Article: Science and the Many Paths to Healing

I love good science. I particularly love science when it gives me language and a good theoretical framework to support understanding of observable phenomena–and offers new paths to understanding. I’m so pleased I live in an age where brain/mind science and nervous system functioning are being so thoughtfully studied. It’s starting to provide some empirical evidence for stuff that, in other decades, might have seemed witchy or intuitive or wacky. Science tends to take a while to catch up to certain kinds of pre-existing wisdom, and then takes the credit for inventing concepts that  were known within wisdoms outside of mainstream medicine/science. One quick example off the top of my head–Cognitive Behavior Therapy is just a fancy name for certain kinds of ancient Greek philosophy and Buddhist mindfulness practices.

All this to say that I’m increasingly trusting the heart, the soul and the body, as well as each person’s creativity, to assist in the mind’s healing process. And also, that while we like to call it psychotherapy and talk about the mind and the unconscious, maybe the mind and the unconscious are fancy constructs (or other types of symbolic language) for heart, soul and body striving together towards unity and self understanding.

Or as my partner would put it, based on a recent Radiolab, if we knew enough about individual biology, we would be able to anticipate 100% of what a person would do (and there is no free will). I see free will working daily in therapy: I think the process of making changes away from your baseline–which is the whole project of psychotherapy–is free will at work. In sciency words: the system trying to re-regulate.

I actually think the biology argument is a silly way of thinking because 1) it’s a tautology–of course everything is a biochemical process at a certain level and yes, the right number of identifiable variables would yield predictive modeling of all human behavior (thank you Asimov for calling that one ahead of time). 2) That’s just one language for describing phenomena. The same way that I prefer to think and speak of traumatized nervous systems that are highly reactive instead of labeling language like a possible diagnosis of “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Both describe similar observable behavioral and physical activation phenomena. However, I much prefer the nervous system science version because it starts to de-stigmatize the experience of those that struggle with their lived experience.

I know I’ve wandered a bit off the map, but I wanted to share what has been on my mind.  Here’s my point, or points.

There’s very strong evidence of a powerful placebo effect for therapies people believe in–regardless of the therapy–with patients being able to assess a reportable decrease in physical symptoms (with more complicated questions about the biochemical basis of these reported experiences of healing. Here’s a fun article about a researcher on placebos at Harvard). This means that for some people a Chakra healer, or a crystal energy healer, or a tribal healer will transform their lives.

This belief in a healing system also helps predict whether psychotherapy will be of assistance to our clients. On a certain level psychotherapists are asking clients, “do you want to believe that I can help you?” The answer should be “yes” and that will help shape what psychologists call “the therapeutic alliance” according to the American Psychological Association‘s Education Directorate (fun name, right?).

If you think Chakra work is going to be integral to your healing process, you better work with a therapist that agrees with you. <<[Also, here’s a book that you would like.] Also, I am a therapist that agrees with you.

I’m writing this in support of those who wish to find healing in other domains, or in addition to the experience of psychotherapy.  Humans are complex, and the healing experiences we will need to move beyond or integrate damaging life experiences will vary as our own understanding of how we function expands or alters. In my case, my belief system was challenged in a wonderful way by deep healing through craniosacral therapy and I wrote about it here. (Here’s an article about the benefits of the therapy while you receive the therapy.)

I’m becoming a nervous system/brain structure nerd.

Other fun texts:

  • Think religion should be in the mix? Here’s a fun article about “spiritual intelligence” helping Iranian teens deal with depression and anxiety.
  • Reiki? (Article from PsychCentral)