ABSTRACT In this article, Marcel Teeuw, the Chair of the European Rolfing® Association e.V. (ERA), gives an update about how ERA is supporting its members and the new format in which the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® Europe is teaching Rolfing® Structural Integration and Rolf Movement Integration. Drawing from his organizational administration expertise, Teeuw offers a discussion about how connective professionalism can be of benefit to all Rolfers®.
The European Rolfing® Association e.V. (ERA) was founded in 1991 and represents all Rolfers across Europe and the UK, offering professional member services. Within the ERA there is a branch called the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® Europe, which is our school – teaching Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) and Rolf Movement® Integration (see also the interview with ERA Executive Director, Sabine Kalmbach, on page 18).
In recognition of individual European countries that have a larger group of Rolfers, there are ten distinct ERA regional associations that these Rolfers have organized for their country-specific professional needs. Regional associations do many things: they support their members with specific membership services and local workshops, collaborate with ERA in promoting Rolfing SI on a national level, help protect the rights of Rolfers to practice within their region, and they contribute to the qualitative and quantitative growth of Rolfing practitioners within their nation.
In these challenging times of COVID-19, war, and economic slowdown, we Rolfers have important work to do. Helping people get back into their bodies includes supporting them as they dare to breathe freely and embrace each other again.
As I write this in early July 2022, the ERA has finally managed to have our first in-person meeting in Munich, Germany, after four long years apart. It was great to meet so many enthusiastic new and established colleagues and instructors, and to remember, refreshingly, that we never stop learning. The lectures and workshops fed our curiosity about human structure and function; the presenters shared new insights, techniques, and approaches for us to use in our practices; we all had a chance to exchange and improve our skillful touch.
Variety Meets Variety
One of the great things about our European Rolfing community is to see how its variety meets the variety in its environment and how this leads to creativity and opportunities for the future. Across all the countries the ERA represents, there is a variety of regulatory systems that Rolfers and Rolf Movement practitioners must adhere to depending on where they live, plus each individual practitioner has their own professional background and status in their respective health care system. During the COVID-19 public health and travel restrictions, this variety of credentials and locations meant that some ERA members had continued to enjoy full practices, while others found themselves in serial lockdowns and were coping with less clients and a substantial loss of income.
We are not a homogeneous community, but our overall adaptability is high. We Rolfers are trained to welcome clients with a variety of issues and to meet people exactly where they are. Our approaches range from direct to indirect, from manual to movement, and from pro positive to communicative. Variety meets variety.
At the level of the ERA and our teaching arm, the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute Europe, this same principle of ‘variety meets variety’ is expressed. After years of collaborative work, we have introduced our ‘New Educational Pathways’ and the timing for this updated format could not have been better. We have replaced the traditional Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III units of training with which Rolfers would be familiar. Our new Level 1 course is a pre training curriculum in a workshop format. It is designed to be of interest to a large audience and is intended to directly add value to practitioners who are already working in a wide range of healthcare fields (like physiotherapists and massage therapists for example) as well as appealing to people looking to change careers. This new training format is in the pilot phase. The initial feedback is that the new course offerings are more attractive and our language about our training is clearer to potential students. Another feature of the new educational pathways is the inclusion of SI practitioners from other schools to flow into Level 3 of our Rolfing SI and/or our Rolf Movement training; we welcome these colleagues to take advantage of all the high-level content that our school has been creating over our long history.
Also, from an organizational perspective, variety meets variety. Thanks to the effort of our members, boards, and faculty, ERA has ten regional associations. These colleagues who have organized within their own countries are essential. They can respond more adequately than the ERA to the specific regulatory demands of their region, target marketing needs within their own language and culture, tailor the interactions between the members to meet the regional needs of Rolfers and SI practitioners, and are uniquely positioned to provide specific professional services to their membership. During the difficult years of the pandemic, they were right on the spot by meeting online and organizing local events in addition to what ERA could do. Right now, ERA and our school offer our training in many locations across Europe and in English, German, Spanish, Italian, and French languages, partially through local schools that have developed on the initiative of enthusiastic membership and faculty. We on the board of directors of ERA support this qualitative and quantitative growth, it is an exciting time.
