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Craniosacral Therapist Education, Schools, and Career Overview

Craniosacral therapy (CST) focuses on releasing the tension that resides in a person's craniosacral system -- their cranium, spinal cord, sacrum (the bone above the tailbone), and cerebral fluid. "Like the pulse of the cardiovascular system, the craniosacral system has a rhythm that can be felt throughout the body," the International Alliance of Healthcare Educators reports on their website. "Using a touch generally no heavier than the weight of a nickel, skilled practitioners can monitor this rhythm at key body points to pinpoint the source of an obstruction or stress." It's not a healthcare treatment that most people are familiar with, but craniosacral therapy is an alternative hands-on approach to healing that allows tensions residing deep within the body to be released.

People wanting to seek instruction in this unique healing modality can usually complete their craniosacral therapy training and courses in about two to three years. They typically need to be licensed to practice manual therapy in their state and then can seek registration through the Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association (BCTA) of North America or certification through the UpLedger Institute (UI).

Craniosacral Therapist Duties

An alternative healing modality, craniosacral therapy makes use of delicate touch on the body to help balance its craniosacral system, which includes the cranium, spinal cord, sacrum and cerebral fluid. Practitioners often are already licensed in massage therapy or a similar method before pursuing craniosacral therapy (CST). They may decide to pursue this modality, or method, to help bring more specific practices or targeted healing to their clients.

CST involves the practice of light touch, often described as light as a nickel, over a patient's body. And just as in massage, a patient rests on top of a massage table, but is fully clothed, and the treatment begins. CST can help provide relief from a number of illnesses, although success, as with any treatment, is never guaranteed. Some of these illnesses may include:

  • Chronic neck and back pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Scoliosis

How to Become a Craniosacral Therapist

No matter what educational path you choose, your courses should educate you more about how anatomy and physiology tie in to craniosacral healing and how you can help patients to release bodily pain. Some of the classes you could take include:

  • Biodynamics of Health and Well-Being: Explore the biodynamic organizing principles of health and increase your understanding of craniosacral anatomy and biodynamic principles.
  • Central Nervous System Motility: Learn more the midline, neural axis and spine, and how venous sinus drainage can be used to reduce congestion.
  • Craniosacral Therapy I: Learn the principles that are foundational to CST, gain palpitation skills, and increase your skills in identifying and interpreting the craniosacral rhythm.
  • SomatoEmotional Release I: Learn about energy cysts, improve your whole-body listening skills and find out about the body's Avenue of Expression.

You will be required to take more classes than these, but courses like these can help you to flesh out your CST understanding and also to make important connections with your classmates, teachers and mentors.

Craniosacral therapy degree programs

While there are no degrees to be completed to enter the CST field, there are educational programs that you can enroll in to help you seek credentialing, although credentials are not required. Your choice of program can vary depending on whether you decide to seek registration through the BCTA to be able to use "RCST" after your name, or if you want to seek certification through the UI to use "CST-T" after your name.

In general, there are two basic types of programs that can lead to credentialing, either as a RCST or CST-T. The specifics for these two credentials vary, but in many ways they provide the same sort of learning. Here's a closer look at the guidelines for these credentials:

  • Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association: Training for the RCST credential includes 350 hours of classroom instruction, 150 hours with clients, 10 hours of received CST treatment, an independent project, and additional independent study.
  • UpLedger Institute: Two levels of CST-T credentialing are available through this institute, including Techniques and Diplomate. The first requires completion of two courses and passing three exams, including an essay, objective exam, and practical/oral exam. The more advanced of the two, the Diplomate, requires more advanced study, passing three exams, doing a preceptorship of 20 hours, and completing other components.

Of course, hands-on experiences will be explored in your classes as well, as you learn from one another. Just think of CST as a way to enable your clients to reboot their craniosacral systems and it becomes obvious why proper training can be so important.

