In January of 2009 I completed a project on 'Healing' in order to receive a Certificate in Process Work from the Process Work Institute in Portland Oregon.
Part of this project entailed interviewing a diverse group of health care practitioners and clients on their beliefs and assumptions about healing. This has been a fascinating and fun process and I hope to expand the project into a book and articles eventually. If you are interested in reading the paper or interviews please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and i will email you a copy.
Here is an article derived from the paper:
What is “Healing”?
“Healing”, like “love”, “peace”, or “happiness”, is a word we often use that means different things to different people. It is one of those words many of us use without having defined for ourselves what exactly we mean when we use it.
As someone working in a “healing” profession I spent time this past year interviewing people about their definitions and experiences of healing, as well as synthesizing and articulating my own beliefs.
I am sharing some of my findings in this article because I believe that as practitioners our work is enhanced if we are aware of our goals, assumptions and beliefs about what we are doing. And as clients or patients we can better choose our caregivers and participate in our sessions more productively if we are aware of our beliefs and values regarding healing.
As a practitioner with training in numerous modalities including many massage and bodywork techniques, Process Work (a body centered, earth-based approach to working with disturbances of any kind), and Sufi based healing, I can use any of these approaches “purely” or in combination with others, as well as using whatever new approaches arise in the moment. But no matter which approach I take, there is no guarantee that the client’s pain will diminish or vanish, and no guarantee of what will happen during or after the session. This is what I both love and bemoan about my work. I love the variety, unpredictability and mystery of what happens in sessions with people, but the part of me that wants understanding and control feels discouraged at times because I cannot guarantee any outcome for my clients.
It is because I cannot guarantee that I can make a person’s symptoms go away that I choose to view “healing” as something other than “curing”. If healing were only about eradicating symptoms I would not feel ethical about charging money for what I do because even though symptoms often do disappear or decrease, sometimes they do not, or at least not as fully or quickly as the client hopes.
Fortunately, in the process of conducting interviews about healing I discovered that many practitioners and clients share my view that healing is about something more than “curing”. Almost unanimously people I interviewed said that while healing might include physical curing, it is primarily about feeling “better” at a deeper level. For some it is about feeling seen, heard, affirmed or empowered; for others it is about feeling more aware and appreciative of being alive in the moment, while for others it is about feeling more connection to their deepest selves and the world.
Of course most people want to hurt less, move more freely, and have more opportunity to do the things they love in life, so curing or reducing symptoms is a common hope and goal. And for some people this is all that matters to them in the moment. But for many people, coming to me for massage or bodywork is about feeling “better” in some way more than just physical curing, which suggests that it is not only my massage skills and experience which people are drawn to, but also some ineffable qualities that are present or activated in myself and in the client when we come together in a session. The healing session is a co-creative venture between the practitioner, the client, and “something beyond us”, whether we call it God, Intelligence, fate or the Tao.
While I am happy when people leave a session feeling relieved of their symptoms, I must admit that I experience the greatest joy in those moments when my clients connect with deep feelings of ease, meaning, or affirmation of who they are, or feel increased pleasure in being alive in the moment. Process Work founder and therapist, Arny Mindell, once said that each therapist and client should define their own meanings, and I realize this is much of what I do with clients. I directly or indirectly orient people to their experience, helping them discover their own meanings and inner knowing. Finding meaning in a dream, a symptom, or a circumstance often makes life feel not only richer but also easier. I agree with those like Sufi Ibn al Arabi who believe meaning is present everywhere as he says, “even worms in their movement are rushing with a message to those who understand it” (Inayati 16).
Definitions of “healing?”
To help stimulate and broaden my thinking I conducted over twenty interviews with people on the subject of healing. Before doing my first interview I came up with my own rough and partial definition: “Healing describes those times when our suffering from symptoms or disruptions decreases due either to a lessening or resolution of the symptom or problem, or due to a shift in one’s attitude or outlook.”
At the end of my project I settled (for now) on this admittedly somewhat circular definition: “Healing is whatever an individual experiences that satisfies her own definition of healing in the moment, and typically entails a reduction in some type of suffering whether physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.”
I invite you to consider how you define and experience healing. If you are a body worker, therapist or health care provider, reflecting on the questions and definitions below may serve to clarify your purpose, values, and beliefs and ultimately may inspire you be of greater service to your clients. If you identify as being a client or patient, reflecting on these questions may help you better select the caregivers you work with, and may help you get more from your sessions. And whether you are a client or practitioner I invite you to TALK about your goals and beliefs with your clients and caregivers because knowing what you both want and seek from your times together is bound to make your sessions more satisfying for both of you.
