What is Rolfing/Structural Integration? You Can Specialize in Rolfing and Gain Certification

Dr. Ida P. Rolf called her form of bodywork ‘structural integration’. Her clients called it ‘rolfing’. Both terms are part of the massage/ bodywork vernacular. Rolfing and structural integration are closely related, but structural integration is a broader term. In the United States, the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, which was founded by an elderly Dr. Rolf in the early 70’s, owns a trademark on the term ‘rolfing’.

Rolfers are certified by the Rolf Institute. They, and other practitioners of Rolf-inspired methodoogies, may achieve board certification through the Certification Board for Structural Integration (http://www.siexam.org). CBSI certifies bodywork professionals who have completed board-recognized structural integration programs or who have completed nontraditional training programs that are based on the work of Dr. Ida Rolf; a candidate must also pass an examination.

A number of programs meet the CBSI definition, but not all wear the ‘rolfing’ trademark. Different programs have own unique methodologies.

Rolfing has sometimes been described as deep tissue massage. However, some practitioners object to calling this type of bodywork ‘massage’. The Canadian Rolfing Association has provided a chart outlining differences between rolfing and more traditional forms of massage (http://www.rolfingcanada.org/).

Theoretical Underpinnings

Rolfing and structural integration are based on the idea that myofascia — often given scant attention in medical text — are central to posture and also to other interrelated workings of body and mind. Myofascia has been described as a web of connective tissue. This web helps give the body its form and also, ideally, helps with flexibility. It is vulnerable, however, and wears the effects of traumas and bad habits.

The Rolf Foundation points to an impressive body of research. One exciting area of research: children with cerebral palsy. In cerebral palsy, brain injury leads to myofascial dysfunction (http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/To-help-kids-move-docs-try-Rolfing-4145478.php). While rolfing won’t cure the disorder, Stanford University researchers have found that it can lead to improvements in movement. The NCBI has reported gait changes (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24989994).

Dr. Andrew Weil notes that carpal tunnel syndrome, temporomandibular joint disorder, hyperlordosis, and asthma are among the conditions where patients may see benefits, and that rolfing can be a cost-effective pain treatment if a doctor has ruled out conditions that would require medical attention or contraindicate treatment (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00472/Rolfing-Dr-Weils-Wellness-Therapies.html).

The practice is not just for those with serious conditions. Athletes may also use rolfing to help them stay in peak condition.

Practitioners not only manipulate the body but make careful observations. Some practitioners have clients move while they perform bodywork. Yoga may be recommended as a complementary therapy.

Rolfing often takes place over a series of ten sessions, but this is not always the case, and clients may see improvement with less. Practitioners often pride themselves on lasting change as clients’ bodies learn to work with gravity. With some conditions, though, there may be benefits to continuing treatment over an extended period of time.

Education and Credentialing

In Canada, practitioners may be credentialed as rolfers. In the U.S., they are typically licensed as massage therapists. This most often involves passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), though some states accept other exams. In Oregon, therapists have the option of taking the CSI as their written exam (http://www.oregon.gov/obmt/pages/index.aspx).

A prospective practitioner may do rolfing/ structural integration as a concentration in the original bodywork program or may pursue it later. Like other massage and bodywork professionals, rolfers need a solid foundation in anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. To meet requirement for massage licensure, they must comply with state massage therapy licensing regulations. It is important to remember that state licensing boards set their own coursework requirements. Even national accreditation through a recognized massage therapy accrediting agency like the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) is not a guarantee of licensure in all states.

An individual who has prior training in massage or bodywork may have a shorter rolfing/ SI program and ultimately come away with advanced credentials.