By Nicola Withers
Recently, I had the privilege to be a volunteer with Crisis, the charity whose aim is to end homelessness. I became part of the healthcare team offering Craniosacral therapy for the homeless in London over the Christmas period. I was Working at a centre for the most vulnerable where people most at risk were referred by outreach workers. Christmas in London is quiet, therefore there is more risk of being attacked. This is also a time of vulnerability when the isolation and loneliness of being homeless can feel much more acute.
At the centre, the homeless become guests and are treated accordingly. They can have hot food, showers, get a haircut, clean clothes, nails cut, clothes mended, use the internet to catch up with the news/ information, and celebrate Christmas with music, games, films. All of this is provided by volunteers and supported by donations and most importantly, people can seek advice and support to change their circumstances
My initial task was raising awareness; nobody had heard of Craniosacral therapy. I began by making posters and talking to guests and workers about the benefits of CST and getting the word around. It started off slowly but as guests had a session and felt the benefit, they told each other, and the key welfare workers also started sending up guests. By the end of the day, we had so much interest, we were allocated 2 volunteers to run a reception for us and book appointments. There were no treatment couches, or blankets just hard tables… which I soon realised, for folk sleeping rough wasn’t a problem
So who came for treatment? Mostly two categories; guests in acute pain or guests with sleep deprivation and emotional/stress issues.
Guests with very acute pain, for example:
• A client with a broken ankle, not in plaster, only one crutch, massive swelling and still homeless whilst waiting for an operation to put plates in his ankle.
• A man who had fallen and broken his hand and it was untreated.
• A woman with severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
I noticed that more minor complaints that would send me hurrying for treatment, didn’t show up. Surmising that these issues were the least of their problems.
The doctor and physio who were on duty could offer exercises, medication and referral to hospital in acute medical conditions and the massage therapist could ease aches, but these very acute conditions needed something else.
Initially I was slightly daunted by the severity of the conditions, but I was prepared to do the best I could. Because CST is so gentle, non-invasive and most importantly, supports the body’s own capacity to self-repair, I was able to work directly with the damaged areas and the results in all cases were a reduction in swelling and pain, which was a testament to how willing our systems are to do some healing, even in extreme circumstances.
It was interesting how immediate the results were. Almost as if the body sees an opportunity and grabs it, knowing there might not be another chance for quite a while.
Guests with chronic sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety and depression
There is no safety on the streets. The weather can be extreme. It feels like there’s no hope. It’s very stressful and many guests manage these issues by turning to alcohol and drugs, which enables them to sleep and numbs the physical and emotional pain. Those that don’t take this route suffer with extreme anxiety, stress and can’t sleep. Guests mostly came with highly charged nervous systems and desperate for sleep, or very emotionally vulnerable. Again, with CST and its emphasis on self-repair and its focus on slowing things down and settling, I was able to spend time helping their nervous systems down regulate, assisting them to come out of ‘fight or flight’ mode. It was very heartening to see guests dropping into sleep, or slowing down and taking a breather from the stress and anxiety that is ever present on the streets.
The main focus of Crisis is to give people the support and advice they need to get them off the streets permanently. I hope that Craniosacral therapy’s focus on finding health and supporting our natural capacity to self-heal might have added to this journey in a small way. You can find out more about the work of Crisis here. To find out more about CST and how it could help you, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01823 338968