Interviewees’ Definitions of “Healing”:
I interviewed Process Work practitioners, Sufis, “other” health care practitioners, and people who do not work in the health care field who identify as being clients or consumers of health care. I began each interview with the question, “how do you define and experience healing?” What follows are some of the answers I received.
Healing means getting whole. Balance. When pain or problems arise these become visible, but with health the body is transparent. Being healthy feels congruent- parts are in harmony. It entails being in the moment, enjoying what I do.
I don’t use the word because I don’t consider people to be sick. But people say they are. In consensus reality when people have body symptoms they feel something is “wrong”. So if something hurts I will address the consensus reality symptoms. In consensus reality healing is when the person can say “I don’t like what is happening but am learning to get along with it”
Looking up the ancient definition, I want to emphasize the old meaning of healing, which refers to the word, 'whole.' This implies something is missing and needs to be brought back into relationship with the entire person or Greater Self. From a Process Work point of view, disturbances in the body or life contain information that can be used to create a greater picture of the whole person. I think what is usually missing has to do with a missing attitude. This finding and integrating the missing attitude, becomes part of the healing process. Healing is mysterious even when we follow the process very closely.
Healing is a process (verb) although it can also be a noun. Healing is increased happiness. I equate it with experiencing more happiness at some level whether it comes through awareness, regression into younger parts, releasing pain, or whatever leads to greater happiness.
Healing can be viewed as a process on 3 levels. At the consensus reality level healing is about cells regenerating and repairing. Every cell CAN be regenerated, and at this level there is the question of why sometimes this occurs and sometimes it does not.
At the non-consensus reality/dreaming level healing can involve faith, laying on of hands, using placebos, or spiritual healing to improve health or cure diseases.
At the Essence/sentient level healing includes quantum effects, vibrational medicine, etc which work with fields of energy that make up our bodies. When there is imbalance in these fields there tend to be problems and illness.
Arny Mindell’s idea of “rainbow medicine” which includes all the levels and types of healing really appeals to me. In this approach we can use allopathic, and/or alternative treatments as well as anything else to achieve healing.
People are on a path or journey. Whatever assists them on this is healing. Healing is an assistant. Sometimes it entails relieving pain, and sometimes not. The healing force can bring people back onto their path.
I do not consider the allopathic medical field to be a “healing profession”. I am a technical specialist, a technician (cardiac anesthesiologist). Healing is something that other people do.
Healing may look very different from person to person. What is healing is whatever permits a person to be close to the life experience that has meaning for them. This may not be the same thing as a client reaching their goals. Often patients don’t know what they want, but my view is that whatever helps a person to enjoy herself, others and the environment is healing.
For example, pushing a wheelchair bound person out into a garden to see plants blooming that s/he once tended and now finds delight in seeing may be a better example of something that is healing than a person who has surgery and recoveries and is able to go home but is tethered to devices and drugs and not supported in finding enjoyment.
Healing is a process of facing your issues (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) and allowing one’s self to open up to a new way of experiencing life. The process manifests in many ways, and true healing happens on various plains- not just physical.
“Healing” is taking one’s self from one place to another. In my case, it is about trying to get healthy. Healing comes from many sources but ultimately it comes from within.
Healing is that which allows people to continue to move forward in their lives, and allows them to integrate or negotiate those pieces which are present as difficulties, symptoms, illnesses, or “unabledness” to proceed, in some way, and/or to experience life with a certain ease or satisfaction.
Healing entails finding wholeness, which can mean symptoms get better sometimes but not necessarily in consensus reality terms. Wholeness means being in touch with who you are- all the parts, an interconnected gestalt, system, being.
The body’s, psyche’s and soul’s ability to repair and change and move toward health. Health feels like good energy (absence of fatigue), life energy. Pain resolves or changes, or at least my being accommodates. This energy embraces the pain even if it doesn’t go away rather than fighting against it.
Healing involves at least a couple levels-1) a common definition that people project on “healers” is for you to “get rid of” something whether it be a physical symptom or psychological issue (I do not see these as separate)- they want the healer to be a “fixer” and expect you to have abilities to reduce pain, anxiety, fears, etc. It is a mechanical level or elementary level of what is happening.
A second definition relates to the word’s origins meaning “wholeness” and refers to what Jesus the healer and the laying on of hands point to. This definition incorporates the 1st level, and people are impressed when their physical situation improves and this gives credence to the person who performed the act.