“Poof! All Better!”: The Allure of the Panacea

Image source: Wikipedia
Image source: Wikipedia

“Once Henry discovered that the autoimmune disease was a manifestation of his own self-criticism, his symptoms slowly began to subside.”

“I told the couple to stop spending so much time together. They were then able to rekindle their desire and found that their sex life improved dramatically.”

I read a lot of books. Many of these books are on alternative healing and often contain the running theme of cunning practitioners who bore into the core of the case, bring it to the client’s willing attention and <poof!> solve a long-standing with the snap of two fingers on their healing hands.

No wonder I felt disillusioned with some of the results I was getting during my time in clinic. Over the 12 months of my 4th year clinical internship, I helped a lot of people; we all did. However, throughout my time as a CCNM intern, I never had a “Poof! All better!” case. I began to think that there was something wrong with my skills.

I had patients reach pivotal moments on the road to healing. It was quite clear, however, that these monumental realizations came to these patients through their own hard work. It’s possible that they wouldn’t have done it without my help, or the context of the clinic environment to spur them on the right path, but it’s hard for me to take credit for someone else’s efforts. Moreover, a moment of dawning in the healing realm is usually just the first sign of the fog clearing, better-illuminating the long, treacherous road to healing that lies before my patient. At that point, the journey was usually just beginning; we had much work ahead of us.

“Poof! All Better!” stories sell books, especially books on healing. These books are often intended for lay people, describing these simple, matter-of-fact miracle cures. The allure of the panacea is a powerful marketing tool. Dr. Oz stands before his audience with a bottle of red raspberry ketones, grins seductively in his size 32″ pants and tells us that he holds the solution to the obesity epidemic. Louise Hay tells us that if we recite a few affirmations before bed, we can reverse our hypothyroidism. They make it look so easy. We hang on their every word.

There is something dis-empowering about this: find that special pill, person or yoga mudra, and the tangled knot that represents your issues will unravel, your chakras will align and your life will resemble a yoga studio poster. Whenever someone in a position of power, through prestige or education, gives you the illusion of possessing the key to your well-being, you surrender your power and ability to do your own self-healing. The truth is that real healing takes work. The good news is, it’s work that we’re all capable of doing.

I’ve started approaching patients with a degree of curiosity and turning the focus of the conversation to their actions rather than my answers. “I wonder if there is anything else that you could eat for lunch besides chicken wings?” “Wow! What made you decide to dance with your children every night after dinner as a way to get exercise?” By asking questions rather than making demands, I help put the power back in my patients’ hands. It is also important to give ceremony to the often overlooked, unceremonious things we do for ourselves on a daily basis. Giving ourselves credit for little steps we take along our health journey motivates us to walk a little further. The risk, however, is that patients will figure out that they had the power to do these things on their own and that they won’t need me; the secret to healing lies in their own hands. It always has.

We all need guides, however. And that’s all my job is. While my naturopathic medical school was a lot like Hogwarts, we learned that the magic is not in the waving of a wand, but in embodying the courage and self-love needed to heal.

“And with the help of her naturopathic doctor, Georgette began cooking most of her own meals and taking an afternoon off a week to spend with herself. She now journals when she gets into her dark space and it helps dissipate the heaviness. She lost some weight but, most of all, stopped  buying women’s fashion magazines, which helps lessen the need to compare herself to others. She took up dancing with her husband. She still has bad days. She is beginning to learn what health means to her. She is starting to embrace change. It hasn’t been easy.”

I wonder if anyone would buy that book?

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