Bringing Our Amazing CTB Approach to More Students in 2017

One of my most important personal goals at this point is to get more people really good at practicing CTB, the approach to treating pain that I initially developed over a decade ago. I realized a while back that as much as I love to help people get out of pain, I needed to spend less time handing out fishes and more time teaching people to fish. My agenda is to change the medical system, and it's slow going one client at a time.

Our CTB Certification program is the place where all of our accumulated knowledge and clinical experience resides. It's been a long process of refinement, trying to find the best ways to teach and express what I do. In many ways, doing it is a lot easier than teaching it. And teaching individual courses is a lot easier than putting together a professional program that supports people becoming really competent in a reasonable amount of time. We had a lot to learn, but I now feel confident that we know how to teach this approach. We just made another major set of changes to the program for 2017, and I'd like to tell you about them. 

The Key Elements of Mastery for CTB

Because CTB is so different from other approaches, we can't rely upon existing materials – other than perhaps the Travell & Simons trigger point textbooks. And those are so dense and intimidating that they aren't great as primary texts (although extremely important as references). So we've spent the last 10 years developing our own curriculum and more recently, our video library.

We've also done a lot of thinking and experimentation around what elements are most essential as we support our students in their learning process. Here are some of the things we've discovered:

  • Functional Anatomy: In order to be comfortable treating muscle dysfunction, you have to gain familiarity with how the most important muscles function, what joints they cross, where their trigger points tend to occur, and useful techniques for shortening and stretching them. A lot of people are intimidated by anatomy, so we've come up with a way to teach it that is very practical and memorable because it goes into both body and brain. We now have both in-person and online versions of our Functional Anatomy course.
  • Learning the Most Useful Techniques: While my original technique training was in traditional Thai massage, at this stage I'm a universal learner. I am not religious about technique. I borrow techniques from martial arts, other styles of bodywork, the Thai repertoire, and constantly invent things (and encourage my students to invent as well). Techniques aren't important. It's easier and faster to walk to the grocery store than it is to hop backwards, even though the hopping looks far more impressive and shows off your skill. Much more important are your approach and your knowledge of the body. Your techniques are not, other than giving you an efficient and convenient way to accomplish something.
  • Our Coaching the Body Approach: This is probably the most important part. I have learned to become an advocate of change for the body rather than an invader. Most people assume that when we're in pain, something is injured or diseased. Unfortunately, this isn't true most of the time. This leads to ineffective treatments, decline and despair. I find that a more useful approach is to treat the body like a good friend who has become temporarily confused about how to approach their life, and they're perhaps doing things that aren't helpful. I think of it as having a compassionate conversation with them rather than giving them an anti-depressant. We call this approach Coaching the Body (which not accidentally has the acronym CTB).
  • Apprenticeship: As a long term student of yoga and martial arts, I deeply appreciate the value of apprenticeship-based learning. The bodywork field is rife with weekend workshops that supposedly certify you, make you a master, give you a credential. Workshops are intense experiences that must be integrated over a long period of time. You can only do so many workshops. In a movement-based practice, I feel that you have to honor the benefits that accrue from spending consistent time in the presence of someone who has it in their body. This is modeled in martial arts, yoga, skiing, Indian music, dance, and any other sophisticated movement discipline. We're moving in the direction of spending our in-person time as much as possible with hands-on, interactive apprenticeship, and moving the theory and lectures online.
  • Online Learning: We've embraced online learning this year, and it's been great for everyone. Online learning allows us to focus more on apprenticeship in our in-person classes. It's tremendously freeing if students can review lectures, watch demonstrations and practice on their own time before coming to class. It's more fun to watch lectures if you can do so in your living room, with your cat sitting on your head, or whatever else makes you comfortable.

Rebranding: Coaching the Body

So on to the changes for 2017. First of all, we're going to be migrating our branding away from Clinical Thai Bodywork (CTB) to Coaching the Body (CTB). This term, first conceived by one of our brilliant students, Josh Hoeks, perfectly describes how I think of my approach to working with people in pain. So we will keep the acronym and lose the clinical-ness and the Thai. I owe a great debt to my Thai training, but what I do now has diverged in many significant ways from traditional Thai, and I think it's important to draw a distinction. When I started out, I thought of myself as a traditional Thai massage teacher. What I do now is very different, although those influences are still present.

The clinical terminology also has always seemed much colder than what we actually do and how we approach the process. More about this in the next post, but for now let's just say that we're very happy and excited with the change.

This process is going to be staged, and there are a lot of moving parts to tweak. The school is going to be called the Coach The Body Institute instead of Thai Bodywork School of Thai Massage. We'll be moving traffic over to a new URL, – however will remain active.

Embracing All Forms of Therapeutic Movement

Another part of this re-visioning process is that we will be adding written and video materials and courses teaching other aspects of movement coaching beyond strictly bodywork. Doug Ringwald and I love to discuss these principles of Coaching the Body and trigger point theory in relation to getting our clients to move again in a healthy manner. Doug has been developing a series of techniques using the Mighty Body Band, developed by our friend Miguel Latronica. This is a great tool that's like a TRX on steroids, and lends itself to body weight exercise, stretching and self care. Or you can use props around the home if you don't have the MBB.

