The link to the letter below by Jack Heggie was originally posted on SomaSimple.com. It was sent to me by a reader. Thank you.
Jack Heggie passed away, reportedly by suicide. Ryan Nagy talks about the apparent suicide (years apart) of Jack Heggie and Martin Weiner in this blog post (click).
Jack’s letter below gets to the abuse of power in the Feldenkrais Guild community that I believe ultimately led to the culture of sexual harassment and bullying that we see today.
JACK HEGGIE’S LAST LETTER
Dear Fellow Practitioners and Students of the Feldenkrais Method:
I am taking the time and going to considerable expense to send this letter to each and every practitioner member of FGNA because I believe that our Method is in the midst of a crisis so severe that, if action is not taken in the very near future, the Method itself may cease to exist as a viable entity. In fact, it may already be too late.
But before I elucidate this crisis, I would like to say a little about myself, my conception of the work, and why I think that we are in crisis.
Like many others, I first sought out the Method because of severe aches and pains. And also like many others, I stayed with it because I soon realized that the approach discovered by Feldenkrais holds great promise for improving the human condition. The Method is as earth shattering as the discoveries of modern physics, relativity and quantum mechanics were about a century ago.
I was lucky enough to become interested in the Method while Dr. Feldenkrais was still alive, in the mid 1970s. I attended several public workshops with him in the US, and then went to Israel to get some work with him personally, and with his Israeli “assistants.” While there I read him the manuscript of what finally, many years later, became my book Skiing With the Whole Body. This interested him, and he invited me to his house for a few private talks.
These were interesting and gratifying, but I felt something like a freshman physics student invited to dinner with Einstein. I hardly knew what questions to ask. Nevertheless, I was very grateful to be able to spend some time with a man who I consider one of the small number of true geniuses that the human race has produced.
Later, Moshe sent me a letter in which he described the skiing book as “A perfect example of learning how to learn, as you have perfectly learned.”
I attended the Amherst 1980-1983 PTP in which we had two summers of Moshe in person, and then, because of his finally terminal illness, finished with the nine trainers designated by Moshe to carry on after his death.
After the PTP, I started a practice in Dallas, Texas. After some six months of living in a spare room in my parents’ house and struggling to pay the rent on my office, something changed, and I began to have so much work that I had to start a waiting list for FI, and my three or four times a week ATM classes ran at near capacity.
After some five years of this, I moved to my current home, Boulder, Colorado, so that I could work less and write more. Since then, I have produced Running With the Whole Body, Skiing With The Whole Body, A Healthy Back in Less than 20 Minutes a Day, The Use of the Eyes in Movement, and Total Body Golf. Other projects, most applying the Method to sports
instruction are in the works. Since my graduation, my sole means of support has been my practice.
After I had been working for a few years, I began to notice the quality of work presented by many newer practitioners seemed poor. At first, I put this down to the ideas that an experienced practitioner would necessarily see beginners as working at a lower level. (I shudder to think what Moshe himself must have seen the first few times he asked us to touch others!)
But, as the years went on, I slowly began to become convinced that many of the “Guild Certified Professional Training Programs” weren’t working, that something had been lost, and that many perhaps most, of the PTPs were graduating inferior or even, incompetent, practitioners.
Very recently, I have had a number of experiences that have convinced me that the PTPs, and thus the Method itself, are in big trouble.
In the stories I am going to relate below I will refer to the individuals under discussion as “Trainer (TR) #1,” or “Education Director (ED) #2,” and so on. This is partly to avoid being sued for libel, but also to avoid stirring up too much trouble until positive proof can be obtained that these people are not qualified to be trainers, or, in some instances, even
practitioners. Also, I will use the pronouns he and his for both sexes to avoid easy identification.
My personal opinion is that many of the better PTPs in the US are not that hot, often because of the low quality of FI given by many assistants, and also because of the very high Student/Trainer ratio, which would make the teachers in many public schools blush.
And now, after some fifteen years of this, the situation is getting exponentially worse: some of those trained by the incompetent Trainers and Education Directors have become Assistant Trainers and are giving the majority of the FIs in the PTP. It is now possible for a student to complete a PTP without having one good FI! And how will such a practitioner give FIs
A recent graduate of a PTP run by ED #1 came to me for FI. He had three difficulties that he had been unable to resolve during his training. This was in spite of an FI from ED #1, and some 20 FIs with the continuity assistant, who is now a Trainer #2. After this, I was expecting to find difficult lessons were required, but, to my surprise, I was able to resolve the three problems with three fairly simple lessons, something that any competent
practitioner with a few years experience should be able to do.
