May 10

Let’s talk about ethics


New teacher Kieran Stubbs shares his thoughts on some of the ethical questions that may arise during an Alexander lesson.

The essay  was written as a third-year assignment for the School of FM Alexander Studies in Melbourne

Editor’s note: Essay questions are in bold type; Kieran’s responses in roman (‘normal’) type


Thinking Aloud by Walter Carrington, Chapter on Ethics p111 – 117

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by FM Alexander,  Chapter VI – “Unduly Excited Fear Reflexes, Uncontrolled Emotions and Fixed Prejudices”

This chapter by Walter Carrington raises a number of interesting questions, some of which relate to what we have read in Alexander’s books … and to our code of professional conduct. The reading opens up very relevant questions as to the appropriate limits of our work and what psycho-physical re-education means.

In no more than three pages give your thoughts on the following:


  1. WC states (Teachers) “are not justified in intruding into (pupils’) emotions, their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, their attitudes.” In the chapter by Alexander, he says that “Unduly excited fear reflexes, uncontrolled emotions, prejudices and fixed habits, are retarding factors in all human development. They need our serious attention…” Presumably for a person to change their habit of use, these factors FM enumerates have to change. Do you think it is possible to help people change their pattern of use without dealing with people’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs?

Kieran’s response:

I think if the work truly rests on the principle of wholeness, that there is no functional division between mind and body, or emotions and their ‘physical’ manifestions, then there is no question that a person’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs must be involved in any changes to their pattern of use. Use of the self is use of the whole self, so to exclude emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs would be to divide what is indivisible. The question is, do we deal with emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs directly, or indirectly? Do we confront people about their emotions or deeply held beliefs?

I think sometimes the beliefs or conceptions relating to or underpinning a pupil’s use of themself need to be addressed, but with consideration to their psychophysical condition at the time. If you, as a teacher, with a given pupil in their present condition, can directly speak to and challenge that pupil’s harmful conception, belief, etc which is resulting in a harmful use of themselves without over-exciting their fear reflexes, then it would be wise to do so, in accompaniment with a practical experience of them using themselves in that harmful way, and then a practical experience of them using themselves in a coordinated and healthy way, as guided by you, the teacher.

Carrington’s belief that we ought not meddle in the emotions and beliefs of a pupil appears to be more in accordance with maintaining a state of equilibrium during the lesson and preventing unduly excited fear responses at present and in the future, than in accordance with the student’s need to change their conception in order to fundamentally change their pattern of use and means whereby.

I agree with the intention here, however I think there is a danger of glossing over important beliefs or emotions which are central to a person’s misuse and experience of themselves, which ultimately serves only to maintain their state of equilibrium during the lesson and to teach them on a sensory/experiential basis (rather than on a level of conscious reasoning, accompanied by new sensory experience), which ultimately will be dominated again by their fixed beliefs once left to their own devices.


  1. If the answer is “no” how might we relate to these aspects without “intruding”? If the answer is “yes”, then how would these retarding factors be dealt with?

Kieran: Continuing on from the last question, I think the answer is to deal with these aspects gently and while maintaining a sense of safety and equilibrium in the pupil as much as possible.

We, as teachers, must also deal with them in accordance with the Alexander principles of inhibition, direction, wholeness, faulty sensory appreciation and primary control. For example, it is not our prerogative to tell someone their political beliefs are wrong, however, it may be useful to draw attention to how they use themselves in relation to ideas of politics and to notice their habitual responses and whether they are working for good or ill in regards to the organism as a whole.

It may be useful also to work indirectly with a pupil’s conception and facilitate correction of their sensory appreciation which enables them to discover their own incongruent beliefs for themselves; for example pointing out that any of a pupil’s given beliefs may be seen by them to be unreliable as their sensory appreciation improves, as they have a new perspective from which light can be shed on their beliefs derived from a condition of unreliable sensory appreciation.


  1. What does Walter Carrington suggest and what are your thoughts? Walter suggests a few things:
  2. a)We do not give advice or judgement we are not qualified to give.

Kieran: I agree with this, our job is to judge a person’s use of themselves and help them improve it.

  1. b)When their communication “goes beyond just the ordinary” (Carrington, Thinking Aloud pg 116), we ought to tell them they need someone to talk to, such as a psychotherapist.

