William Garner Sutherland was born in Wisconsin, USA, and initially worked in the American Midwest as a newspaper reporter. Aged 25 he became a student of the founder of osteopathy (Andrew Taylor Still, 1828-1917) and graduated from the American School of Osteopathy in 1900. He began the study of osteopathy in the cranial field when he took apart the bones of a skull and was struck by the resemblance of the bones’ articular surfaces with the gills of a fish – reminiscent of both motion and respiration. This led to decades of further study during which he had many revelations about the whole body in health and illness. His model of an ‘involuntary mechanism’ which runs the “life and motion” cycle underlying health remains valid today. He never claimed to have created a new concept, simply saying that the principles of osteopathy also applied to the head. In his later years he was joined in his studies by other osteopaths who developed and further explored this model.
These ideas about an involuntary mechanism in the body, usually referred to as cranial osteopathy, first came to the UK in the 1970s. A few British osteopaths travelled to the United States to study the concepts and subtle techniques, learning from osteopaths who had been students of Sutherland. They in turn taught other osteopaths and eventually it was decided to found a college specifically for the study of these ideas. In honour of the founder of osteopathy in the cranial field, that college was called the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy. The college teaches Sutherland’s work and incorporates the development of that work by osteopaths who succeeded him. As new scientific discoveries are made, it is often breathtaking how accurate Sutherland and Still were in their understanding of human health. The college prides itself on keeping its teaching up to date, adding in references to new discoveries and insights from fields as diverse as biophysics, molecular biology and embryology.