A simple touch: The Metamorphic Technique

An intriguing yet low-profile alternative technique can bring significant benefits to the whole family...

Every evening Cathal Duffy goes through the same routine: his 10-year-old autistic son sticks his feet out from under the bedclothes and Cathal gives them a gentle rub. He has performed this nightly ritual for the past five years and during that time has seen his son develop and grow in a way that he could barely have dared hope for.

Cathal is convinced that the 'massage' has something to do with his son's remarkable development.

"He just seems to blossom and blossom. We thought he would never talk, we thought he would never have a sense of humour, but he just spends the whole day laughing and joking and chatting."

The particular technique Cathal uses is known as the Metamorphic Technique. Beguilingly simple yet curiously awkward to explain, the Metamorphic Technique is hardly a household name. Dropping it into an average conversation will most likely be met with a blank stare or quizzical look. Ask a practitioner what it is about and while their enthusiasm is infectious, the explanation might seem a little vague.

Metamorphic what?

On the Metamorphic Association website, it is described simply as "a unique tool for personal transformation." Neither a therapy nor a treatment, it is a 'technique' involving little more than a gentle touch to the spinal reflex points on the feet, hands and head. By touching these points, the practitioner is said to act as a catalyst, stimulating the body's innate intelligence and enabling it to make the changes necessary to heal, grow and reach fulfillment.

The technique is remarkably easy to learn and can be used by - or on - anybody of any age and in any state of health. It is reported to help with a wide range of behavioural, emotional and physical problems and has been used in a variety of institutions, including prisons, hospitals and special schools for children with learning difficulties.

It is also safe to use on pregnant women and is said to help facilitate an easier pregnancy and birth. Anecdotally at least, the effects can be truly profound.

But such brief explanations only add to the mystery of the technique.

To understand a little more about how it works, I went for a session with practitioner Etty Payne of Blue Rainbow Health, in Hampshire.

The session

After taking off my shoes and socks, I settled onto a couch, placing my feet on Etty's lap. Having warmed her hands, she started to press very lightly along my foot from my big toe to the back of my heel, following the bony ridge of the foot.

After a certain length of time she moved onto my other foot, and then spent a shorter period lightly touching parts of my hands and finally, my head.

She described what she was doing and a little of the theory behind it along the way, but there was no attempt at diagnosis, nor any discussion of symptoms or problems. In fact, Etty emphasised that she needed to stay completely detached to allow my own life force to do the work without interference.

The session lasted around an hour. I had been told that some people can experience vivid dreams or feel a bit tired afterwards, but I felt wonderfully relaxed and that feeling continued for the rest of the day and night.

The session itself had been very pleasant and soothing but because the pressure had been so gentle, it was unlike any other massage I had experienced before and I was left wondering 'is that it?'

But first impressions can be deceptive. A few weeks later, I noticed that I had stopped biting my nails – a childhood habit I had never managed to break before. Could it really have been the Metamorphic Technique that helped me to alter that pattern or would it have happened anyway?

It is difficult to say definitively as I had only had one session.

Etty told me that people usually require a number of sessions before they notice a difference. Even then, the changes may be subtle and the connection with the Metamorphic Technique might not be immediately obvious.

But practitioners like Etty have found that significant changes reported by clients after receiving sessions are too common to dismiss as coincidence.

Ask any practitioner or satisfied client about the technique and the stories are as numerous as they are inspiring: new jobs or relationships, the sudden disappearance of chronic or persistent conditions, moments of 'eureka' or clarity of purpose, improved sleeping patterns, calmer babies, feelings of strength, confidence and decisiveness – the list goes on. Such cases are intriguing, but the question remains: how can an hour or two of light prodding have such a remarkable effect?

Why or how does it work?

Though the practice is simple, the theory is complex. With its roots in Eastern medicine it is based on the central notion that energy or 'life force' underlies all forms of life. Over time, this energy can get 'blocked' or 'stuck' in certain patterns. From the moment of conception onwards, the traumas or experiences we encounter in our life are thought to be held as memories within each cell of our body.

