by Tanga Cleeve

“Certification? Why bother?” A number of times, friends and colleagues have asked me this question. The answer eluded me for a long time.

Although I wanted the letters CST after my name to indicate my education in CranioSacral Therapy, there was no legal requirement for me to do the extra work required for the certification process. I really had never been interested in the how and the why. I didn’t see the importance of verbalizing and explaining in detail to clients what I was doing. Couldn’t they feel it? Wasn’t that enough? And most clients don’t actually care too much about a specific certification when it comes to massage therapy; they have never heard of being certified in CranioSacral Therapy.

I first applied for certification because another therapist persuaded me it would be a really good idea. “It will be easy,” she told me. And I thought it would be a breeze. I had gone all the way to advanced level in CranioSacral Therapy, and I thought I really knew my stuff.

But during the certification process, I found myself struggling desperately to gain enough confidence and expertise to pass all the stages of the process—most especially, the rigorous practical exam. Along the way, I stalled. I stopped and started. I failed sections, I passed sections and I lost heart. At one point I decided it didn’t matter and put the books away. But eventually I got going again.

It came as a shock when I discovered, as I went through the stages of certification for CranioSacral Therapy, how much I did not know. I had fixated on the things I liked from the classes I attended and avoided those techniques that were difficult or challenging for me. I discovered I was required to verbalize all details both on paper and vocally.

Through the testing process, I discovered thinking I already knew something hampered me from listening attentively and self-correcting. I would get stuck in my own little box. (I finally understood the expression “thinking outside of the box.”)

I also discovered how many things I had totally misunderstood, not heard or simply ignored. I was so convinced I understood some things, that even when I went back to beginner’s classes my grasp of the techniques didn’t improve or change until the teacher challenged me during the testing phase, obliging me to verbalize and demonstrate my knowledge of what I was doing.

Pride had to be put aside. Some things had to be relearned. The certification process was a personal journey that taught me accountability matters.

I now understand a strong foundation is the best therapeutic springboard. It helps the client if the therapist sounds like she really understands the material. This inspires confidence. Teachers told us we could do no harm, as the work is light and gentle—but the work is more effective if we really know our stuff. Clients respond to the verbal cues and gain more benefit from the session.

Now I find the very skills I was required to demonstrate in the classroom are helpful when I work with any client—especially when I am doing them correctly. I’ve also  learned clients like to be told what is happening, and they like to feel the therapist has a strong foundation and deep understanding of the work.

Clients still don’t care about the actual letters after my name, but I find I attract a whole different type of clientele now—those with specific problems and ailments that CranioSacral Therapy can address. CranioSacral Therapy always felt good to my clients, but now my work is more effective and precise. I am not scared if someone with Parkinson’s disease comes to see me, because I know I can assist him. I used to often add in CranioSacral Therapy to a regular massage session; now clients request it.

I have always known CranioSacral Therapy is effective, but through certification, I now know I have been tested and proven effective.

Certification affirms a therapist’s capabilities, skills, knowledge and understanding of the techniques associated with a modality. It builds and substantiates confidence in skills, in the therapist, with potential clients and with referring practitioners.

Now I am pleased to put the letters CST after my name—but the process and learning along the way to earning them were what really mattered. The caring and feedback from great teachers, the deepening in understanding, the sense of having a strong foundation I can now lift off and move forward from—these are the true benefits of certification.

Tanga Cleeve, L.M.T., CST, practices  massage and CranioSacral Therapy and has taught yoga for 25 years. She is certified through The Upledger Institute in CranioSacral Therapy and has a diploma in shiatsu from the Ohashi Institute.