First, a few definitions.
Vulnerability: A willingness to feel. This applies to physical sensations as well as emotions. Without it, healing does not happen in this model.
Conscious mind: Everyday awareness. Some of its tasks are to categorize and label, interpret sensory data, and search for meaning. A few of its qualities are resistance to change, avoidance of chaos, fear of death, and a need to be right.
Hidden self: Those aspects of being human that the conscious mind judges as undesirable and hides from view. Whatever doesn’t correspond to the personality and image that the conscious mind wants to show the world is banished to the hidden self. This includes cultural and religious taboos, socially unacceptable attributes, unpleasant memories, and painful emotions
Wholeness: A human being’s fundamental yearning to merge the conscious mind with the hidden self to experience a greater range of expression.
Healing: A movement toward wholeness.
This series began with the statement, “All healing is self-healing.” So, where does the health care practitioner fit in?
A lot of what passes for health care is the equivalent of an athletic trainer who gives an injured player a painkiller injection and sends her back into the game. Nothing is done to address the acute or chronic injury/illness pattern, and the messages of the mind-body are totally disregarded through suppression.
Sometimes we’re sick or in pain because something inside us is trying to keep us out of the game, and will continue to do so until we get the message. Let’s say we’re working 12-hour days to avoid being alone with the pain of our divorce, and as a result we’ve got daily migraines. In that case, a practitioner who simply prescribes migraine medication is enabling our addiction to a lifestyle that’s literally making us sick. We’re all familiar with the custom of killing the messenger who brings unwelcome news, but the intervention model of health care kills the messenger before we even have a chance to hear the message.
Training or certification in any therapy or healing art only grants someone the possibility of participating in a person’s healing, to be in a position where others can make themselves vulnerable to him or her, and vice versa. Unfortunately, all the focus is on training, technique, and how many letters the practitioner has after his or her name. Because we’ve set it up this way, the only way we can recover our permission to heal ourselves is by getting it from someone else, again and again. If we really pay attention, though, we may eventually remind ourselves that there’s only one doctor, and it’s inside of us. Does this diminish the role of the practitioner? On the contrary, this is a very privileged position! It’s just that American culture doesn’t value the quality of the practitioner’s presence over a bloated resumé.
This leads us to the patient-doctor role playing exercise, which itself is based on a lie: that there is a broken one and one that does the mending. In reality, the practitioner is no less broken than the patient. The irony is that by expressing symptoms of illness and dysfunction the mind-body is functioning optimally to inform us that the hidden self is asking for expression or recognition. However, standard medicine sees only undesirable symptoms, which it describes as “ill health” and sets about eradicating. Actually, it is suppressive approaches to health care that cause someone to be broken in the sense that the normal communication of signals between the conscious mind and hidden self is rendered non-functional.
If a treatment is to result in anything other than suppression, then it requires what I call “neutral witnessing” on the part of the practitioner. Among other things, being a neutral witness requires the self-discipline to NOT try to fix someone when they’re not broken in the first place, to NOT reinforce the client’s attachment to their diagnosis, and to be willing to play the practitioner role while knowing at the same time that it’s an illusion. It requires that the practitioner be vulnerable herself so that the patient’s vulnerability might actually result in a movement toward wholeness. In short, there’s the potential for real honesty, a rarity in any given human interaction. This creates an equal possibility for healing of both patient and doctor, but don’t tell that to the billing department.
Illness, disease, or dysfunction is held in place by belief, and if doctor and patient agree (consciously or not) to stop maintaining the beliefs that are holding it in place, the illness pattern can come undone. However, if both parties agree only to validate the beliefs around the symptom, and treat the diagnosis as gospel rather than as a point of departure, then they forge an agreement as to what is “wrong,” thus holding the illness patterns in place.
Because of our conditioning around intervention, our conscious mind requires proof that an acceptable means of external stimulation is occurring. Hence, the role of the technique or medicine. In the setting of neutral witnessing, however, a healing technique is akin to a ritual, in that an intention is represented in form to distract the conscious mind so that the hidden self has an opportunity to reveal itself. If a person’s repressed guilt and chronic muscle pain are inseparably linked, those elements have to communicate with each other in order for expressive healing to take place.
It’s the quality of the practitioner’s presence that really counts and not the technique, technology, or medication. This is not a suggestion to fire all of your health care providers! All of us look for permission from others before we’ll grant it to ourselves, and a lot of us will never learn how to give ourselves that permission. However, the further we can break down the limitations created by artificial patient-practitioner roles, the more vulnerability will be possible between both participants, and the greater the chances for a true healing experience.
Next time: The Intervention Fallacy: Part III, Breaking the Cycle