‘Prevention’ is featured in Alexander’s writings, from 1903 and in all his four books. It is used in different meanings: the act or practice of prevention, often, but not always, synonymous with inhibition; and prevention in contrast to cure.
In addition a distinction can be suggested between a primary and a secondary prevention. Primary prevention would be the prevention of the development of a habit, i.e. avoiding developing a bad habit in the first place. Secondary prevention would be the prevention of an established habit with the purpose of eradicating the habit or bringing the habit under conscious control (this is sometimes referred to as ‘cure’ in Alexander’s early writings). In addition Alexander uses the term ‘comparative prevention’ for prevention in the growing child (see below).
In his early writings Alexander referred to the cure and prevention of his technique, but quickly the term ‘re-education’ replaces ‘cure’, and by MSI ‘cures’ are described as endgaining. See for example the section ‘Need for Substituting in all Spheres the Principle of Prevention on a General Basis for Methods of “Cure” on a Specific Basis’ in CCC.
Prevention as inhibition
In other words, volition is used to name what we intend to do, and inhibition to name what we refuse to do – that is, to name what we wish to hold in check, what we wish to prevent.
This procedure constitutes the means whereby the teacher makes it possible for the pupil to prevent (inhibition) the misdirected activities which are causing his psycho-physical imperfections.
Prevention vs. cure
Alexander defines his usage of the terms ‘prevention’ and ‘cure’ in UoS:
I use the word ‘prevention’ (and this applies equally to ‘cure’) not because I consider it adequate or wholly suitable for my purpose, but because I cannot find another to take its place. ‘Prevention’ in its fullest sense implies the existence of satisfactory conditions which can be prevented from changing for the worse. In this sense prevention is not possible in practice today, since the conditions now present in the civilized human creature are such that it would be difficult to find anyone who is entirely free from manifestations of wrong use and functioning. When, therefore, I use the terms ‘prevention’ and ‘cure,’ I use them in a relative sense only, including under ‘preventive’ measures all attempts to prevent faulty use and functioning of the organism generally as a means of preventing defect, disorder, and disease, and under ‘curative’ measures those methods in which the influence of faulty use upon functioning is ignored when dealing with defects, disorder and disease.
It is equally essential that when changes for ill have already been allowed to develop in the growing child, the doctor should be able to provide the means whereby right conditions can be restored and a recurrence of the trouble be prevented in the future. This, for want of a better name, I will call ‘comparative prevention,’ and the technique we employ has been found to meet the demands of this form of prevention as well as of prevention in the wider sense.
Some teachers focus on the ‘curative’ aspect of the Technique, for example Wilfred Barlow’s articles where the emphasis is on correcting postural faults.
Other teachers focus on the preventative aspect. For example, Walter Carrington emphasizes the preventative aspect of the Technique in several places, e.g. he writes that ‘the essence of the whole technique is prevention’, the ‘Technique’s golden rule is prevention’, that ‘the main principle of his [Alexander’s] technique was prevention’.
The differentiation between prevention and cure has been and is a vexed question, and Alexander’s casual usage of both terms in his writings have caused confusion. The judgement given in the South African Libel Case examines the question with reference to Alexander’s books in some detail.
Goddard Binkley in his diary of his lessons with Alexander, writes:
Alexander answered my questions at length. I asked him if the thinking that one should do is supposed to be preventative. He answered: ‘Yes, the thing is, you want to keep the preventative, inhibitory idea in mind as you act. You see, the inhibitory idea becomes the primary means of the volitionary act.’
Although the concept of prevention is almost universal in the Alexander Technique literature, it receives different emphases.
See also Inhibition.