Kieran:  I agree in part, though there is an inherent judgement involved in making this suggestion which implies we are qualified to judge what the “ordinary” is and whether someone has gone beyond it.  I think a knee-jerk or unempathic judgement in this connection can just as easily induce a state of anxiety in a pupil as can a confrontation or misguided engagement with their values, emotions, etc.

We would do best as teachers to listen empathically, and skilfully bring the conversation back to the work, and applying the principles, so as to avoid coming across as judging the student as having beliefs or emotions which displease you as the teacher.

Maintaining our own equilibrium and the safety of the student is a precursor to making referrals to, say, a psychotherapist, which may indeed be necessary, or family or friends, but you must also take into account all information available as to whether these recommendations will likely result in harm or good to the pupil.

  1. c)Walter suggests we maintain clarity on what we are teaching and work in that domain – Alexander principles and whether or not they are stiffening their neck, inhibiting, etc.

Kieran: I agree with this on the most part, though there are times where beliefs and conceptions need to be addressed as they are inseparable from a pupil’s use of themselves. Timing, conditions and how this is done is they key.


  1. In regard to “unduly excited fear reflexes, uncontrolled emotions, prejudices and fixed habits” and “individual errors and delusions” how does FM propose that we approach these “retarding factors”?

Kieran: Ultimately by restoring reliable sensory appreciation, and in doing so, fostering a sense of confidence in the pupil’s learning environment.


  1. If you can accept that some types of beliefs are harmful to a person’s use and others not harmful, pick an example of a harmful and a non-harmful belief.

Kieran: Firstly, I cannot categorically say what is a harmful or non-harmful belief, because it depends on the person, and on other factors, as to whether or not a given belief is harmful to their use of themselves at a given time. A belief may be harmful one day, it may not be the next, it may be for one person, but not another.

An example of a likely harmful belief is the belief that a person’s spine ought to be totally straight, or that their feeling sense is reliable when it is not.

An example of a likely non-harmful belief is that they look better with their hair long as opposed to short.

This is based on the definition of harmful as being such that it causes discoordination or interference with the pupil’s primary control and ability to respond to stimulus in accordance with their conscious intention.


  1. If a pupil is undertaking a procedure or treatment or doing exercises that are clearly impacting badly on their use, what is a teacher’s responsibility? If you decide that it is appropriate for a teacher to give advice in such a case, how could this be done?

Kieran: I believe that if the teacher takes due measures to understand and analyse the conditions present and the perspective of the pedagogy informing such exercises or treatment, and ascertains that the effect is worsening their use and therefore function in the long-term, then I believe it is imperative as the teacher to articulate this to the student at a time that is appropriate and with skill and attendance to fear reflexes, and with due consideration to that student’s conceptions and any likely negative consequences of those being challenged.

Something like “this is the perspective of the Alexander principles and this is what I would recommend, however you must decide for yourself what your best course of action is” would be a good line to take, as it does not disempower the student, nor take on more responsibility than the teacher ought to.


  1. What light does the AUSTAT Code of Professional Conduct shed on these questions and matters raised in this chapter?

The following excerpts from the AUSTAT Code of Professional Conduct, section A:”THE TEACHER-PUPIL RELATIONSHIP” pertain to the above questions.

  1. A teacher should clearly explain the nature of the work and procedures to be followed during the course of lessons and ensure that the consent of the pupil is obtained. In the case of a pupil under the age of 18 years the consent of the pupil’s parent or guardian should be obtained.”

Kieran:  The relates to explaining the necessary scope of the work and that it includes addressing fixed ideas, beliefs etc, and it is not uncommon for pupils to experience emotional states at times during the work.

  1. A teacher should not make any kind of medical diagnosis of or prescribe treatment for a pupil unless qualified to do so. Recommendations to other appropriate qualified practitioners may be made where the pupil’s problems or difficulties appear to be outside the scope of the Alexander Technique.”

Kieran: This relates to concerns being beyond the scope of the AT, and/or interfering with the re-education process. I think the key is in the word prescription, the AT teacher (unless otherwise qualified) must only make recommendations from the body of work that is the Alexander Technique as they have studied it/been trained.

  1. During the course of a lesson in the Alexander Technique, a teacher should not introduce other practices or disciplines, even if he or she is qualified to do so, except with the prior consent of the pupil involved.”

      Kieran: A teacher may have other skills, such as counselling, NLP, physiotherapy or psychotherapy, for example, which complement the re-education process. These should only be used in connection with the Alexander Technique and by those qualified to use these skills, and the pupil must be informed and consensual.



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