Osteopathic Intuition

Oxford English Dictionary, Intuition: “the ability to understand or know something immediately, without conscious reasoning.”


If we know that intuition exists why do we not develop it in the practice of osteopathy? Dr. Still believed that the intuitive consciousness was the foundation for success.  He wrote the following:

“By following a study with practical training, a person becomes acquainted with the principles to such fullness that he can do good work in all parts, and feels no farther effort will be required. He does his work well and feels so, because of his being master of his trade by practical experience and close observation to the study while an apprentice.

“Another person of his apprentice class who never lost an hour, cannot do as good work,, and lives a life of confused labour, but stands about par in all other branches. The first man has obtained from study something that the second man has not. The first drives through all kinds of difficult problems with ease, while number two is almost a failure in all places. Why the difference? Perhaps number one has worked for and obtained intuitive consciousness, or made all subjects to his mind beings of life, that live under laws made for their being. He who succeeds must study the law of all pursuits or trades. To observe and obey is the only way to succeed; he does succeed by obedience to such laws until mind and body becomes equally sensitive to the fact that man must feel he is right before he can be successful.

“By the law of knowledge and intuition all persons do succeed. Thus we should not be satisfied to know that we are right, but feel so, and act with energy to suit, and our successes will grow with time. We must feel an interest in all we do or we will always eat at the table of disappointment.” Still, A. T. (1898) Intuitive Consciousness. Journal of Osteopathy, Vol. 5, No. 6. November.

Before we unpack Still’s copy, and believe me there’s plenty to unpack, it’s worth remembering that Western philosophy hates personal experience. From the off with Plato’s Two world Metaphysics we find a split between personal experience (Opinion) and an underlying other reality of Forms. Immediate experience isn’t real the only reality is a hidden world behind our experiences. Luckily Aristotle disagreed. So, Aristotle’s world of immediate experience was taken as the truth up to the middle ages. Unfortunately, from the 16th century, with the Copernican Revolution, Aristotle was beginning to be sidelined and slowly replaced by Plato’s metaphysics by the 19th century. There was an increase in the intellectual-rational approach to science with mathematics as the bridge between personal experience and the hidden world of ‘reality’ in Plato’s Forms. To know anything you now had to use mathematics otherwise your experience isn’t real known as the rise of Logical Positivism. And the rest is history…

Dr Still

“By following a study with practical training”

Early osteopathy emphasised the practical aspect of learning. The philosophy at the time was known as Pragmatism, knowing by doing. Apparently, no notes were taken in these early days. They ‘just did it’. Today it’s a bit like going to your yoga class and taking notes!

“… a person becomes acquainted with the principles…”

Becomes acquainted with the principles not learn a set of principles. Principles, in this case could be considered an underlying idea as a multiplicity in unity (the many as the one).

The practical everyday problem resolves itself into what the individual measure of the particular case is. It is not a composite collective one, but composite and unified, with multiplicity in unity. Carl P. McConnell, DO, JAOA March 1935

“He does his work well and feels so,”

It’s all about feeling. This makes it a personal experience. As I wrote above Western philosophy hates personal experience.

“…by practical experience and close observation…”

Emphasis is again on practical experience and paying attention. Engaging the tissue directly not at a distance. Modern osteopathy has a consciousness that is at a distance.

“Intuitive Consciousness”

Here we have to ‘stand back’ and be attentive to the experiencing of the manipulation NOT the experience of the manipulation. It’s a bit like catching yourself in the act of treating NOT the treatment, that’s too late. The intuitive consciousness is before the awareness of what is being done. Once you are aware that’s the end.

 “…made all subjects to his mind beings of life,”

Life is unfinished as is your treatment. This an organic and dynamic approach where there is no ending.


“until the mind and body becomes equally sensitive”

This is could be Still’s attempt at closing the Cartesian gap. A total commitment to diagnosis and treatment. You are not separate from the patient.  He’s urging the practitioner to be sensitive not a thumper.

“by the law of knowledge and intuition all persons do succeed”

Combining the conscious with the immediate experiencing. You can be attentive to examination and treatment and attentive to yourself doing the examining and treating of the patient.

 “to know that we are right, but feel so,”

More feeling.  It’s the first half of this quote we normally use.  Here’s the full quote:

“Seeing is believing but feeling’s the truth.” Thomas Fuller (1654 – 1734)


“There are key differences between intuition and insight. Intuition occurs instantly and is emotionally laden; it does not have the accompanying verbal, conscious declarative awareness of the final stage of insight. Interestingly, from the point of view of the cognitive and neural systems supporting the two higher-order processes, is the finding that intuition often precedes an actual conscious insight.”

McCrea, S. M. (2010) Intuition, Insight, and the Right Hemisphere: Emergence of Higher Sociocognitive Functions. Psychology Research and Behaviour Management, Vol. 3, Pg. 1 – 39.