Craniosacral therapy certification

After you complete a program, you will need to take other steps or have completed the following steps to become certified through the BCTA. These include:

  • 350 hours of classroom instruction
  • 150 hours of client sessions performed outside of the classroom
  • 10 hours of sessions received from a registered craniosacral therapist (the BCTA recommends receiving these from at least three different therapists)
  • An independent project or research paper that takes at least 40 hours to complete
  • 150 hours of independent study

Students must then submit an application with all of their information and a fee to the BCTA and await board approval. Once approval is granted, a craniosacral therapist may be allowed to use "RCST", standing for registered craniosacral therapist, after their name. However, registration does need to be renewed annually and continuing education requirements are necessary.

A craniosacral therapist can also become certified through the UpLedger Institute, which has been providing healthcare education since 1985, that has its own set of CST education requirements. By taking the courses specified by the UpLedger Institute and passing a certifying exam, practitioners may then be allowed to use CST-T, indicating certification, after their name.

Craniosacral therapist licensure

In addition to completing a CST program, you will also need to be licensed in your state to practice manual therapy. The qualifications for this vary, but typically, chiropractors, massage therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and even some doctors, dentists, and nurses are already qualified for this type of licensing. Students of CST can find out more by contacting their state's massage board of licensing or a similar board.

Skills and Qualities for Craniosacral Therapists

Before completing CST training, many craniosacral therapists already have a therapeutic background in fields like massage, osteopathy, physical therapy, reflexology or physiotherapy. While this can provide a helpful knowledge base, it is not necessary to entering the field. If you are interested in becoming a CST, you might already:

  • Be intrigued by whole-body healing
  • Have undergone CST healing yourself
  • Have taken an introductory workshop or workshops
  • Have an innate ability to connect with people
  • Be able to move your hands slowly over a person's body
  • Have an intuitive inclination
  • Be interested in working in a calm, quieting setting

Career Outlook for Craniosacral Therapists

As with any career, salary and job outlook for those working in craniosacral therapy varies by factors like location, education level, and experience. Consider related health careers for an idea of the job growth or pay you might expect as a craniosacral therapist:

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Massage Therapists103,30023.5%
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Massage Therapists$44,950$20,300$77,470
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

 Sources:

1.     Available CST Courses, Upledger Institute International, http://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=160&mid=3
2.     Craniosacral Therapy, Wellness Institute Energetic Studies, http://www.wellnessinstitute.net/web/craniosacral_therapy
3.     CST Certification, The UpLedger Institute, http://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=174
4.     Frequently-Asked Questions about CranioSacral Therapy, International Alliance of Healthcare Educators, http://www.iahe.com/html/therapies/cst_faq.php
5.     History of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America, https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/history-of-biodynamic-craniosacral-therapy
6.     Interview with a Craniosacral Therapist, Job Shadow, http://www.jobshadow.com/interview-with-a-craniosacral-therapist/
7.     Massage Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm#tab-6
8.     "Crasniosacral Therapy", Wellness Institute, http://www.wellnessinstitute.net/web/craniosacral_therapy
9.     "Certification Programs", The UpLedger Institute, http://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=173
10.   "Registered Craniosacral Therapist", Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America, https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/RCST.htm
11.   "What is BCST?" Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America, https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/what-is-bcst
12.   "What is Craniosacral Therapy?", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIY4hhFnJPI
13.   "What Qualifications Do I Need to Practice CranioSacral Therapy?", Carina Collins: Craniosacral Therapy, What Qualifications do I Need to Practice CranioSacral Therapy?
14.   Certification Programs, The UpLedger Institute. http://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=173
15.   CST Certification, The UpLedger Institute. http://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=174
16.   FAQs About Craniosacral Therapy, Oasis Center for Craniosacral Therapy, http://oasiscst.com/resources/?resource_id=10
17.   Registered Craniosacral Therapist, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America. https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/RCST.htm
18.   What is BCST?Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America. https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/what-is-bcst
19.   Craniosacral Therapy Pricing. http://craniosacralsandiego.com/craniosacral_therapy_prices.html
20.   Pam Hower, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy of North America (BCTA/NA). interviewed by the author via e-mail June 2015, https://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/
21.   Massage Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2014. http://craniosacralsandiego.com/craniosacral_therapy_prices.html
22.   Oasis Center for Craniosacral Therapy. http://oasiscst.com/resources/?resource_id=10
23.   Solace Day Spa. http://www.solace-dayspa.com/craniosacral.html

Craniosacral Therapy Schools