…Both he and I were a bit put out with these results. Then, when I casually asked him “How many people from your training fell like they learned how to do FI?” he replied, to my surprise, “Nobody, zero.”
Almost a year later I recounted this conversation to a graduate of a different PTP with the same ED #1, and was told, to my surprise, “Yeah, that’s true of our training also, nobody learned how to do FI.”
Even later, while teaching overseas, I asked an American student, “Why do you come halfway around the world for this training when one of the most experienced and respected Educational Directors offers a number of programs right in your area?” This is ED #2.
His answer astounded me. “Oh, nobody from those trainings has any idea how to do FI.” When I asked him how he know this, he recounted how he had worked with one of the practitioners in his area, a graduate of one of the early PTP conducted by Moshe, and how many of the graduates from the trainings of this ED #2 had come to him asking how he learned to do FI. All said that their PT had not prepared them at all to do the individual work. He had subsequently done a lot of research while looking for a PTP, and had finally decided that he had to go overseas and train with one of the original assistants to get into a good training.
Between them, ED #1 and EDE #2 have trained a large percentage of the practitioners working today.
While assisting at an overseas PTP, TR #1, mentioned above taught while I was not there. When I returned the following year, a group of students took me aside and asked if they might ask me a question about TR #1. When I said “yes, of course,” they said that they were suspicious of TR #1, and wondered what I thought of his skill level.
I asked a few questions of my own, and finally the students said, “We think that TR #1 doesn’t know what he’s doing. What do you think?”
I told them that, from what I knew of watching TR #1 work, and from working with and talking with his students, I had to agree with them.
This incident was the one that finally convinced me to write the present letter. If the third year students at a well run PTP can see that their Trainer is incompetent, how in the world can this person be allowed to work as a trainer? From observing this TR #1, by the way, I am convinced that TR #1 does not have the skills to be a practitioner, let alone a Trainer.
I have had several other experiences along these lines that I am not going to recount here, since the individual Practitioner or Trainer could be easily identified. Also, I have heard from a number of very experienced Prax and Trainers that some other Trainers, and even EDs, that I do not know are incompetent.
Based on the above experiences, I would like to offer my opinions about what is going on today in the Feldenkrais world.
I think that a number of people who have learned to parrot Moshe’s words without understanding the ideas behind them, and who have egos much larger that their IQs, have insinuated themselves into the Training process.
These people are very personable, and are convinced that they truly understand the Method. However, the quality of their work and teaching belies this. Conversations that I have had with some of these people remind me of conversations that I have had over the years with astrologers, psychics, phrenologists, and various kinds of “energy workers.” There seems to be almost no connection between what they do and what they say they do.
If “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” then the proof of a PTP is in the quality of the practitioners that it graduates. By this measure many, perhaps most, of the North American PTPs are not much good, and some are disasters.
There area number of other severe problems with the current PTP set-up which I will merely mention here, without going into details or offering, at this time, possible solutions.
First, the current Trainers have a kind of veto power over who can become a Trainer. This is exercised in two ways. First, Trainers can dictate who can become a trainer by controlling who works as an assistant in their PTPs. Second, by requiring that a Trainer candidate have three Trainer sponsors, the current Trainers have what amounts to a blackball power over who may or may not become a trainer. In essence, this means that what should be a
community or Guild function, has been taken over by a small, private group, which can exercise said power for its own ends. The best ways to get Assistant Trainer gigs today are either to develop what might be called a “close personal relationship” with a Trainer, or, to bring a lot of bodies to a PTP. Skill in the Method is hardly a consideration.
Second, there is no mechanism for removing incompetent Educational Directors, Trainers or Assistants.
Third, some of the Trainers have what can only be described as fake doctorates or PhDs.
Fourth, Moshe’s idea that testing impedes learning has been twisted.
Who is to blame for this horrible mess? Unfortunately, the blame can only be laid at the feet of the current Trainers and Educational Directors, who have profited so greatly from the Method. I say unfortunately, because many of these people are good practitioners, and care greatly about the work. But others are simply unprincipled greedheads with gigantic egos, who seek only profit and prestige. Just about everyone who applies to a PTP is accepted,
and, just about everyone graduates—that is, is allowed to complete the program—and pay the tuition.
One brochure for a PTP specifically states that “There are no specific requirements for enrollment, other than prior experience with the Feldenkrais Method™,” —and the resources to pay the tuition, of course.
