Bowen Methods

This Blog relates to the clinical osteopathy approach used by Dr Ryan. He was fortunate to have studied for 3 years under the now famous Geelong Osteopath Thomas Ambrose Bowen.

Thomas Ambrose Bowen and Bowen Technique – Historical Perspective

Thomas Ambrose Bowen practiced as an Osteopath in Geelong over a span of some 35 years. He was born on the 18th of April in 1916 and died on October 27, 1982. He was educated in the ‘University of Life’ and had little formal clinical training. Seventy years ago in Australia, and up to the Victorian State Government Registration in the early 1980’s, there were some professional associations that had restricted membership for Chiropractors and some for Osteopaths. There were other associations where the membership was made up of Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Masseurs and Naturopaths. In such groups and in the real world, manipulating practitioners had somewhat of a free choice of calling themselves Masseurs, Chiropractors or Osteopaths. There was an understanding within their ranks that a practitioner who only ‘cracked` and ‘cracked` often, called themselves a chiropractor.

Masseurs were just as easily defined: a bottle of oil, a towel and a plinth.

Osteopaths were a more diverse group; some rubbed and cracked, some rubbed and rubbed and cracked, some rubbed and cracked and cracked.

Some like Tom Bowen, were different again. They seemed to work very quickly with a patient, flicking or stretching soft tissue. They were often referred to as ‘flickers’ by their peers. Most of this group had very little or no understanding of structural diagnosis and no real pattern of palpation, treatment and re-assessment that characterized osteopaths.

Bowen did however work to this osteopathic pattern, and this is in large part, was what set him apart from his peers. He developed a unique approach to osteopathic practice using his own techniques, many of which involve cross-fibre soft tissue manipulation. The Federal Government ‘Webb Committee of Inquiry (1977) cited his as the largest manipulative therapy practice in Australia. Since his death a number of his techniques have been marketed as a stand-alone therapy known as Bowen Therapy. Some exponents suggest that particular version functions primarily to bring about a state of myofascial ease and healing follows. That simplistic explanation does not tell the whole story.

Bowen developed and applied his techniques largely within the postural structural paradigm of osteopathy and always within the framework of osteopathic principles. He also had a well-developed approach to viscero-somatic therapy. Six decades ago, manipulative training was passed on in this country largely by the apprenticeship system. Besides Bowen’s considerable insight and deft touch, learning for him came also through the sharing of techniques and anecdotes among his peers. Tom was highly respected by his fellow Osteopaths from a very early stage in his career and was deemed by them to be `streets ahead’ in his ability to find and treat the most significant areas of dysfunction. His diagnosis and treatment goals demonstrated an innate sense of osteopathic philosophy.

Following the tradition that he knew, Bowen preferred to teach also by the apprenticeship system. He did allow numerous practitioners to watch him work for a half day or day but reserved detailed tuition for only six fortunate men. Four were chiropractors, all of whom were later registered under the Victorian Government’s Chiropractors and Osteopaths Registration Act. I was registered as an Osteopath in 1982 under that Act. This was during the time that I was also learning from Tom Bowen. Training with him consisted of spending a three-hour session in observation, once per week for as long as it took. Most of the six practitioners spent about three years, or perhaps it might be better seen as upwards of 350 hours, of observation, questioning and supervised practice. He worked at the rate of 14 patients per hour. This means that each of the six of “his boys” observed in the vicinity of 4,900 patient treatments!

It is now over 40 years since his death on the 27th of October 1982. I have spent that time refining my skills with his Methods as I call his techniques and teaching his work in workshops to a range of bodywork practitioners. I taught his Methods for 10 years to final year undergraduate students at the prestigious RMIT University in Melbourne.

Prior to 2016, I had taught this simple yet powerful set of bodywork Methods to osteopaths, chiropractors, and remedial masseurs. The Methods commonly employ a cross fibre flicking approach using relatively light pressure. Not surprisingly, the locations of the applied techniques coincide with known acupuncture points. It is the sequence of the points used that gives the Methods their power to induce change in tissue tone resulting in reduced pain and improved function. These Methods are a valuable aid to those of us who use Acupuncture, Shiatsu or TCM based bodywork techniques in its many variations, to treat muscular skeletal conditions. Some of the Methods have a direct and intended effect on the function of the viscera.

© Copyright Kevin Ryan September 2023

Grave stone Geelong West Cemetery
Kevin, Romney & Keith at the unveiling of Tom’s Monument. The representation is of his hands holding a sphere made up of 6 sections, each representing one of ‘his boys’ as he called them.