Anyone who practices Bowen has to get used people asking what on earth Bowen is as it is far from being as well known in the UK. This first answer often leads to a second layer of questions, which boil down to what the difference between Bowen, osteopathy, physiotherapy and chiropractic is.
There are two things to flag before answering: first, the work of excellent therapists working with the body from all backgrounds can look and especially sound quite similar. This is because (second caveat) it is ultimately the skill of the therapist and not the name of their style which matters. Regulation does not (and never will) stop there being good and bad practitioners in every style.
What is Physiotherapy?
Growing out of early C20 physical rehabilitation work, physiotherapy is the approach to physical therapy which is historically established within the NHS. Physios thus have exclusive right to call themselves by the title Physiotherapists or Physical Therapists (even though there are many other people doing physical therapy). They typically offer:
Physio treatment encompasses everything from stroke and post-operative rehab to working with sports injuries. Training and style differs from country to country, so someone trained in Australia or Canada may work differently to a British trained therapist.
Key Idea: Rehabilitative improvement of the mechanical function of your body.
Techniques Used: wellbeing advice, corrective exercise, manual therapy (massage, ultra sound etc)
Session Length: first session 30- 60 minutes, ongoing shorter (often 30 minutes).
What is Osteopathy?
The first osteopathic training centre opened in 1892 and the approach is based on the idea that correct muscular-skeletal structure will promote optimal health. Since 1993 osteopathy has been regulated and can be available on the NHS.
The original philosophy of osteopathy is to give structural corrections, specifically of bone and soft tissue, using a wide variety of manual techniques so that the blood can circulate unhindered. Osteopathy has been evolving over its 120 year history, and many osteopaths now use corrective exercise and have adopted an understanding of their work which can be quite hard to distinguish from a physiotherapist.
Key Idea: correction of physical structure leads to better blood circulation and better overall health.
Techniques Used: many different types of manual therapy (including soft tissue and sometimes velocity manipulations or “crunches”), advice, sometimes corrective exercise.
Session Length: Longer initial appointment then often 30-45 mins ongoing.
What is Bowen?
Tom Bowen saw himself as part of the osteopathic tradition, and the philosophy behind his work is similar to both classic osteopathy and chiropractic. What is very different is how he worked to get his results.
The mechanism of Bowen is probably neurological, using brief corrections followed by periods of rest. To the best of our understanding these movements, and the breaks which follow them, effect the nervous system through the superficial touch receptors in the connective tissue under the skin.
Key Idea: Neurological stimulation leading to muscular-skeletal, proprioceptive or endocrinal change.
Techniques Used: joint mobilisation, the Bowen Move, holding points.
Average Session Length: Initial and ongoing sessions 30-60 minutes (depending on several factors).
Phil experienced two strokes on New Years´ Day 2006 and was in the stroke unit for several months, having lost speech, movement and a lot of sight in this left eye. He’d had a high achieving job in advertising and brought the same drive to his rehab, ignoring anyone who told him that he would never be able to do “X”. He’d completed a marathon a few years previously and felt that, physically speaking, things were as good as they were going to get.
We decided to see what Bowen could do with the hope of trying to bring more evenness to the two sides of his body. There was still a definite difference and his movement had some ataxia which included a limp left arm (apart from a sudden movement of his finger at the end of when the swing would have happened) and other things like having having to go down stairs sideways.
We did sessions every 2 weeks for a few months and he is currently taking a break to allow him to adjust to the huge changes in his experience of his body.
The London Bowen Clinic currently offers Bowen Technique, MSTR Scar Work and AiM in Cambridge and Primrose Hill, London NW1.