Voices From the Past: CSTA’s History

by Stephanie Fowler

The Fulcrum, Issue 77 May 2019

It’s 2019 and the CSTA is 30. Today, we have over 500 members, plus over 70 student members. With new graduates joining the Association each year, our collective voices continue to support each other and our practice. But as we look to the future, it is perhaps timely to recognise the work of those who have gone before us. Our combined strength traverses time and draws on all members – past, present and future. So, how did the CSTA begin? What has changed over the years?

The start of the CSTA story is somewhat intertwined with the arrival of CST courses in the UK for therapists of any modality. Vivienne Moss was one of the first to enrol on Thomas Attlee’s first CST training in 1986, after her osteopathic training left her ‘bitten by the cranial bug’. She recalls: ‘Thomas Attlee and Franklyn Sills were at the forefront of bringing cranial work to the UK as a therapy in its own right.

Franklyn began running CST courses through the Karuna Institute in 1987, and it was from these early trainings that an association to support craniosacral therapists emerged. It began with a small gathering of six Karuna graduates, plus Franklyn, and arrived in its ‘official’ form in 1989. Felicity Collins was the first Chair – a role she held from 1989 to 1994, when she sadly passed away. Franklyn, Claire Low (Dolby), Sheila Kean, Maureen Voigt, Sheila Badgery and Joan Bevan were the other members of the founding group.

“… I would like to express my strong feelings towards commitment to the Cranial Sacral Association (sic). The Association has been formed to be used – for help, information, and security to members. There is strength in numbers, like a collective voice rather than a single voice in the wilderness.”
Felicity Collins, CSTA Chair of 1989

I asked one of the founders, Sheila Kean, about those early days, and how it all began. She said: ‘After Franklyn Sills’ first training finished, we were all sitting around, wondering how to ‘get started’ with our practices and how we would keep in touch. Franklyn mentioned that it could be possible to organise a practitioner association to offer support, information etc. We thought that was a good idea, then realised that meant we had to organise it! There was the usual shuffling around, busying ourselves in handbags etc and three of us must have come up for air first!’

The first archived minutes date back to 1 April 1989, by which time more members had joined. Sheila recalls: ‘Felicity Collins became Chair, Claire Dolby took on the role of Treasurer, and I (Sheila) was the Secretary. Meetings were terribly friendly and good fun, because we were all friends anyway! Very gradually, over a number of years, we created the necessary documents, borrowing from existing organisations and adapting them to suit our needs. Franklyn was a great help in this.

‘Our intention was to create a forum where new graduates could benefit from the experiences of existing practitioners. In addition, we wished to create a set of guidelines within which practitioners could safely work and develop their practices, whilst maintaining a safe and appropriate environment for clients. Long term we hoped to support research and create publicity materials. But some of these goals were not to be achieved for many years – initially our work was all about forming a structure to support and guide therapists.

‘The atmosphere at the start was very homely and friendly. We were all practising therapists and didn’t have any professional experience of running organisations or being on committees. But there was terrific enthusiasm and comradeship. As Secretary, I was privileged to ‘meet’ all new members. So for many years I felt as though I was part of this growing and wonderful family. As the years went on more people came forward (or were persuaded!) to offer their time and, in due course, their expertise in specific areas. This enabled the Association to become more professional and diverse, and to develop into the amazing format it has today.

In the early 1990s graduates of the newly-formed Craniosacral Therapy Educational Trust (CTET) were admitted to the association. The College of Cranio-Sacral Therapy (CCST) – under Thomas Attlee – had, meanwhile, formed an independent association. It was suggested that it might be beneficial if the two associations merged. After extensive discussions between CCST and Mike Boxhall, who was then Chair of the CSTA, it was agreed to combine on equal terms. In 1998, outgoing Chair Mike Boxhall said: ‘The coming together under one umbrella of the Karuna Institute, The College of Cranio-Sacral Therapy and The Craniosacral Therapy Educational Trust… has been absolutely essential to any move forward into Accreditation.

