Theory and Practice

Healing Language

Many patients who are feeling ill want to know “what is wrong with me?” And Western medicine practitioners often aim to deliver a diagnosis not only to aid the patient but also to determine a course of treatment.

The problem is that this naming can box the patient into the framework of a particular disease. The body is seen as broken.

It seems to me that healing in this scenario gets limited. The possibility of change from within gets halted. Naturally, the patient begins to identify with a sick version of themselves and acts accordingly, not only in the treatment protocols they choose to receive but also in how they see their own state of wellbeing. This is a matter of language and ideas creating behavior, and creating reality.

Language and ideas of self can work in the opposite way as well, and I find Chinese medicine a conceptual framework that is genuinely empowering of health.

In his book, Acupuncture Imaging, educator and acupuncturist Mark Seem describes the way he teaches his patients to see themselves in a different way, to initiate them into the healing process.

I love the language that Seem uses to help patients reframe their condition or situation. The patient is also led to see that body and mind are deeply interrelated.

He offers this as a question for patients:

“Are you willing to look at this problem of yours, which your medical doctor has diagnosed in medical or psychological terms, in the functional, dynamic, and energetic terms of traditional acupuncture and Oriental medicine, where body and mind are subsumed under the broader category of bodymind energetics? In place of the ‘either it is physical or it is psychological,’ are you willing to view it as energetic, dynamic, functional, where physical, mental, and even spiritual signs and symptoms can occur together at the same time?”

I myself often tell people to put aside, for a moment, any diagnosis, prognosis or course of treatment and imagine themselves as I see them, through the lens of Chinese medicine. From this angle, I do not see a sick person destined to take ever more medication as their life progresses and side effects accumulate. I see an imbalance, or a set of trigger points, or a body out of tune, often due to lifestyle factors or life challenges, which can be shifted gently.

No system of medicine can fix everybody, and there is of course a time for medication and surgery. But there is an enormous swath of the population whose illnesses can be very effectively treated with acupuncture and herbs. My hope is that more people can see that health and disease are not fixed, physical states but moments in time that can be shifted through a new perspective. This is healing through language and ideas.

Seem continues on a similar theme, as he discusses the role of a patient’s felt awareness of their own bodily dynamics and energetics:

“This is a dynamic, functional context that empowers a person by providing him with an energetic story – a primal energetic myth, as it were – that holds out great promise for transformation, growth, and healing, provided the client wants it and is willing to participate actively rather than be passively treated. A knowledge of one’s bodymind energetics, I believe, enables a person to have control of the Self and is in the service of the freedom to change.”