A few months ago, I fell ill. Some of you reading this will already know as much, and this is not the venue to describe symptoms and treatments attempted. Suffice to say it is almost certainly a neuro issue, and causes me intense pain and periods of extreme immobility. By January of this year, I was exhausted by visiting medics and therapists, and had decided to study more in the hope of finding out what was happening to me, no longer directly pursuing solutions, as these seemed to be so elusive.

I want to stress how lucky I am to hear from people who really believe they can help, and obviously have the skills or mentors who have shown them how to do this. I have been exceptionally fortunate to meet and talk to some people, experts at the top of their game, who know and understand pain, and have been able to point me towards other areas to research, further books to read. I remain extremely grateful to them for their input. I am also indebted to those people around at 3 and 4am, happy to chat, debate, and try and find humour amidst it all. John Hardy and Scott Hamilton, in particular: thank you, both of you. However, I am also very interested in sharing the dilemmas this quest for relief from pain – and for movement retrieval – causes. I want to turn my attentions to what happens when trainers are sold courses that seem to provide them with amazing therapeutic and healing skills.

As trainers or therapists, we have the potential to influence our clients to the good or otherwise. The more courses we attend, and skills we acquire, the longer our list of potential tools in our toolkit. We may start to apply elements of other medical and therapeutic disciplines, and we can easily get carried away in the euphoria of it all, but therein lies a real danger of overstepping the mark, and thus risking our integrity.

There are clinicians whose skill sets I could not dispute, and for whom I have a sincere respect. They are able to diagnose and treat a range of issues, and their job title alone tells us of their level of qualification. Osteopaths and physiotherapists and chiropractors fall into this category, in my opinion. I may not always agree with everything an osteo mate of mine believes, but I cannot help but value his years of study and application, and know that his viewpoint will be an informed one.

On the other hand, there are a number of short courses, which can be misrepresented – albeit unwittingly, maybe – so that potential clients believe they are booking treatment with a therapist on an equal footing with an osteo or physio. And that’s where things become rather murky. We can all of us be guilty of over-selling our skills. We need to be sure of what we can – and can’t – offer, and stay on message.

Some key questions:

  • What exactly is a clinician? Would a weekend course, or a 12 day course even, make US one?
  • Is this therapist/ trainer qualified to diagnose?
  • Should he be treating/training if the injured client has not been diagnosed by a clinician?
  • Should the therapist be offering to fix or cure anyone?
  • How vulnerable is a potential client – someone in pain, or anxious about their health – to the claims of a therapist/ trainer?
  • What responsibility should there be towards the client?
  • I am very glad I had already reached the decision to research rather than seek yet more referrals, as the more I wrote freely about what I was experiencing, the more I began to receive unsolicited private messages on Facebook, emails and invitations to attend “Healing” events and seminars. Most of these came with wild promises and guarantees, all of them boasted about the therapist’s experience and ability to “fix” me. Some of the offers I have so far received have come from nutrition “experts”, Craniosacral Therapists, religious zealots, Faith healers, acupuncturists, NLP therapists, Reiki therapists, and sports massage therapists. Some messages have also included an element of blame: I needed to rid myself of negative thoughts, fast for several days before setting out on any one of a wide range of diets broadly outlined to me by the foodie experts, or find faith before any “healing” could happen. I have been “diagnosed” purely over the internet as suffering from compressed joints, and coeliac disease, and there have been dark ill-informed hints at brain tumour and cancerous lesions. Not one of these therapists had met me in person, so that even if their field of expertise does hold value, to me the therapist in question had lost his personal credibility. This is of course a very subjective view. However I am very glad that my family were not at the receiving end of these messages.

    I am not saying that all these disciplines have nothing to offer anybody. What I am most decidedly saying is that the individual practitioners lose all integrity when they attempt diagnosis of something they do not understand, and that promises and cast iron guarantees are immoral in such circumstances.

    I hope that my band of correspondents will have exhausted their energies offering theories on my symptoms, and leave other vulnerable individuals alone. Because we are all of us vulnerable when in pain or with unexplained, debilitating symptoms. I do not seek to deny dark mental images I have conjured up in the small hours. We are weak and helpless at times, all of us, and it is this human frailty which must not be exploited. I have heard plenty of horror stories about supposed cures for real and devastating medical conditions, but even a PT with a client presenting a potential wrist sprain or shoulder tear is equally at risk of overstepping the mark if he offers a diagnosis when his role should be to refer the client to a qualified medic. As trainers and therapists we have power to improve a client’s quality of life, and that is exciting, exhilarating even, but we could also cause harm if we become arrogant. For myself, my motto has to be “I am a trainer, I will stay grounded and know my limitations”. It’d be nice to offer cures, but I know I don’t hold such power.

    The trainers and therapists who lose their way and advertise more than they are qualified to offer, they are not fundamentally the bad guys. Intrinsically they wanted to help me not hinder. They were sold this inflated belief in their abilities by someone else.

    If faced with an offer of treatment we have cause to doubt, we can challenge these trainers by asking them to prove their skills. We can challenge them to

    1. Offer all treatment for free
    2. Show evidence of achievement prior to taking their sales pitch as fact
    3. Answer the question “What could go wrong?” and if they have experienced this
    4. Explain how we will be protected from this risk
    5. Explain what they will do to support our families if they damage us massively
    6. (in my own case I know the risk is very real)

    In this way we will find the trainers with genuine good intent. From this point it would be worth researching them further, seeking out testimonials etc before agreeing to any treatment/ training programme. This challenge will probably scare off 99%, and the remaining 1% might be worth taking a look at.

    So to conclude, I really hope that the trainers out there helping can see that their heady intentions to cure and fix may be too early or misplaced for all that they were offered for the right reasons. Once I realized that my situation will not elicit a simple diagnosis let alone cure, it helped me reflect on how I would help my next client, and know that despite my passion and knowledge my best solution may be to guide them somewhere else first.