Healing with Touch: A.T. Still’s Contribution


Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) “discovered” the secrets of hands on healing when devastating personal tragedy convinced him that administering medicine was not the cure for disease. He believed there must be a better way to cure the sick and embarked on a lifelong quest to understand the complexities of health and disease, life and death. He combined a profound understanding of human anatomy, the latest scientific knowledge of his time, plus a revolutionary intuition that the body contained all agencies required for its own healing into the development of Osteopathic Medicine. 

“The mechanical principles on which Osteopathy is based are as old as the universe,” he said.  One of Still’s students said, “Osteopathy was not a method of treatment at all. It was a principle upon which all treatment might be based.”  The principles he studied are alive today and have been brought forward by Still and his students such as Dr. W. G. Sutherland, Rollin Becker and Franklyn Sills, in the form of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. 

A. T. Still, tirelessly studied the drawings of Leonardo di Vinci, carried bones of the foot and hand in his pockets, so that he could continuously palpate and understand anatomy of the human body. His quest for knowledge included reading widely from medicine, philosophy, geology, astronomy, the Bible, to evolutionary biology. He took research of others and subjected this information to his own critical analysis.

A. T. Still faced opposition to touching as a method of healing. The opposition to this was pervasive throughout America at the time. Only after years of practicing with integrity was he able to convince people of such positive results. He set up his table and worked with anyone who was willing to receive a treatment, without the request for payment, at times throughout the night. His learning and the satisfaction of seeing his patients cured was the only exchange he wished for.

The son of a Methodist Minister, he tirelessly studied nature, having grown up in sparsely settled Missouri. He grew to understand that the mind, body and spirit were involved in the healing process and that this could be explained in scientific terms. In a much quoted phrase, Still said “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.” He never challenged established scientific fact but rather felt that it was lacking when applied to the living organism. His radical ideas were met with monumental obstacles but convinced he had discovered a great truth only strengthened his resolve. 

In 1892, at the age of 64, convinced of his results of healing the human body, he began teaching formally. He founded the American School of Osteopathy (now the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) in Kirksville Missouri. He was nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Medicine but his name was never put forward. His picture hangs at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D. C. in recognition for his contribution to medicine, yet his name remains obscure. 

In Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, we hold the discoveries of A.T. Still regarding healing as foundations of our work.

For more information, A. T. Still—From the Dry Bone to the Living Man is a wonderful book by John Lewis, that through tireless research was fifteen years in the making. It describes the life and times, philosophy and principles of A. T. Still.

Coming Next: The Profound Contributions of W. G. Sutherland