By Roger Russell, MA, PT
The changes that the Feldenkrais Method brings to each person’s personal development are engaging stories. However, not every story is a case study. Jim Stephens pointed out that for researchers, case study methodology is a structured procedure to document those stories. He offered a compact review of four different approaches to how case studies can be done.
“The Feldenkrais Method is about stories.”
Jim Stephens, PhD began the second IFF Research Network online event with these words. Indeed, the changes that the Feldenkrais Method brings to each person’s personal development are engaging stories. At the same time, not every story is a case study. Stephens pointed out that for researchers, case study methodology is a structured procedure to document those stories. He offered a compact review of how that can be done.
Jim Stephens, a physical therapist with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, has published several papers about the Feldenkrais Method, including his recent article with Susan Hillier in Kinesiology Review in August 2020. Along the way he has mentored doctoral candidates and advised researchers. He has been part of the Esther Thelen Memorial Fund* in USA since it was founded in 2005. He co-chaired, with Pat Buchanan and myself, the FGNA Symposium, Movement and the Development of Sense of Self in Seattle, USA in 2004, and the Feldenkrais Guild Symposium Embodying Neuroscience in San Mateo, California in 2012. In 2002 Jim gave a presentation in Paris at the conference Learning, Brain and Movement, led by Professor Alain Berthoz and sponsored by Myriam and Sabine Pfeffer.
In that same Paris conference Esther Thelen pointed out that dynamic systems develop in unique ways depending on their internal dynamics and their state at the beginning of the period of observation. In other words, each person’s developmental pathway will be unique. This means that it is difficult to capture individual learning processes with statistical methods. Statistics may point to general results that are significant. However, they might also average out the evidence of how different individuals navigated the learning process. This is important because individual learning processes are at the center of the Feldenkrais Method. Esther Thelen’s suggestion was to publish well documented case studies. In this online event Jim Stephens outlined different approaches to do that.
He began by looking at issues relating to all types of case studies. For example, that telling stories does not make a case study. Case studies investigate specific questions which demands making a clear hypothesis. Preliminary clarification of the investigator’s goals and the audience of the published study is a key decision. Case studies need careful planning and appropriate documentation. This includes a description of how the learning process unfolds, building a history of the person’s learning process within one session and across sessions. He pointed out the importance of making an evaluation of the case study methods. Finally, it is important to follow the necessary consent requirements for human subjects.
Jim pointed out that case studies are easier to do than large group trials and can investigate complex issue of individual learning processes. They offer insights about the learning in Feldenkrais lessons that cannot be captured in group studies. He commented that most new ideas originate with case studies.
Citing Smyth (2008) he went on to outline four case study methodologies. During his presentation Jim Stephens drew on examples from his own and other case studies of the Feldenkrais Method made over three decades.
- Narrative case studies: Can communicate what is happening in ATM or FI sessions and document changes.
- Reflective studies: Describe and examine the experience of moving and learning from different viewpoints, provide in depth analysis and show how it will be useful.
- Mixed Measures case studies: Beyond providing the advantages of the qualitative narrative and reflective studies, mixed measure case studies include quantitative methods to measure outcomes in groups.
- Single Subject Design studies: This type of case study provides an intense study of the individual learning process. They include repeated outcome measures over the period of the study.
Stephens discussed the advantages and drawbacks of each of these research processes. He reminded us that each type of case study offers different answers, making it important to clarify the questions at the beginning. Finally, he emphasized that case studies give people opportunities to answer questions you don’t ask or give feedback you don’t expect. This can lead to new clues that can be pursued in larger scale research projects.
At the conclusion of his presentation, he drew attention to an IFF Research Working Group project to create a new research data base which is nearing completion. On June 26, 2022, the group will present the project to the Feldenkrais community. More about this event will be announced soon.
Stephens, J. and Hillier, S. “Evidence for the Effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method”. Kinesiology Review, 2020, 9, 228-235. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2020-0022
James Stephens, Joshua Davidson, Joseph DeRosa, Michael Kriz, Nicole Saltzman, “Lengthening the Hamstring Muscles Without Stretching Using “Awareness Through Movement” Physical Therapy, Volume 86, Issue 12, 1 December 2006, Pages 1641–1650, https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20040208
Stephens JL, Call S, Evans K, Glass M, Gould C, Lowe J. Responses to 10 Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement Lessons by Four Women with Multiple Sclerosis: Improved Quality of Life. Physical Therapy Case Reports. 2(2): 58-69, 1999
Smyth, C. (2008). “A possible typology of case studies in the Feldenkrais Method.” Feldenkrais Research Journal. 4. A possible typology of case studies in the Feldenkrais Method* | IFF Feldenkrais Research Journal (iffresearchjournal.org)
The Esther Thelen Research Fund is part of the Feldenkrais Educational Foundation of North America. https://www.feldenkraisguild.com/thelenfund
Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fogel, A. (2006) ‘Documenting cases as a participant observer: A manual for somatic awareness practitioners’, Feldenkrais Research Journal, 3. [online] Available at http://iffresearchjournal.org/volume/3/fogel (Accessed 6 February 2022)