There is a huge industry developing globally that consists of “spiritual energy healing”, “healing core issues”, “enlightenment” and similar therapies. It looks a lot like amateur psychology to me. More and more “healers” are taking workshops and looking for emotional causes that “cause” physical illness and “core issues” that cause suffering and stress in their clients. These healers claim that healing these emotional or psychological wounds will heal the physical body. There is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence that supports these claims, but very little clinical data to prove it.
First of all, it is clear that the mind plays an important role in physical health. Depression is basically a mental issue, although physical illness can contribute to the downward spiral of negative thinking that leads to physical ailments that leads to negative thinking and on and on. Interestingly enough, hypnosis has proven that patients who can be lead into a mental trance can have surgery without any physical pain. Hypnosis has also shown to be an effective cure for conditions caused by emotional and mental pain such as post-traumatic stress disorder. There is much clinical evidence that connects the way the mind works to physical well-being.
What is not so clear is how emotions (or emotional trauma) and physical illness are connected. There are many “spiritual energy healing” modalities that primarily involve discussing the emotional causes of illness. I wrote an article for Pain Pathways Magazine years ago that explored the nature of “energy healing” as a collaboration between the healer, the client and the divine. What I was actually describing was the “placebo effect”. The placebo effect is a well-documented circumstance in medical research where sugar pills are given to one group and test drugs are given to the second. If patients that took the sugar pills got better, this was attributed to the mind’s belief that they were getting the trial medication and healed the patient regardless of what they were taking.
Many “new age/spiritual energy healers” attribute physical issues to emotional issues. In other words, if you had pain on the right side of your body, it was attributed to some kind of emotional issue with masculinity. If the pain is on the left side, it is attributed to feminine issues. This could be attributed to father or mother issues. Shoulder issues had to do with regret. Lower back pain was attributed to feelings of rejection or lack of support from your parents, particularly the father. The thought is that if you can identify the emotional issue you can heal the physical issue. By taking a client through their past traumas, it is believed that physical ailments will go into spontaneous remission.
To be completely transparent, I have been a “new age/spiritual energy healer” for eleven years. I have an amazing track record of people healing after a session with me. However, I strongly doubt that I have anything to do with the healing; I was only setting the client up for a placebo effect healing. For example, I was called to a hospital in Hong Kong for a session with a person who had fourth stage brain cancer. The doctors were clear that she did not have many days to live. She was a student of new age spirituality and had affirmations plastered all over her hospital room walls complete with vision boards. All I said to her is “you have permission to heal yourself”, and left. I got a call two hours later from the client who told me she had just had an MRI and all of the tumors had disappeared. I didn’t charge her anything.
What I suspect is happening with this “new age/spiritual” psychology is that we have made the placebo effect a billion dollar industry. More and more people are getting into pseudo-psychology by becoming life coaches, career counselors, self-improvement gurus and energy healers. People pay thousands of dollars to basically learn psychological techniques to identify the purported traumatic causes of physical, emotional, or mental discomfort. They are given charts and questionnaires that they use in determining the “root cause” of disease and then use some sort of technique to tidy that up. Whether it is a shamanic, dramatic, mystical or ancient modality, it is clear that it is intended to tap into the power of our minds to heal the client. In other words, we have spent thousands of dollars to learn a placebo technique. Conversely, we have disempowered ourselves by paying “healers” to do some sort of technique or counseling that we believe will heal us. I believe it would be much more helpful to believe we can heal ourselves and then do it.
Many of us are not taught in our formative years this profound aspect of life, i.e. that our perception creates our reality. Instead of learning how to use our minds to create the life we want, we are taught survival techniques on how to read and write, multiply and divide, and compete. We are taught that life is hard and we are victims subject to forces beyond our control. As more and more people understand that this in not true, more and more people are going into business for themselves and learning how to be happy no matter what happens in their life. The goal of all psychology is to learn how to navigate the “land minds” of life and be happy and productive.
The one problem that many of these new age psychologists face is determining that their client has severe mental problems that have to be addressed by qualified medical professionals. These “healers” are not trained to recognize sociopaths, psychopaths, borderline personality disorder or any other mental or emotional diseases that are best left to medical professionals. Sometimes people are not ready to go deep into their subconscious minds and their psyches can be bruised or even fractured by some of these new amateur psychologists. Websites don’t disclose the clients that went into deep depression or psychotic breaks; they only have testimonials from the happy recipients of the placebo effect. Healers are not trained to understand the difference. After all, if I have appendicitis, I am going to a surgeon, not an energy healer. I am not sure that “energy healers” are trained to recognize medical problems that require surgery and instead delve into the emotional issues that may be causing the medical crisis. After all, if there is no blood, how is one to tell?
We all must recognize that there are some issues that should be left to medical professionals. Forgiving my parents won’t heal my appendicitis, but I may feel better about it when it ruptures. We need to recognize what we are doing in this new wave of alternative healing, and that is being an amateur psychologist. Experience is critical in these treatment modalities, experience in what people are experiencing. If someone has never been divorced or never lost a spouse, it is rarely effective to go to them to be healed of grief. Only someone that has experienced what the client is going through has the wisdom that can help that person. Otherwise you are simply regurgitating information.
When I was a little boy, my dream was to be a wizard like Merlin in the King Arthur legends. I wanted to be able to wave my magic wand over people and everything would be well. I also wanted to escape the traumas of my dysfunctional childhood and make everyone happy. The irony is sometimes it takes a traumatic childhood to manifest our magical selves. We are all wizards, and many of us believe in magic. If there is magic, it is to convince ourselves that we are the source of healing ourselves if we would just give ourselves permission.