Hellerwork Structural Integration is a type of alternative therapy that helps people release and eliminate unhealthy movement patterns. These patterns of movement are not restricted to the physical body—it is thought that in some cases they may also be linked to psychological and spiritual developments over time.
Hellerwork combines deep massage with humanistic psychological techniques that emphasize love and reeducation to form a holistic process of addressing the impact of movement patterns on the body, mind and spirit. The theories that support this practice have come under heavy scrutiny in the past, as they have little basis in scientific fact thus far.
What Is Hellerwork Structural Integration?
Structural Integration is the name given to the therapeutic approach established in the 1970s by Dr. Ida Rolf, which is also known as Rolfing. Rolf believed the body’s energy field could benefit from gravitational alignment with the planet. When Joseph Heller adapted Rolf’s approach to create Hellerwork Structural Integration, he turned the focus away from gravity (though the concept is still included) and instead emphasized the importance of releasing tension from the fibrous material that covers and separates muscles within the body—the fascia. The deep massage portion of Heller’s method involves direct manipulation of the fascia.
Beyond targeting the fascia through deep massage, Hellerwork Structural Integration includes movement education and dialogue to promote self-awareness. Being aware of one’s physical sensations and perceptions is a necessary part of learning to move in a new way, according to this three-fold approach. Movement education is based on the holistic idea that the body, mind, and spirit move together and influence each other in a variety of ways.
What Happens in a Hellerwork Session?
Hellerwork Structural Integration sessions are similar to Rolfing sessions in that they both involve deep, vigorous, and often painful massaging of the muscles and connective tissues. The person receiving the massage remains engaged and actively participates by doing things like rolling or exerting pressure against the practitioner. Participants traditionally remove all clothes aside from undergarments in order to achieve the deepest level of massage.
The techniques developed by Heller expand on Rolf’s approach by adding components of talk therapy and movement education. Dialogue established throughout the session emphasizes inspiration, unconditional love and nurturing emotions. An awareness of one’s physical movements and related sensations is established during talk therapy through principles of somatic psychology, and movement education—how to stand, how to walk, and so on—is provided in-session through direct instructions
Benefits of Hellerwork Structural Integration
Scientific evidence in support of this approach is still limited, though the massage and talk therapy (process dialogue, as it is referred to in the Hellerwork approach) components have both been extensively proven to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety and reduce physical tension.
Though more scientific evidence is necessary to provide evidence-based support for the approach, anecdotal support implies that for many, this approach to massage therapy can have deep and profound positive effects on emotional health as well as one’s physical well-being and spirituality.
Hellerwork Structural Integration Precautions
The most serious concern related to Heller’s techniques comes from the use of deep tissue massage. Pain is commonly reported with this type of massage, and the treatment carries with it a risk of dislodging clots, spreading infection, and/or worsening a number of other existing health problems. However, there is also evidence that deep tissue massage is a safe and effective means of relieving muscle tension, reducing long-term pain, speeding up injury recoveries, and improving circulation in people who do not have any of these complicating conditions. It is recommended that anyone interested in attending a Hellerwork session first seek the approval of their primary care practitioner.
Though the talking portion of Hellerwork may be of significant benefit to some, practitioners are not necessarily licensed to provide psychotherapy (though some may be), and people who are seeking therapy from a certified mental health practitioner should be aware of this fact.
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