My Career: Restoring balance as a Craniosacral Therapist

Craniosacral Therapist, Aoife McCarthy, tells us about why she choose to move to a new career, what she does day to day and advice for those who might want to follow in her footsteps
My Career: Restoring balance as a Craniosacral Therapist
Aoife McCarthy Craniosacral Therapist

Name: Aoife McCarthy

Age: 44

Lives: Kinsale, County Cork

Job title: Craniosacral Therapist

Salary bracket: At this point I’ve just about covered the cost of 3.5 years spent studying and training and I’m looking forward to a steady and bright financial future.

Education background: BA Hons in Applied Languages, Translating & Interpreting from Dublin City University (1998) Diploma in Anatomy & Physiology (2017) Upledger Certified Craniosacral Therapist (2018).

Hobbies: Bees, Hens, Dogs, Ponies!!!

Describe your job in five words: Stop and restore mind & body.

Describe yourself in five words: Patient, curious, kind, focused, clear.

How long are you doing this job? Feels like a lifetime as I was the parent bringing her sick child to a craniosacral therapist for many, many years, attending intensive treatments programs too with our son for many many years both in Ireland and abroad. I qualified myself as a therapist in 2018.

How did you get this job? I graduated from Dublin City University in 1998 with a languages degree and went to work for the world’s second largest software company; Oracle. I stayed with Oracle for seven years working all over the world, enjoying every challenge and learning so much from incredible female leaders in the industry who guided me and taught me so much about how to work successfully. The most valuable piece of advice I was given was from a lady who headed up the UK organisation where I worked for a while, she said “Aoife, learn to work smarter, not harder!”. It left an indelible mark on my brain as I watched this very clever lady head up a large male dominated organisation and yet leave work on time most days to go home to her family. To me, that was success!

In 2002 I met my husband, Denis McCarthy; a Cork native. I lived and worked between the UK and Ireland at the time. We married in 2004 and within a short space of time I realised that the opportunities to work at the same level in Cork were few, if any. I commuted from Cork for a while and ultimately decided to resign and bring my skills to my husband’s company. It was short lived, as we soon had a family and new bigger challenges were on the horizon.

Our children were born in 2005, 2007 and 2009. We are parents to Lucy, Tim and Matthew. I remember feeling so excited and full of dreams and hopes for our lovely little kiddies as each one came into the world. The day Tim was born, I remember he didn’t cry when he was born and that was the start of Tim just being Tim, and never being like anyone else or doing things like anyone else. Slowly and painfully we stumbled in to a world of hospital appointments, doctor visits, paediatric appointments, trips to every hospital in Cork, regular visits to Crumlin Childrens Hospital, we even had a trip in an ambulance. We spent many hours looking in to a beautiful little boys face wondering what it was like for him to be in this crazy world and yet smile and smile, despite the fact that at the age of three and a half, he still couldn’t sit, stand, walk or talk. His absolute forte was smiling.

Our doctor recommended Craniosacral Therapy and without ever really understanding what our therapist was doing, I could just see a glimmer of light after each session. There was a sense after each session that he was just a little more alive. Our therapist recommended we participate in an intensive treatment program where Tim would receive Craniosacral Therapy all day, every day for five days, benefitting from multiple therapists working on him and benefiting too from a culturally diverse group of therapists. We participated in quite a few of these programs and each time there was just a little more light.

During one of these intensive treatments programs, we met a Danish family whose son had multiple challenges, far greater than Tim’s, yet this incredible boy could read and communicate using a keyboard supported by his parents. I sat and watched in total awe of this boy as every morning his parents read out what he had expressed the previous evening. Deep, insightful, meaningful tender thoughts. I was mesmerised by his brain and felt a mix of joy, hope, despair and challenge all at the same time... how could a boy who was entirely immobile, insensate, non verbal, was being peg fed and carried in to the room each day by his adoring parents, how was is possible for him to read and have those incredibly moving thoughts? His parents were reserved and private and simply handed me a yellow sticky with ‘www.iahp.org’ on it and said “I think this would be good for Tim”.

It was July 2009. www.iahp.org was the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, in Philadelphia USA and we found ourselves there in September 2009 attending their parent information training and offering up our lovely boy for the roller coaster that became our life.

The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential run programme for families of children with brain dysfunction. They believe that every child can be stimulated to walk, talk, run, read, write if they are stimulated in very specific ways with intensity, frequency and duration. It was enlightening for us. They teach parents about the brain, how it works, what it needs to change and how it can change. We embarked on what I can only describe as an entirely new lifestyle, an incredibly intense one, one that absorbed every minute of every day, of every week, of every month of every year for three and a half years.

