Moshe Feldenkrais: “You have no means of diagnosis”
A few minutes ago, I bumped into the short transcription below from the San Francisco Feldenkrais training in the 1970’s. I thought you might enjoy it. Moshe is speaking to a group of people that he is attempting to train in his method. To what extent he succeeded with them or anyone else is a matter of debate. But he did his level best.
When people come into any training or any communicative environment each comes with his own assumptions and categories. Some are conscious. Many are not.
A major tendency of human beings is to “diagnose” and put people into categories based on any number of formal or informal criteria…based on folk taxonomies, “common knowledge,” medical taxonomies, psychological taxonomies and the like. Below Moshe speaks about his students tendency to want use – however informally or incorrectly – medical diagnoses while doing Feldenkrais-based work.
Moshe was not a fan of such things. On one level was his desire to protect himself and his students from lawsuits. Only certain qualified professionals have the right to diagnose. On a second level, was his absolute belief and conviction that “diagnosing” people limits the ability of a Feldenkrais-trained-person to do good work and to see and work with the whole person. Our departed Martin Weiner had something to say about that as you will see later…
Some people want me to teach them how to diagnose diseases. You are not supposed to know that and it is not necessary for you to know that. You only need to know enough so you know what you do not know. You need to feel that there is something and that you will get it with experience.
You will feel when a person is complaining of one thing and there is something else wrong. That you will feel with your hands. You have no means of diagnosis. You are not supposed to do diagnosis…
…But many of you have already found that you can do useful work. And of course by the end of this year, you will be able to do better work. That is my first obligation. (June 23, 1977)
Martin Weiner, a student of Moshe’s, who is now deceased, wrote quite a bit about the medical model and the need to see the person and not the diagnosis. In 2008, Marty first gave me permission to reprint his short article below. Below, he speaks to the limits of the medical model. First re-published September 19th, 2008 here.
I have often talked on the forum about how seeing things from a medical model limits our capacity to see what is there. I had an experience with a young woman the other day that I’d like to share in this regard.
A woman called me on the phone and asked if she could come see me. She said she had very severe pains in her neck that woke her up many times during the night. She also had numbness in her hands. She had gone to a chiropractor who took an x-ray of her neck and freaked out. He was so anxious for her that she had to quiet him down. He sent her to an orthopedic surgeon who had the same reaction and said she needed surgery immediately to fuse three of her cervical vertebrae. She was supposed to have the surgery next Monday. She is a mother of two toddlers and said she is very active.
I said, “Let me get this straight. You are not paralyzed or crippled or hobble about. You run after two little kids and exercise regularly. Your only problem is pain in your neck and numbness in your hands. Aside from these two guys freaking out you would have no idea that there is an emergency going on in your body?” She said,”That’s right”.
So I told her, “Great, I’d love to see you.”
My point here is that these two doctors looked at x-rays and did not see her. She is an active woman who runs around all day long. Instead of seeing her vertebrae they should have seen her and realize that these vertebrae live in this woman and she is pretty healthy. They saw what they saw which is conditioned by their training. Moshe trained us to see the world differently and to interact with people from a non-mechanical orientation. We have the capacity to help those who many others can’t because we do not get seduced into diagnostic categories.
She came to see me last Saturday and we worked. Today she came back to tell me that she has been sleeping through the night pain free and that the numbness is now down to just a little spot. She cancelled the surgery and is looking forward to feeling better without it.
As Hippocrates said, “Don’t tell me what someone has. Tell me who has it.” See the person and not the so called “disease” or problem.
Ryan C. Nagy, MA desde Starbucks Plaza Jardines, Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico