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a family choice


Maureen O'Neil

In 1995 I left the world of broadcast news journalism in Washington DC to attend massage therapy school, following a personal obsession with health and wellness. Endlessly fascinated with the human brain, I immediately began studying Craniosacral Therapy. That path led me to work directly with Dr. John Upledger (developer of CST) at his brain and spinal cord intensive program in Florida.  As a pioneer of human consciousness, his brilliant approach addressed the biomechanical restrictions at the core of the nervous system as well as the emotional and spiritual totality of the individual. He knew there would be no change without transformation, without eliciting the nether regions of the brain to shift into a state of flow and communication; creativity rather than survival.

Early in my clinical practice, an adult client showed me how that matrix begins already in the womb. Through the Somatic Emotional Release aspect of Upledger's Craniosacral therapy, we identified his chest pain went back to his twin kicking him. The resolution changed the brothers' relationship dynamics as well as the physical pain. The psychological aspects of our relationships, our early attachment patterns, are the bedrock of nervous system development. We seek not only to be seen and heard but to have emotional validation, connection.

pediatric case prompted me to follow my intuition and have the mother lie down on the treatment table with her baby lying on top of her. We worked through the completion of biological process of her birth (another hallmark of Craniosacral therapy). Her fussiness, colic, and tension all shifted. Craniosacral therapy builds on techniques of cranial osteopathy which Dr. Upledger studied in the 19-70's. Often parents say "well, we tried Craniosacral," when in fact they might have had a few sessions with a practitioner applying cranial osteopathic techniques without addressing the emotional aspects of birth trauma, especially involving the mother. The two modalities are not the same approach.  

As Upledger Institute students, we learn to be specific about anatomy and techniques. Yes,this is also energy healing but it's deeper than Reiki because of the tissue specificity. I've studied college level Anatomy and Physiology with Clinical Dissection courses.  I've also completed advanced studies in French Osteopathy courses developed by Jean Pierre Barral and Alain Crobier. Visceral Manipulation and Neural Manipulation are complementary to Craniosacral Therapy and also taught through the Upledger Institute.

My infant treatment sessions are developmental movement based focusing on tummy time; incorporating my Itsy Bitsy Yoga teacher training and infant massage instruction. I've completed lactation consultant training and support breastfeeding.

My spiritual growth path has led me to studies in Yoga, mindfulness, centering prayer and Emily Conrad's Continuum movement work.  I grew up in New Hampshire and received a B.A. in English from the University of New Hampshire in 1985 with a concentration in journalism. In 2015 I adopted two older brothers from Manizales, Colombia. We live in Northern California with two cats and a dog. 


There are two posters on my office wall explaining the anatomical intricacies of the Craniosacral system. On a shelf I have a 3-dimensional, disarticulating model of the human skull. A model of the intracranial membrane system, a model of the brain and a simple brain anatomy book complete my client education collection. Yes, it's complicated. When you hit your head, you have a brain injury.  It could be a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) also called concussion. In either case your brain experiences brainlash; a whiplash of the internal membrane system.  In fact, you don't even need to hit your head . A sacral or tailbone impact is called a sacral concussion. Think snowboarding or falling down stairs while wearing bad shoes. Any fall on any part causes whiplash in the whole body. The neck, the brain, the spine, the organs. We are mostly water; a mass of jello. Watch a basketball player fall in slow motion replay and you can see the fascial waves ripple. Kobe Bryant took that fatal helicopter ride because he had so much back pain he didn't want to sit so long in a car without moving. We all have a head injury history. Some of it began with your birth story. Being stuck in the birth canal, forceps, vacuum extraction, cesarean.  Or pediatric injuries you can't remember like falling off a chair or out of a crib. Other stories I've heard: falling out of a tree, ice skating falls, biking, sledding, skiing, gymnastics. Orthodontics.The doctors falsely believed you would grow out of it. Your body is smart and the cranium, with 22 different bones will make shifts and adjust ; similar to moving around different gears to find a new balance.  But, eventually, with aging, the body experiences so many insults and assaults that it just can't and won't go on. Pain is a signal asking you to please deal with whatever is underneath. Clients I see typically have a complex history and are ready for another treatment approach. They seek an accomplished and committed practitioner; a collaborator for their healing journey.


Doctors used to think babies didn't experience pain. Circumcisions were done without anesthetic. Newborn babies were held upside down and slapped to prompt breathing. And, the idea of emotional pain was also nonexistent. The interruption of the maternal bond was considered unimportant. Decades ago a common birth practice was knocking out the mother and dragging out the baby with forceps. The truth about neurodevelopment reveals that infant experiences are more impactful because there is no prefrontal cortex or integrated brain development to mitigate the trauma imprints. Fortunately there is a newly developed field of infant mental health based on our newest neuroscience discoveries. Attachment is an important psychological and neurological process. If your baby is fussy and hard to console there may be birth intervention imprints that need to be addressed. A mother open to witnessing her baby's emotional experience of being in the NICU was able to see the deep sadness on his face and soulful cries in our session. She consoled him and validated his emotions while also opening her heart to cry more about the pain of their separation and his ordeal. Their embrace was healing on many levels. Toddlers who already have physical and emotional histories also benefit. Moms say treatment helps little ones settle, become more confident and improve sibling connections. In elementary school and middle school anxiety is important to treat with somatic therapeutic care, helping the nervous system to heal and support cognitive development. For older children I may add neurofeedback treatment which helps work on the brain from the inside out while manual therapy is working on the brain from the outside in. Pediatritians refer to me for colic, torticolis, lactation problems, fussiness, birth trauma, developmental delays. Difficulty sleeping, concentrating, ADD are also effectively treated.  Newly acquired and older concussion cases, mostly from school sports, also benefit from treatment. 


This is one of those loaded words that is poorly understood with lots of missed meaning and judgement attached. Add the T-word to someone's story and the response may range from "oh, it wasn't that bad," to "I'm fine," and maybe the resignation of "I can't seem to get over IT (whatever that may be), my friends and family think something's wrong with me." As much as we want to heal and get better we also have a self-preservation part that believes denial is an effective strategy. This pattern is born of the deep fight, flight, freeze nervous system response. Trauma can begin as early as the prenatal stage, birthing, infancy, and early childhood.  An alternate word for trauma is to discuss the interventions or imprints of an event (s) that are too difficult for the nervous system to overcome and integrate. There are a myriad of signs and symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), Relational Trauma, PTSD, and Ongoing Traumatic Stress Disorder. Often I have clients say they suffer from anxiety, maybe even their whole lives; delivering the statement as if they are stuck in a murky swamp of quicksand believing the best approach is to grin and bear it, hoping a yoga class or massage here and there will provide some ease.  Trauma-informed care is available to help with symptom resolution.  Our work would not replace psychiatric, psychological, or other licensed therapeutic support. This therapeutic focus is on somatic therapy; listening to the body, the nervous system, providing the physical and neuroemotional healing your system desires. A client who nearly died giving birth to her daughter was able to resolve issues well enough that she went on, 9 years later, to have a much-wanted second child. A man who nearly died as a teenager in a car accident was able to strengthen and stabilize his neck with a combination of excellent manual therapy and processing the decapitation and death of the female passenger sitting next to him.  He learned strategies of resilience that helped him better manage his PTSD and commuicate his needs more clearly to family members. Yes, PTSD can remain for decades after an original event. Some, especially with a history of relational or other childhood trauma, can end up misdiagnosed or dismissed by the medical system.  While I do not diagnose, I do educate clients so they can better advocate for themselves with care providers. 

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