As the number of colleges whose graduates could join the CSTA has expanded over the years, so has the number of members and activities. Increasingly this has required the separation of different functions of the CSTA. Each activity carried out by the CSTA such as research, supervision, disciplinary procedures, and PR, is now led by a separate committee specialising in that area, with oversight and steer from the trustees – far from those initial few who did everything! One of these was the Accreditation Board (now Body), which was officially formed in 2010 to assess and accredit the CST schools. As with many tasks, the process was many years in forming, with 2004’s outgoing Chair John Wilks explaining: ‘..with government measures now in place to regulate CAM professions… there is no way that schools can effectively regulate themselves.

The Thorny Issue of Regulation

Regulation – and whether to commit fully to a voluntary self-regulation process, or to hand regulation over to an external body – emerged as a defining, and divisive, topic. At the 2005 AGM, there was an unopposed vote in favour of continuing with voluntary self-regulation. However the issue rumbled on…

And in 2008, the debate reached its peak at a crunch ballot under Chair Viv Ray. The vote was taken on whether to join a federal council – which would essentially hand over the regulatory functions of the CSTA to an independent federal body – or to retain independent regulatory powers. The ballot went in favour of independence and, while drawn-out, the process was important in the CSTA’s ongoing development as a professional body. Times may change along with the world we live in, however where we sit within the world at large, and how we balance our tender work within the bounds of professionalism, is an enduring issue. As Viv Ray said: ‘this is a very important time to remain strong in our commitment to a united association capable of promoting and defending the underlying principles of our work.

The strength of feeling that erupted over regulation sparked a fresh look at AGMs, and how we communicate with each other. A working group formed to bring about a new AGM that would give members a real opportunity to contribute – a community coming together to support each other, for members to add their voice to the future direction of the Association. While divisive at the time, the debate over regulation also brought people’s passions alive and provided a springboard for positive change, taking us from a place of division to unity.

Increasing Awareness: Research & PR

The desire to increase public awareness and acceptance of CST, and to show its effectiveness, saw research increasingly being put on the agenda. David Ellis spearheaded this process, leading to the decision to fund a masters degree with Warwick University. The chosen candidate, Nicola Brough, began her project in 2009, after which she went on to complete a PhD.

Another group also working at boosting awareness was PR. The CSTA’s first Awareness Week launched in 2004 and, over the years, there have been various leaflets, websites, and more recently photos and a video, for members’ use. The CSTA’s logo has changed three times – with the most recent created in 2012. The first photocopied newsletter sent out to members on a roughly annual basis became Rhythm and News in 1991, then renamed as The Fulcrum in 1998.

Another aspect of our promotion came to the fore after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), prompted by complaints from so-called ‘sceptic’ groups, took aim at complementary therapies. In 2010 and 2011, the CSTA’s leaflet and various CST practitioners ended up in the ASA’s firing line but, rather than accept their position, we met with them and debated their points. Amanda Biggs, whose material formed the test case, put in considerable effort to support CST as a whole through this process. While it was not fully resolved, it has prompted revised guidance on what we can, and can’t, claim in any promotional material. The CSTA’s support of members has expanded to include materials and guidance on legal aspects of practice e.g. safeguarding and GDPR.

In 2014 members voted to change the status of the CSTA to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). Amanda Biggs, the Chair who saw through much of this process, wrote that the decision was ‘partly spurred by circumstance, the recognition that we needed a clearer structure that protected members from any liability in case of unforeseen difficulties.

The charitable structure, like so many things in a human life, doesn’t always look very exciting! But now it is established, we are left with what I think is a strangely beautiful set-up. The basic nuts and bolts demand that we take decisions collectively and transparently, and that we put aside our personal opinions and desires to act in the interests of the organisation and for the public good. As a membership organisation, we are accountable and genuinely listen to members.

The structure also offers the added financial benefit of Gift Aid to the organisation’s income.

It’s worth remembering that, despite all the changes and growth, the CSTA is still largely run by volunteers and near-volunteers. It’s impossible to mention all the people who have given their time to the CSTA, but each and every one of you deserves a heartfelt thank you.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the CSTA.