Yesterday, my sister sent me a message from Singapore to tell me she went to a TCM doctor to sought help after experiencing some pain from her neck that was radiating down her right arm and hand. The therapist proceeded with lots of needling, tissue manipulation and left more than a dozen of cupping marks on her body. She also told my sister that she now has a myriad of physical issues that isn’t going to get better, in addition to emotional baggage and energy blockage she’s carrying. The treatment consequently caused more pain in the aftermath, as my sister’s condition is exacerbated by the invasive techniques and her nervous system went into overdrive, creating more inflammation.
Allopathic (so called Western) medicine and complementary therapies has had a long-standing strife in regards to a symptomatic vs holistic approach. With the rising popularity of alternative therapies, more people are seeking treatments away from the allopathic healthcare system. But even though alternative and Eastern traditional medicine are supposed to address the whole person rather than just the symptoms, I think it is also imperative that we (collectively as complementary therapists) reframe how we can move towards a more human-centric, constructive, and empowering approach in our duty of care.
Though often well-intentioned, the No Pain, No Gain and Fear-Based treatment philosophy is counter intuitive and counter productive. We need to let go of the negative narrative that is often isolating, disempowering, re-traumatising and fear breeding. I’ve so often heard from clients that they’ve been told by their therapist that their pain or condition is due to a much bigger, scarier issue of their own doing - be it lifestyle, diet, emotions etc. Some are even told that their energy or anger or grief is stuck in this chakra or that plexus, and which if not dealt with via external intervention, will culminate in devastating consequences.
And for some this is when sales pitch is cued - a 5-step program or 6-month Transform your Life package, and all the bad stuff will miraculously dissipate.
This person then spirals into a state of self-blame and self-doubt, and becoming ever more resentful, and untrusting of their own body. They might feel that they have no other option but enter into a relationship of co-dependency with their “therapist”, or they shut down, disassociate or numb themselves further to avert the pain.
For those of us working in complementary healthcare - PLEASE STOP THE FEAR MONGERING, even if you think that it is all in the name of service.
We need to stop self-aggrandising as the healer or the fixer, and start to see our very own humanity in the treatment room or the massage table.
We need to stop assuming that we know better than our client, prodding into their pain physically or psychologically to promote a “cathartic release” can be re-traumatising. Being presumptuous and soliciting / fabricating storylines to their experiences are most of the time NOT WITHIN OUR SCOPE OF PRACTICE.
We need to step into the supportive role - to hold space and not to overwhelm, to use our knowledge and intuition and skills to create the conditions / environment for the client’s nervous system to regulate and biological systems to re-integrate.
We can help to lay down the groundwork for the person to find a symbiotic relationship with their body through safety, connection and trust.
We can serve as guides for our clients uncover the strength and intelligence of their body to cultivate resilience, balance, and homeostasis.
We need to let go of our persisting ego to fix and get out of the way for the person to take ownership of their healing process for it to be sustainable.
So how about this. The next time you treat someone who has a back issue or dealing with pain or is always stressed and anxious. Instead of creating storylines of their trauma, try to offer something constructive - like “if you sit too long at a desk, how about setting a 20 mins timer to walk around so you’re not slouched over all the time?"
OR “When you feel overwhelmed, notice if you’re clenching your jaw or anywhere else in the body? And if you are, can you consciously unclench? Notice what happens.” etc etc.
There is so much more we can do if we also do our own shadow work and look within, into our own human conditions, our own fears and tribulations. As therapists we might have the tools to heal, but in order to do that we need to step off that pedestal of power differential, and hand the agency back to our clients / patients so we can enter into a effective, ethical, compassionate, heart-based therapeutic relationship.
Registered Yoga Therapist, Somatic Movement Educator, Bodyworker, Yoga Teacher Trainer