We studied the brain, we learned about physical, intellectual and emotional and social development. We learned about nutrition. We somehow implemented this gruelling program, with the support of family and friends and kind people who helped and helped and helped and a devoted and loving daddy who worked long hard hours to finance multiple trips over and back to Philadelphia. I look back now and wonder how it all happened and the only answer really is “love”.

By October 2009 Tim was nodding his head for “yes” and shaking his head for “no”. We very quickly were reassured by our gorgeous little man that there were plenty of thoughts and ideas in there! My March 2010 Tim was standing independently and walking 10 metres and he just kept going. Progress was slow, steady, exhausting, exasperating and painful at times, but it was progress at least and Tim was at last coming to life. We finally finished the program three and a half years later, with a very different boy.

Nestled between a determined and loving big sister and younger brother who did everything Tim did, Tim was and still is blessed to be the middle child.

Tim started mainstream school and we eased ourselves back in to normal life again all the while supporting Tim and raising his siblings too. Tim continues to require support but now has an excellent quality of life. He walks, runs, jumps, rides ponies and talks which for me is the biggest achievement for him as he can now easily make himself understood and is not the vulnerable boy he was. He chats to everyone in our town and knows the opening and closing times of every shop in town, we say forget Google, just ask Tim. He is fun, happy, sociable and has a wicked sense of humour!

Life returned to a version of normal, but I had an ongoing issue with my neck that I couldn’t resolve. Craniosacral Therapy was recommended to me again, so off I went. I lay on the therapist’s plinth not knowing what to expect and within minutes I could feel by body relaxing in a way that it hadn’t ever done before. I became aware of rhythms within my body that until that point I didn’t know even existed. I was hooked. I went home to my husband and said “I know what I want to do, I want to learn craniosacral therapy”. And so I did.

All the children were in school and I too went back to school. I studied in the morning when the children were in school and I practised and practised and practised, hundreds of hours on willing friends, family and then friends of friends. I studied and learned and travelled and learned more. The more I learned the more I understood the profound nature of this work.

Craniosacral Therapy allows us to tap in to ourselves in a very unique way. This physiological system in the body has a rhythm created by fluid in a semi closed system. Taking a close look at this rhythm of fluid and understanding its quality, its amplitude, its rate and its symmetry allows the client and therapist to stimulate it to restore balance in the body, quite often leading to greater balance in life outside the treatment room, simply because how the body stores a particular experience has now changed. It’s a little like listening to a new song on the radio, one that you like but you haven’t heard before. First you hear the lyrics, then you might hear the lead guitar, then the base and the drums and then you realise there is a violin in there too and somehow they all come together but one is out of tune, and very very gently you can support your client to fine tune that violin that just is not quite playing along with the others as it should. Once they are all in tune again, the body is at ease and everything just works more efficiently and with less effort or strain.

My studies brought immense personal development for me and a deeper understanding of who I am and what I wanted from life. We moved house and now find that the life we live is good for our family and the environment we are in supports our needs. I found myself bringing all of my experience with me and somehow it all became so relevant and wove itself in to the work I do today. All the experiences, all the challenges, all the highs and all the lows and above all, all the teachings and all the learning now help me to work the way I work today, as a certified Craniosacral Therapist.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? Accreditation from The Upledger Institute, www.upledger.ie

Describe a day at work: Hourly sessions with each client with a break in between. Brief intake form filling and chat to understand clients needs.

Session begins generally at the feet. Client fully clothed on plinth, with or without cosy blanket depending on clients preference. I play music in the background. Hands on part 45 minutes approximately with time at the end for integration. Discipline required around grounding and ensuring that you are ready to treat what you find from a neutral and compassionate place. No judgement and I drink lots and lots and lots of water. I like to have a little fun and I like to make progress too. I like clients to come at least three times and then to come intermittently to maintain wellness.

How many hours do you work a week? 15 -17 hours.

Do you work with others or on your own? I mostly work on my own but from time to time I work in group and family therapy sessions which can be very effective.

Best bits: Supporting people to evolve and grow and overcome challenges.

Worst bits: Balancing work life and home life so that all our needs are met. Putting yourself out there and being outside your comfort zone….ultimately they turn out to be good bits but start out being terrifying! Just like this article.

Advice to those who want your job? Do it! This work is mentally stimulating and challenging and you never stop learning and no two hours of the day are the same, ever.

For more information, contact 087 2789 987 see aoifemccarthy.iacst.ie or find Aoife on Facebook

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