and release fascial strain. Before I begin my explanation, I know that everyone sees the world differently through her or his lenses, and I do not pretend to be the final word on this or any subject. Please just take this as my 40-plus years of clinical experience, if anything resonates with you.

(As a practitioner’s note, it is interesting how we can change our view over time. If you had asked me that question 45 years ago, Heather, I would have said yes, stretching would fix you. Forty-five years from now, the following may be just Healing 101.)


The craniosacral fascial system is a complex structure dealing with many levels of human consciousness. This system goes way beyond the physical properties of collagen, fibroblasts, and ground substance. For authentic healing, going deeper into human consciousness requires more internal work on the part of the therapist and patient. This post will only touch on the physical and emotional levels of consciousness. Depending on your belief system, other levels may also be at play.

The Gillespie Approach deals with four key principles:

1. The body knows best how to heal itself.

My golden rule is from Dr. Andrew Still’s primary osteopathic principles, discovered in the 1800s. The body is an incredible self-healing bioenergetic organism. In the ’70s, I desperately tried to fix TMJ and headache patients. Dentists are fixers; if the jaws and bite are out of alignment, you simply fix it.

I found that I was a miserable failure at consistently fixing and curing anyone of anything. So in 1980, I had to start the process of going deeper into myself to eventually let go of my ego, rational scientific mind, and a ton of baggage. I found that I had to be clear and present in the moment, and my primary job became to just facilitate the patient’s healing. My personal work is ongoing to reach that ultimate sweet spot.

In addition, I found that some patients were just not ready to heal on a deeper level. I had to accept that they were not ready to do their work and learn their life lessons to get well. Our culture says if it’s too hard for you to go down this road, meds and surgery can keep you asleep to reality. You can do alcohol and drugs on your own for more numbness.

From this first rule, these derivative rules followed:

2. The body can remember and hold every physical and emotional trauma back to conception in its space-time continuum.

I was quite fortunate to work with John Barnes in his office for 10 years. The most important thing I learned from the Master was that the fascia remembers, and, boy, how does it remember?

In holding all of our traumas, a forgotten aspect of this equation can be all the stored emotional baggage from our mother’s womb. As a vital part of her, we felt all of her fear, anger, and other emotions for nine months. Then we stored all our reactions to those emotions. That aspect can be an adventure to access and release.

In all honesty, virtually every one of our 800 research fussy babies initially cried in therapy. Krissy, Mike, and I believed that they were releasing not only physical trauma, but also pent-up fetal emotional trauma. We believed this complete letting go was primarily why they all became happy babies. Our big question: Will this work at birth make them happier children and adults?

For a patient with a shoulder injury, upper-body birth trauma may have predisposed her or him to have a more complex shoulder injury. Most people with the same injury would heal quickly, but this patient may not be correcting completely due to the unresolved, underlying birth trauma.

3. The body will address and heal each layer of trauma in its own space and time, not before.

If a therapist plans a session to stretch and release that above shoulder fascia, maybe the body is ready to release that and maybe not on every level of human consciousness. I cannot determine that beforehand.

When a patient presents, I have no idea how the session will go, how many layers of trauma she or he is holding, and how many visits are needed. I just hold the body and listen. I am asking the body, what layer of the onion are you ready to deal with now? If the body starts to “talk” by me feeling craniosacral fascial strain, I can then facilitate the patient’s healing of that specific layer.

If you are new to this work, ask the patient to either lay supine, sit on the table or stand and then have her or him touch the painful area(s). When she or he connects the dots as your third and fourth hands, you can more easily access their top onion layer in therapy.

The philosophy of the Gillespie Approach is contrary to standard manual therapy. “Cookbook” protocols for specific conditions generally come from the ego and rational mind. When we return to rule No. 1 and accept that the body knows best how to heal itself, we have to put aside all our educational degrees, knowing and experience.

That is easy to say but was very hard for me to do in the ’80s. We just listen, allow and help the body to self-correct. That is why a young child can do the Gillespie Approach effectively.

4. The optimal time for the Gillespie Approach is at the golden hour of birth.

The trauma is the freshest, and the craniosacral fascial system is not locked into soft tissue adaptation and compensation. Since the newborns are acclimating to their new world of oxygen, minimal drama presents. Stretching and releasing their fascia is not on our radar screen; we are totally dependent on listening to their bodies with our newborn philosophy of infant-driven movement, or IDM. Since they have a crystal-clear memory of their recent traumas, I am trusting they innately know best how to heal themselves.

In my perfect world, every newborn would be checked with the Baby Brain Score (BBS) right after the five-minute APGAR score. If tight, the Gillespie Approach would be done then and as needed throughout that first day. The family would leave the hospital with a calm, relaxed baby who can breathe well, nurse well, digest well, poop well and nap well. That’s not too much to ask.

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Dr. Barry Gillespie

Dr. Barry Gillespie founded Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy, which provides patients with a freely moving brain, spinal cord and fascial web, all critical to optimal health. Dr. Barry Gillespie also created the Baby Brain Score and discovered effective therapeutic techniques for newborns and infants. Read more about Dr. Barry Gillespie.

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