Variety Promotes Creativity
In the midst of all these developments, we are finding new ways of communicating what it means to be a Rolfer for various audiences such as older adults, athletes, and performance artists. The ERA is working to link our members with these specific groups of people who benefit from this work. Our marketing officer has created targeted monthly campaigns on social media and advertisements around specific themes, such as “Rolfing SI and pain,” “Rolfing SI and sports,” and “Rolfing SI and dance.” This is done with a win-win-win approach in mind: connecting to the client, supporting them to find a Rolfer in their area, and hopefully inspiring some of these people to train with us to become Rolfers. The ERA is focused on appealing to potential clients for all our members across all these countries, generating a larger client base for our members, and raising the credibility of our school simultaneously.
Another area where we meet variety is in the professional fields around us. Relating to other professional health and well-being communities that are adjacent to our own manual and movement work is so important. The recently emerging concept of ‘connective professionalism’ can help us to understand more fully the opportunities that we have. Connective professionalism is described as a recent trend in public management literature, in contrast to ‘protected professionalism’ that has been traditionally found among professionals like medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, and academics (Noordegraaf 2020). These traditional professionals have always worked within a well-established jurisdiction and framework in which they could be trained, supervised, and granted autonomy to make decisions that are authoritative and accepted.
Protected professionalism has been challenged in recent years; economic, cultural, political, and technological pressures have shifted their traditional organizational logic. Their specialization has become a fragmentation of work, yet the real-life application of these professions has led to a point where successful professionals can no longer work alone, neither within their profession nor in isolation from the outside world. Keeping all activities strictly within one’s profession can be counter to thriving. A solution to this apparent hollowing out is a more hybrid or connected form of professionalism. In connective professionalism, the authority is based on its more horizontal recognition of others in their field and of outsiders from other professional backgrounds that also contribute to the dynamic. Connective professionalism is a more reliable way for skilled workers to remain knowledgeable, autonomous, and authoritative while also relating to others in their professional environment. This is of particular interest to me and my work with ERA’s board of directors, and I invite all Rolfers to consider that we have an enormous opportunity to be connecting more fully with other professionals – who are also discovering they must connect as well.
One of the shifts in the current marketplace for all professions is that the public has become more discerning. The sole fact of having a title and certification with membership to the professional group is not always enough to satisfy the client. Clear examples can be found with medical professionals who are commonly questioned on treatment protocols because patients have more access to information and require their individual doctors to defend their choices. Also, often there is no individual doctor involved in their health care, and the client is unsure about who manages the overview.
Professionals, like yoga teachers, experience the same challenges; as individual practitioners, they must earn the trust of their students and build a reputation in order to have a successful studio business. The public who uses these services may know quite a lot about anatomy and physiology, and they can explicitly or implicitly challenge any authoritative indication coming from either their medical doctor or their yoga teacher when getting advice on how to deal with their back pain. The way through this challenge is for these professionals to acquire a new form of legitimization, through connective professionalism: connections to other professionals outside their traditional professional pillar.
In our own niche of Rolfing SI, we face the same challenge: do we want to become more like the traditional protected professions, recognized but strictly staying within our own lane? Or do we build bridges to the other pillars of professionals who also work within health and wellness? Fascia is no longer our monopoly. Elements of our holistic approach, such as the fact that dental occlusion or the qualities of weight bearing in our footprint are important for upright posture and ease of movement, are now a common language in the manual therapy world.
Almost every wellness practice talks about breath. YouTube is full of videos on how to resolve your back pain. What is our added value nowadays? My take is that it is in the combination of embodied fascial anatomy, a wide range of touch skills, an open methodological approach based on the ‘Ten Series’, perceptual abilities, and relational skills that together create a unique and profound experience for our Rolfing clients. These same skills could also be instrumental in building bridges with other professionals. This combination of competencies makes us unique, yet this can only express itself in relationships with others. I argue that we need to explore working on and in other relationships beyond our clients, we need a professional community as part of our social credentials.