These memories can set up certain energy patterns which are then expressed in a number of ways: physical ailments, emotional problems or patterns of behaviour.

For example; imagine a couple who have no intention or desire to have a child. One day the woman discovers she is pregnant. Even if the child is wanted and loved from the moment the couple discover the pregnancy, the thought – not wanting a baby – would have been present at conception.

Though they may provide a loving and supportive family environment, the child might still grow up holding certain unconscious beliefs and behaviours which stem from an underlying feeling of being unwanted. The limiting energy patterns laid down during conception will need to be freed or released for the child to move forward in life.

This is where the Metamorphic Technique comes in. The gentle pressure from the practitioner in a session is thought to stimulate a person's capacity for self-healing, loosening the energy blockages and allowing the individual to move forward.

History of the technique

The technique goes as far back as the 1960s, when naturopath Robert St John developed what he called 'prenatal theory'. While exploring what reflexology could do to help children with conditions like autism and Down's syndrome, St John found that massage was just as effective when he worked the particular area of the foot relating to the spinal reflex.

He believed that the nine months we spend within the womb from conception to birth are mapped out along these reflexes. Realising that many ailments reflected in the feet could also be related to 'blockages' in this spinal reflex, he found that working on this area could bring about changes not just on the physical level, but mental, emotional and behavioural levels as well.

His work was further developed by Gaston Saint-Pierre who went on to set up the Metamorphic Association in 1979 and to this day continues to teach, write and lecture on the technique.

The Metamorphic Technique and Children

Robert St John did a lot of his early work with children and as Cathal Duffy discovered, the technique is supposed to be very effective on children with behavioural or learning difficulties.

Stephanie Bottomley has worked with children with emotional and behavioural problems for 18 years. Five years ago she completed training in the Metamorphic Technique and has used it regularly in her work. She has found it very useful, especially in promoting self-confidence, a positive attitude and clarity of focus among the children. She has also noticed that it has a calming effect, aiding sleep, relaxation and anger management.

Over the years Stephanie has witnessed some remarkable results. One girl she worked with had ADHD. "She was constantly badly behaved at school, at home and had poor relationships with her peers," recalls Stephanie. "She was underachieving in all areas of the curriculum and was often absent from school due to tummy aches, headaches and general minor illnesses."

Stephanie started to give her regular Metamorphic Technique sessions and discovered that the girl loved her feet being worked on. "She described the feeling during the session using the feet as 'like something being pulled out of me', and 'all the anger coming down my legs and out of my feet'."

Soon the girl's attention span improved as did her grades and relationships with her peers at school. Her parents also reported that her moods were levelled out and her sleeping patterns had improved.

Though the technique can really help in cases like this, there doesn't have to be a specific problem for the benefits to be appreciated.

All in the Family

As most practitioners will tell you, the beauty of the technique lies in its simplicity. Anyone can learn it and use it on themselves or anyone else, including family members.

Andrej Srdoc met practitioner Maggie Pashley when she came to visit him in Croatia with a friend. She used the technique on him during her stay. "It felt wonderful" remembers Andrej, "the gentle tapping and sweeping on my feet was a great pleasure, but the sense of deep relaxation was what amazed me the most."

When his daughter Mia saw Maggie using the technique on him and his wife, she wanted to try it as well. Mia was a very active five-year-old at the time, but when Maggie started the session with her, "she immediately quietened down and relaxed, which really surprised us because she is never quiet or relaxed – except when she is asleep!" says Andrej.

He and his wife decided to learn the technique to use on their children. Now, whenever any member of the family feels a need, they ask and receive a session.

For Andrej, there are many benefits to using the technique within the family: "I am sure that it brought us closer to each other as individuals, not just as parents and children."

Since that first session with Etty Payne, I too have become increasingly convinced by the technique. I now use it on my children and exchange sessions with my husband. Quite apart from the fact that it is simply a very enjoyable experience to share, I have benefited in other ways. Since we started using the technique on one another, I have been offered a job, lost weight and revived the possibility of completing a discarded PhD.

All of these things happened within a month. Is it just coincidental?

Frankly, I am no longer sure.