Some of the questions I see on FeldyForum (“How do I treat disease X?”) display an appalling lack of understanding of the underlying ideas behind the
One of my nightmare scenarios involves some organization such as Consumer’s Union doing one of their assessments of our Method. For those who are not familiar with CU’s approach, here is a brief synopsis. CU sends a number of “shoppers” to buy a product, such as a car, lawnmower, toaster oven, computer, or whatever, They then take the product and use it as a consumer would, and report the results in their magazine, Consumer Reports.
Although CU mostly test physical products they occasionally do evaluations of various kinds of health care. Because of their well-known impartiality, their opinion carries a lot of weight with the general public.
What might happen if CU, or some other such organization, sent a number of their “shoppers” to PTP graduates who have trained under some of these incompetent Educational Directors and Trainers? They would then announce to the world that our Method was quackery.
Because of their long record of impartiality, the opinion of CU carries a lot of weight with the general public, and also with various government regulation agencies. If an unfavorable CU report came out, it is very possible that even the competent Prax would be unable to maintain their practices, and the Method would the be thought by most of the general public
to be nonsense.
So what is to be done? I am convinced that as disruptive and divisive as this course of action will be that there is only one way to put a stop to the current disaster. It will require class action lawsuits by the students who did not learn against their Educational Director, Trainers, and possibly against the Guild and the Training Accreditation Board. The people who are running the fraudulent PTPs are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at it, all the while jet-setting around the world, and they simply will not stop until and unless and until the profit motive is taken away.
The first step will be for those who have reason to believe that they were victims of an incompetently run PTP to do a survey of their classmates. If enough of the students feel that there were cheated, then there would be a basis for a suit. I would think that if at least a third of the students joined in, that in itself would be a very powerful presumption that the suit has merit.
I cannot join in such a suit because I am very satisfied with the training I received from Moshe and the assistants. However, I will probably be willing to act as an advisor or expert witness for such a suit.
The purpose of these suits would not be, of course, just the recovery of monies paid for the useless PTP, but rather as a notice to those opportunists who think that the FM is their own personal cash cow, that the incredible legacy left to us by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais is not a toy to be exploited for personal gain.
Right now, the problem is that someone can trade on the term Guild Certified Educational Director, but, at the same time, the phrase Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner means something in a legal sense, but, in terms of any real competence, it means almost nothing.
Here, I think, is the root of the problem. Unlike ATM, Moshe taught FI in a very indirect, roundabout fashion, so if you have graduated from one of the PTPs and feel like you have almost no idea about how to do FI, it’s quite possible that the problem lies not with you, but with your ED and Trainers.
Something like this happened during the birth of the Chiropractic profession almost a century ago and Chiropractors are still feeling the deleterious effects.
In closing, I would like to echo a phrase from Hans Christian Anderson: “Look, look! The emperor is naked!”
It is up to us, the practitioner members of FGNA, to run the tricksters out of town, and to properly clothe the Method again.
If you like please feel free to copy this letter and give it to current students enrolled in a FPTP, or to anyone who is interested in the Method for any reason.
Maybe the best thing is to eliminate GCFP/TRNR/ED—people who trade on the flash and glitter of accreditation. Maybe it would be better, in the spirit of Moshe Feldenkrais, to have no certifications, and let people trade solely on their accomplishments.
In the midst of all this negativity, it’s certainly worth mentioning that there are a handful of very skilled practitioners, who truly embody the spirit of MF himself. Small minorities of these are Trainers or EDs, most are not.
“Leadership” won’t make the change—they caused the problem in the first place. Only the membership can.
Current method selects for skill in business and talking.
Some go overseas to train with original Israeli assistants. (They know the Early Lessons.)
Why do “assistants” rarely work in US PTPs? Maybe because American Trainers don’t want their students to see real FI?
Trainer ratio is currently 80/1. Lotsa luck. In Alexander work, for example, the ratio is 6/1.
Many of current assistants have a very low level of ability. Since these assistants give the majority of FIs during a PTP, and since there are now a number of incompetent EDs and Trainers, it is possible for a student to complete a PTP and not receive one good FI!
These Israelis do FI in a very different way, because they were trained by MF in a very different way. We (the Prax who trained after the original Tel Aviv training) were kept from the knowledge that allows the Israelis to do what they do.
I supported the Guild with donations and commentary during the Anat lawsuit, to preserve the Service Marks. Today I am not so sure that this was a good idea.
In less than one generation after the death of the founder, the wonderful legacy left to the human race by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais has been commercialized and exploited for the benefit of a few, and to the detriment
Jack Heggie, Feldenkrais Method™ Practitioner and Assistant Trainer