So, in our SI profession, and as Rolfers and Rolf Movement practitioners specifically, we have an opportunity to connect with other professionals as these groups are becoming less protective and more connective as well. Having good relations with medical doctors, yoga instructors, nutritionists, and psychologists, for example, can create the conditions for getting more referrals and making our work more concrete and real for the public. When we anchor our professional work with other colleagues in the helping professions, we are strengthening our position in our community without losing any of the essence of our work.
To further our yoga example, yoga teachers are helping their students find ways to relieve tensions. By offering Rolfing SI to a yoga instructor, we create the opportunity to add value to their work by educating them about how we see fascia and the body in relation to tension relief. We can demonstrate what can be done with a manual approach to the body. In turn, we learn about their yoga style and could consider going to their class to experience their expertise. It goes both ways; yoga can be celebrated as a perfect way of maintaining the results of a Rolfing Ten Series and the client staying in contact with their body. Clients will appreciate that you know yoga instructors in your area to recommend. Consider organizing a local conference in your area with these kinds of complementary professionals, get your local press and social media groups involved, and this could create a whole new client list and even lead to potential Rolfing SI students and new future colleagues.
Individual medical professionals may be quite open to our complementary healthcare methods. It is in their interest to have more options for their patients once they have reached the limits of their treatment protocols. It is important that we can communicate in a common medical language. I find that our body reading skills can offer general and interesting information for a doctor to consider a new point of view. Our knowledge about fascia research and fascial anatomy can be a huge bridge. In making connections with physicians, I will be validating myself as a Rolfer in two ways: one, by delivering good work, and two, by fostering working relationships with distinguished professionals. Choosing high-quality colleagues as our work peers can give us a stronger position in our communities. It’s another win-win-win situation where the medical doctor will be able to help their patients by having a manual therapy specialist they know and trust to refer their patients to, and the clients benefit most from the added value of the collaboration.
My warm invitation to you as colleagues is to explore the opportunities to work together with other professionals in your area, like yoga teachers, Feldenkrais Method® practitioners, osteopaths, nutritionists, psychologists, Pilates trainers, karate instructors, medical doctors, etc. Some of our colleagues already have two sets of qualifications, some Rolfers are yoga instructors, and even some Rolfers are medical doctors as well. They are building and reinforcing bridges between disciplines that all of us can learn from. We can be crossing those bridges with them.
This has strategic implications for the status of our work: even though not every country recognizes structural integration as a profession, individual Rolfers may find legitimacy in a local professional network. We formally increase our credentials through additional education (with university degrees and continuing education certifications), or informally through their demonstrated effectiveness in improving the condition of the clients and earning the approval of other respected professionals. I also welcome the efforts of DIRI [Dr. Ida Rolf Institute® in Boulder, Colorado] and ERA to support ongoing and new research into the effectiveness of Rolfing SI that will give additional weight and credibility to our profession. In the long run, this may have a spill-over effect of recognition on an institutional level, but this is not the only way we can or need to find our place.
I think we already are connective professionals. It is a part of our foundation to work with connective tissue and connect with clients. Let’s feel comfortable in exploring how we can expand our connectivity horizontally, to other manual, movement, and medical professionals in related fields, and then artfully, weave our web out into the world.
Marcel Teeuw is Chair of the European Rolfing Association e.V. He started working as a Certified Rolfer in2015 in Genova, Italy. Teeuw is also a Rolf Movement Practitioner and completed his Advanced Training in 2021. Before becoming a Rolfer, he worked in various public administration and consulting jobs.
Noordegraaf, Mirko. 2020.Protective or connective professionalism? How connected professionals can(still) act as autonomous and authoritative experts. Journal of Professions and Organization 7:205-223.
European Rolfing Association e.V; connective professionalism; COVID-19; Dr. Ida Rolf Institute Europe; new educational pathway; Rolfing competencies; Rolfing certification; Europe regional associations. ■
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