Tom Bowen and the History of Bowenwork
The Bowen technique is named for its creator, Thomas Ambrose Bowen, who was born April 18, 1916 in Brunswick, Victoria, Australia to parents who were deeply humanitarian. An athletic youngster, he was the only boy of four children. Although he wanted to become a doctor, there was no money for education and he left school at a young age to work at various manual labor jobs, later following his father in the trade as carpenter and eventually becoming an employee of Geelong Cement Works. Tom married in 1941 and moved with his wife Jesse to Geelong, Australia where they lived with Tom’s parents.
It was here in Geelong in the l950s that Bowen’s gifts began to emerge. His affection for sports led him to run a Salvation Army Boy’s Club. But it was at sports events like football in the Geelong area where he observed with a keen interest the treatment of sports injuries by the sports trainers and learned from watching the methods and effects of the treatments. His friendship with Ernie Saunders, a renowned soft tissue therapist that he met at this time, was the beginning of Bowen’s manual skills and understanding. Eventually, he outpaced his friend in both.
No one knows how Bowen attained his amazing intuition and diagnostic skills. He humbly acknowledged his abilities were a gift from God. He had no formal training other than reading different books that were of interest to him. But he was always thinking, observing and analyzing. Early on, he came up with a treatment plan for his wife Jesse’s serious asthma problem, which often put her into the hospital. With a special diet he worked out and specific hands-on treatment, she never had to go to the hospital again. He also helped his friend Stan Horwood’s wife Rene Horwood, to recover from a stroke. The Horwoods were special supporters and mentors of Bowen and his work. Rene was his business manager and receptionist for 24 years and also helped him evolve some of his techniques.
Bowen could tell by looking at his clients what was going on. When he performed a move, he knew what the outcome would be. Even though the client might still be in pain following that session, Bowen knew that the problem would resolve in the days that followed. His sensitive ability to diagnose made it possible for him to see 14 clients an hour. A government inquiry reported that he saw 13,000 clients a year. He estimated himself that he had an 88% success rate. His generosity was well known. If a client could not pay, he treated them for free. Aside from his regular work week and evening house calls, he treated disabled adults and children, injured athletes and prisoners at the local prison for free on Saturdays and Sundays. Even animals won his care.
Bowen persisted in doing service even though he was partially deaf—wearing two hearing aids. Later in the seventies after losing a leg to amputation, he donned a prosthesis and worked as hard as ever. He had a second leg amputed in 1982 and due to an infection never recovered.
Bowen did not accept students who did not have a good sense of touch. He chose six students who met his standards. One of them was Osward (Ozzie) Rentsch who met Bowen in 1974 and who carefully documented Tom’s work. Keeping notes and diagrams and having them corrected and approved by Bowen, the techniques came to be known and taught. Ozzie Rentsch and his wife, Elaine setup their first Bowen Clinic in 1976 which Tom visited periodically and helped them fine-tune their moves. Ozzie and Elaine are the founders of Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia (also known as Bowtech) through which they have taught over 14,000 students worldwide.
According to Tom Bowen’s daughters, his favorite quotation was from John London: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness I can show to my fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not deter or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”