I feel that our coaching role needs to include self-care, corrective exercise and restoring pain-free movement. Often the bodywork produces changes very quickly. Changes must be integrated if they're going to be retained. If a client doesn't have balanced strength, issues are likely to develop again. But sending someone out randomly to work out or go to a yoga class is unfortunately a risky endeavor. Many providers have a poor understanding of incremental, balanced muscular training that avoids overload and trigger point formation, and preserves length while building strength.

We plan to train not only bodyworkers, but trainers and yoga teachers who understand the neuromuscular impact of movement on the body and can collaborate within a comprehensive CTB approach to restore pain-free movement and balanced strength. With proper credentials, some providers will be able to embrace all of these CTB modalities, offering their clients a comprehensive resource that is unmatched in the industry.

Program Changes for 2017

On a practical level, we're fine-tuning some of the specifics of the CTB certification program. We're doing this because today, CTB certification requires an unrealistic amount of self-discipline for most people. It simply takes too long for a student to complete CTB certification without more structure and support.  We'll be providing additional support and resources in several areas.

Body Area Courses

Treating gluteal trigger pointsWe divide CTB certification into 7 body areas. In the past, students had to study and prepare on their own so they could check out in each body area via private mentoring sessions with me. Attending a CTB class once and studying a lot isn't really a realistic way to get competent in a body area. We need more in-person practical time, and the student needs a more supportive environment for learning the characteristics of the muscles and the pain area.

Online Courses at the Academy

We've been building up a large online library of courses this year so that students can have a resource to repeat and immerse themselves in the material. You just can't cram everything into a weekend course and expect to retain it. This year, we're going to make the online CTB courses a mandatory element, because then students can study the lecture material on their own time – and we can focus on the key practical work in person.

Expanded Certification Intensives

Each body area is going to expand to 5 days of training for those enrolled in the CTB Certification program. The first two and a half days will be devoted to the CTB body area course as it is today, but the content of that course will be almost entirely practical. The lecture components will be largely moved to our online course platform. With 24/7 streaming access, students can repeat and review lectures on their own time before and after class. We're excited about this change – based on our experience over the last year, we know that this will accelerate learning a great deal.

Our goal is for students in the certification program to complete each body area during the 5-day.  Completion means that the student verifies their knowledge in a checkout mentoring session for that body area. For this reason, the final two and a half days will be devoted to mentoring and small groups, in which students can work with experienced apprentices to study the material for that body area. The goal of the small groups is to prepare for the mentoring sessions – where they can complete the checkout process.  Mentoring sessions will also be scheduled during the 5 days for students who are ready to take that step.

Remote Training and Support

As part of our support, we'll schedule regular video conferencing sessions with certification students to help them stay on track. Teachers, admin staff and experienced apprentices will be available to answer questions, provide resource recommendations, and give students constructive feedback about their level of preparation. Videoconferences will be scheduled in advance of the body area intensives, to give students adequate time to prepare before they come in. We will also make ourselves available for optional remote mentoring sessions if requested. This will all make it much easier for remote students to complete in a timely manner.

Attending CTB2 Sessions In Person or Remotely

Attending the teaching sessions that I do with clients has been a major keystone of our apprenticeship work, and if you ask a CTB apprentice who's been attending these, you'll hear them say that these sessions are where they really learn how to put the principles into practice. There is no substitute for working with real people with real problems, often confusing ones, that don't necessarily fit our initial theories of where their pain originates. That's what makes this work fun.

The CTB2 sessions are much easier for local students to attend, so there has been kind of a built-in penalty for people who live out of state. We're really trying hard to address this disparity.

  • We'll try to schedule CTB2 sessions on the Friday preceding the body area class so that certification students making the trip can attend. We may also elect to schedule CTB2 sessions on the Monday - Tuesday following. Students can and should themselves be CTB2 clients - this is actually a great way to learn. The student experiences the treatment in their own body and has a direct experience of how fast we can facilitate change, while being in on the discussion and theory involved.
  • As much as possible, we'll live-stream the sessions so remote students can participate via streaming video link.
  • We also record the sessions and add them to our online session library on the Academy.

Planning Your Certification

If you're a current or interested CTB certification student, please contact us so we talk and get you on the new plan. Contact your admissions advisor, or email [email protected] and we'll get your questions answered about how to make best use of the new program design. Like all change, this is going to require some adjustment, but we've had some great feedback and I'm confident that this will be a win for everyone.

Perhaps the biggest winners are the millions of people that we can help with more competent, successful, qualified CTB practitioners out there. Our broken medical system will slowly begin to change as more people experience letting go of pain without resorting to drugs or surgery – and thinking of themselves as damaged goods. I think we're ready to take that step.