Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at Saybrook Institute in San Francisco, senior editor of Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, and the author of Imagery in Healing and Rituals of Healing.
I can't answer the question 'Do healers really heal' directly because it depends, first of all, on how the word healer is being defined, and what it is healers are healing people of or from. My personal definition is that healers are those who have chosen a vocation of helping others recover from 'disease' in some capacity. And I believe disease is a rupture in life's harmony -- whether it be in matters typically identified as physical, mental, or spiritual. Other than that, healers, healing, and what is classified as disease have so much cultural variation that there simply cannot be an easy, unqualified answer to your questions. We must remember that there is no universal manifestation, diagnosis, or treatment of any disease -- particularly those that involve the deepest, most difficult matters of the soul.
However, I do not believe, under any circumstances, that healers (however they are defined) can induce cliff-hanging, long-lasting, important cures. People heal themselves. Healers can only gently facilitate the process with their wisdom, therapy, and presence. Now, with that said, individuals who are sanctioned within their cultures as healers are able to help others (with a higher degree of regularity than nonhealers) with the diseases that are peculiar (or at least idiosyncratically labeled) within the cultural milieu. Otherwise, they are not trusted by the community, their ways of healing die out, and the paradigm shifts. Human beings are empiricists who may be occasionally misguided in their choices of healers and healing practices, but not for long. With rare exceptions, it seems that healers of a particular ilk may only be able to help others who share a common belief system and worldview.
I have no 'hard' data to support my opinion -- only anthropological lore and my years of research and clinical observation. But true, remarkable healing seems to be a function of restoring or reweaving the torn fabric of life in some way. The healee is brought back into a resonant harmony with the community, the planet, and his or her relationships in the broadest fashion imaginable. Rituals appropriate to the situation -- pills, potions, chants, surgery, or whatever -- seem to be only the visible, technical, and highly variant aspects of healing. The vital factors in the healing process, however, transcend all of these and include intention, motivation, trust, and something as ineffable as passion for living. When suffering and tragedy are transformed and colored with meaning and purpose, healing has surely occurred, by whatever means and under whatever circumstances.
Healers catalyze healing. There is no enduring healing without some kind of internal change in the diseased person. The body heals itself, activated by its own 'internal doctor' -- a combination of belief, peace of mind, and biochemical reactions aligned with a conscious projection of health.
Healing is a resonance; a gestalt; a collaborative art. Healers, whether they are doctors or shamans, are able to heal (as opposed to merely cure) through a deep mutuality with their patients -- through the potent magic of fellow feeling. Their hallmark is an ability to reawaken within the sufferer the life force that sustains us all, that 'through the green fuse drives the flower.' Through gesture and word, ritual and (where applicable) pharmaceutical, they make direct appeal to the innate healing system -- that still unexplored metasystem that mobilizes immune, endocrine, circulatory, nervous, and other systems (and perhaps even subtle 'energies') to restore the blueprint of wholeness.
Healers assist us to heal ourselves by enhancing our natural healing processes, as do all other health care professionals. Since our life energy fields are the foundation, or blueprint, for our physical bodies and are a deeper expression of who we are, bringing them back into a balanced health pattern will return us to health. Healers do this by charging, clearing, restructuring, and rebalancing our energy fields. A major key here is that our life energy and our consciousness are not separable -- so healing work includes healing all aspects of our consciousness.Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, editor, and co-author of countless books and articles on biomedical ethics.
Sadly, there is too little attention paid to healing in medicine. The healers of medicine are its physicians. And they almost always seek to cure. While healing is something that is, at its core, a biological process, it involves much more than biology. Good healers try to create environments -- molecular, chemical, psychological, emotional, cognitive -- that do more than facilitate success in the battle against disease. Healing requires the accommodation of a person to disease and disability.
Yep, healers heal, but not the way we commonly think. To really understand healing is to enter another universe. Do something daring.
Well, healers do something, and healing is probably as good a word as any to describe it. Healing occurs in at least three ways: (1) The healer directly alters the energy field of another by a direct infusion of his or her own energy. (2) Through skillful physical or energetic intervention, the healer triggers a natural energetic and physiological self-healing response in the other. (3) The interaction with the healer evokes an individual's belief in the possibility of healing, triggering emotional healing or physical healing through the mind-body connection.
Healers are expert guides to help the body's native intelligence -- call it 'Nature' or 'God,' as you like -- heal itself. The master healer is one who skillfully works with the body's natural inclination to be healthy, supporting it with medicines and techniques all the way. The miracle of healing happens when once the doctor removes everything in your body that's keeping you unwell -- be it toxins, chemical pollutants, stress, parasites, heavy metals, constipation -- your natural flow of energy and vitality is free to give you your birthright of feeling 100 percent your best.
Our experience convinces us that there are healing phenomena facilitated by one person or persons for another. Self-healing is also possible. The phenomena can be facilitated either in the presence of a healer or, equally well, from a distance of unlimited miles. The processes can be taught and have been researched by LeShan, Krippner, and others.
We believe that as yet no one fully understands the interface between what a healer may do and the improvement of the healee or patient. Words like energy do not explain the processes that occur, nor do they pass scientific muster at this time. Clearly, something can happen to enhance the self-healing abilities of a healee when a healer is involved. We suspect that research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology and other disciplines addressing the mind/body/spirit interfaces in depth may provide some answers to this question in the future.
I believe that healers do have the capacity to heal. Part of this is because they are able to identify with archetypes, and archetypes have the capacity to bring larger patterns of possibility, evolutionary cadences, and a wider spectrum of reality into conscious knowledge and experience, felt often as an influx of creative potency and sometimes even as paranormal experience. Rapid healing, for example, can be the result of the healer dissolving his or her local self and being filled with an archetypal or sacred image (not I but Christ through me doeth the work). By bridging oneself between here and the Greater There, one enters into archetypal dimensions that may contain the blueprints of greater possibility, the primal stuff for social and creative change. Archetypal space-time may also contain the optimal template of a person's health and well-being. The job of the healer is to call that template back into consciousness so that it can work upon a malfunctioning body or mind, tuning here, correcting there.