Mind Body Healing:
We all aspire to experience 'wellness' in our life. But what does that mean? Holistic philosophies would say that our mind, body and spirit are inextricably connected and affecting each other on levels that may not be in our conscious awareness. Just as health is not simply the absence of disease, healing also implies that there is a journey involved that has the intention of integrating all of these components of mind, body and spirit to achieve balance, wholeness and overall wellness.
I have been acutely aware of the fragmented approach that traditional medicine and various health disciplines can take in 'treating the patient'. We have assumed that a physical symptom is always just a result of something going on in the physical body. But what about when that symptom has no physical reason for being there or all forms of physical treatment are not alleviating that symptom - what then? At that point, we may find ourselves seeking out more holistic and integrative approaches to care that involve the exploration of what else is going on in the totality of the patient's life. For example, have they experienced trauma or loss and how might this be manifesting in their body as a symptom? Or, are they stressed financially or worried about job security? What about if they have difficult or toxic relationships in their life? What if they are overwhelmed and spread so thin with daily responsibilities that they have for years neglected basic self care reflected in a poor diet, inactivity and poor sleep? What if they have had years of unabated stress? What if things from this person's past continues to trouble them or play out in their present life experiences?
We cannot therefore assume that a physical symptom only has a physical cause. Similarly, an emotional symptom, like depression, or anxiety can show up in the physical body. For example, someone with depression may be experiencing generalized body pain. Ongoing stress may manifest in the form of headaches, and anxiety may result in sleep disturbances. Perhaps the person describes challenges with self esteem, confidence and assertiveness, and this manifests physically in the form of ongoing laryngitis or difficulty swallowing. Regardless of the primary origin for distress, there is an unavoidable link that needs to be addressed.
When a person has had a challenging health condition for a significant period of time, or it is recent and they are not sure how to manage the symptoms or accompanying changes/losses to the 'self' prior to diagnoses, for some patients, this creates a spiritual crisis. Thoughts regarding "Why me...what did I do to deserve this...I feel totally abandoned..." can impact the emotional experience of the person with the condition, which in turn will serve to create more stress, all of which can aggravate the physical condition itself. For some people, the loss of faith is not only in their spiritual beliefs, but people can also feel a loss of faith and trust in themselves. This more existential feeling is when the person believes that their body has betrayed them, that they are powerless, and this loss of hope interferes with healing at all levels.
Just as our mind, body and spirit is not separate within our own being, any form of treatment that is aiming to facilitate health of the body, cannot ignore the mind nor the spirit. A true approach to healing respects all three dimensions and our own being calls us to do so in sometimes very obvious, and other times subtle ways. We are most aware in our culture of the tangible physical body, but Eastern traditions dating back over 5000 years, know of something called our subtle body, the part of us that has seven energy centers all linked to our organs, emotions and how we experience life.
My belief is that we need a shift in our medical paridigm - one where we are not only focused on symptoms and disease, but where we look for root causes and emphasize prevention. As psychologist, I understand the interplay of these philosophies and guide people on how to integrate their healing in a way that empowers them and offers hope.