What is the Difference Between Structural Integration and Rolfing?

Have you ever heard the saying six one way, half a dozen the other?  One of my most influential mentors used to say this to me all the time as a child when I would ask questions about something that was essentially the same.  I remember it driving me so crazy hearing this answer over and over as a young child.  Then one day it clicked.  I asked a question and he gave me the same six one way, half a dozen the other answer and I looked at him and he smiled.  I smiled as it finally made sense.

As we work very hard to bring Structural Integration out of the mystical mountains and into the forefront, people can often be confused by what this therapy is being called.  When we look at the most common and mainstream types of manual therapy everyone knows of physical therapy and massage therapy.  The amount of people that have heard of and have received Rolfing® or Structural Integration or the Rolf Method of Structural Integration® or whatever term a school puts on their graduates, are just a fraction compared to physical therapy and massage therapy.  Not only does Joe public not really know much about Structural Integration or Rolfing® but the medical community is in the same spot as Joe public. So how can we clear up this confusion of terms?

Rolfing® is a trademarked and reserved term for practitioners of Rolfing Structural Integration® that have graduated from the Rolf Institute®.  Anyone who has completed training at any of the other schools of Structural Integration may not use the terms, Rolfing™, Rolfer™, or Rolfed™ at any time. Rolfing® is a brand name for the process of Structural Integration.

Over the years, as Ida P. Rolf developed her life’s work, her clients and students referred to the process as Rolfing® for short, over her name of the work, Structural Integration. The common lingo could go something like, I was Rolfed® today, or I am going to see my Rolfer™, or do you know anything about that Rolf stuff?  The politics surrounding this confusion can create a difficult and cumbersome task for people who are looking for, and learning about, Structural Integration.  Let’s say a person has worked with a Rolfer™ and has moved to a new city.  They go to find another Rolfer™ to receive continued care but none can be found because there may not be any Rolfers™ in that particular city.  It is possible that their Rolfer™ never referred to the work as Structural Integration, the actual name for the process, and the person does not know what to do.  In this new city there may be Structural Integrators though, but the person does not know that this Structural Integrator has been taught and practices the same thing as their Rolfer™.

We are now in a period of time where we have many great schools that are teaching some derivative of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration®.  Most schools refer to their graduates as Structural Integrators, but a few may have their own label or term.  A good example of a language issue can be seen when we look at automobiles or cars.  I remember my best friend’s family and how they referred to their cars.  His parents would say “alright everyone let’s get in the car”.  My friend would always say “okay let’s go get into the Chevy”. They both were referring to the same car, but my friend was referring to brand of car and his parents just called it a car.

There was a rough time period in the political aspect of the world of Structural Integration and great rifts were developed between certain schools.  As a result, there are some that will tell you that if you are not seeing a Rolfer™ you are not getting the true work of Ida P. Rolf.  That Structural Integrators and Rolfers™ are totally different, practicing and performing different lines of work.  This is absolutely not true.  If someone has graduated from a credentialed school of Structural Integration you can feel safe knowing that you are receiving quality care.  As a practitioner who did not graduate from the Rolf Institute® I deal with this situation all the time.  I have clients that come to me and say “I was Rolfed™ 20 years ago I think it’s time to be Rolfed™ again, can you Rolf™ me?”  I then have to take the time to explain the legal bindings and ramifications of terminology and trademarks.  This can be confusing for people.

Imagine if there was only one school or college in all of America, or the world for that matter, that could teach a particular therapy or degree program.  There would be millions and millions of people that would have to go without having the opportunity to receive that education or the help that could come from that person’s education.

As there are more quality schools of Structural Integration coming into the picture we are able to know that more and more people are being trained at high levels in the Rolf Method of Structural Integration. As a result, more people can receive and experience this amazing process.  A good example of this concept is looking at people who work to obtain their Masters Degree.  When we see that a person has achieved their Masters we do not say “well your Masters Degree is from Washington State University and not Gonzaga University so it does not count.”  We know both schools are reputable and offer great programs.

There are things that we do need to watch out for though.  With the addition and development of more people or schools teaching Structural Integration how do we know the students graduating from these schools or programs are capable and competent?  There are people and programs that say they are teaching Rolfing® or Structural Integration, but come up quite short.  Many of them will teach weekend workshops or call Structural Integration another form of deep tissue work. This is where we need to spend our time protecting people.

So, how can you know if your practitioner has had proper training?  One of the best resources is the International Association of Structural Integrators (IASI).  IASI’s mission is to be the leading professional organization for the advancement and promotion of Structural Integration as a cornerstone to health and well-being through education, community and communication. IASI has a list of schools that they have approved to teach Structural Integration.  You can find this list on their website at www.theiasi.org.

IASI has established standards of education, ethics and professionalism that schools must meet in order to receive approval.  These standards are what separate people who are truly teaching Dr. Rolf’s work from those teaching a watered down severe variation of the work.  IASA was also the driving force in the development of the Certification Board for Structural Integration (CBSI).  The CBSI strives to examine and maintain standards of ethical and professional practice in the delivery of services through a credentialing program that promotes the competency of practitioners of Structural Integration.  You can learn more about the exam at www.siexam.org.  The CBSI helps identify individuals who have received adequate training in Structural Integration by using a psychometrically-valid exam.  This process is another huge step in unifying the world of Structural Integration as well as differentiating it from other manual therapies.

As a practitioner and teacher of Structural Integration, I believe it is my responsibility to try and share this information with as many people as possible.  Each and every day that I wake up and get to share my knowledge and passion of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration I am truly grateful.  I am able to do this through my clients in my practice, the students in my school, my fellow Structural Integrators and Rolfers™, and the community as a whole through lectures and presentations.  The level at which this happens can be held back and stagnated by getting caught in the political tensions of terminology.

As you are looking for your Structural Integration practitioner, I invite you to ask lots of questions and research the same as you would or should when seeking out any other health care practitioner.  Use the tools that were mentioned above and when you do I believe that you will find the difference between a Rolfer™ and a Structural Integrator is six one way, half a dozen the other.