By: Mary L. Collins
Healing is not always limited to what we might think it is or what we may have experienced. Within indigenous cultures, I have learned that much of healing evolves from spiritual practices, from symbols and rituals. While Western medicine is adept at the biology of illness, Western practitioners often stumble over the psycho-social benefits of healing that cannot always be measured in the ways we are accustomed. There is much more to healing than meets the eye. Here are a few questions that may help each of us get to the heart of it.
How do we measure elements of healing that matter most to us as individuals?
In what way do we, or others, evaluate our healing journey and progress?
What practices help us to create or restore wellness in ourselves and others?
How do we prepare, accept, and administer healing practices that go beyond surgical technique or pharmaceutical intervention?
I believe each of these questions can be answered by expanding our definition of healing. Or, if we, at least, remain open to the possibility, can we accept that there is more available to us than meets the eye? Here’s how.
Most everyone can relate to healing that comes from faith. Many people rely on their religious practices in times of joy, stress, or trauma. These worthy beliefs are founded in the practice of:
- Compassion, As the recipient, “I now understand what it means to hurt or to be discouraged by a diagnosis.” Or, from the caregiver, “I want to know you as a person first; a patient second”
- Gratitude, “What has my illness taught me and others?” and, “Thank you for allowing me (your physician, nurse, care attendant, hospice volunteer) to care for you. I have learned from the experience in ways that will help me help myself and others.”
- Humility, “I am humbled by this disease; yet, as your physician/caregiver/loved one, I will do all that is within my power to restore you to health and wellness.”
How do we then weave these three aptitudes into our understanding and practice of health, wellness and healing?
Recently, I had conversations with seven care providers who work in different capacities within the Lamoille community; one is a hospice nurse with Lamoille Home Health & Hospice; another, a young Physical Therapy graduate student completing her clinical studies at Copley Hospital; the third is a service provider and client who works within the field of Traumatic Brain Injury services; the fourth, the Executive Director of a regional Recovery Center; the fifth, a Licensed Social Worker; the sixth a Reiki master; and lastly, a friend who recently completed a series of Writing Workshops where she learned a method of storytelling and coaching that has shown compelling results for people who have suffered some form of trauma. All seven women spoke of the unseen and often undocumented care provided through their work and interaction with patients, families, clients, and caregivers.
At The Manor, in Morrisville, Elena Robertson, a Life Enrichment provider and a Master Reiki practitioner, shares the Japanese practice with residents. This form of healing touch has been woven into care plans for residents as a natural alternative to relieving pain, anxiety, and other stressors. Staff and family who had never heard of the practice now sit up and take notice. A good example is the experience of one elderly woman who regularly receives reiki treatments as part of her ongoing care. As the woman relaxes in her wheelchair, her head gently bowed, eyes closed, Robertson places both hands just above the crown of the woman’s head. A slight smile grows on the elder’s face. She looks contented and comfortable. With slight, precise movements, Robinson focuses intently on the elderly woman as she concentrates on the movements that provide comfort, relaxation, and a sense of wellness. The senior says simply, “It makes me feel better.” She doesn’t quite know why but recognizes and welcomes the healing touch.
From Dawn Lefevre, a skilled and respected Hospice nurse with LHH&H, I learned that healing is a process of giving and receiving. From the deathbed of a patient, Dawn was able to provide clinical care to someone who was eased out of this world surrounded by their beloved dogs – all of which were snuggled close to their master on her bed as she breathed her last breath. The moment was peaceful, loving, and there was serenity in the room. All of it came from accepting and allowing that the best way onward was to know that to be embraced by the animals that were so beloved and connected to their person was the medicine she needed. Healing comes from love expressed.
From Paige Driver, a Physical Therapy graduate student enrolled at South College in Knoxville, TN, and currently completing her clinical studies at Copley Hospital, I learned that there are physicians who are working hard to break down medical practice habits and stereotypes in order to teach their students how to imbue their care with compassion toward the patient. Paige shared a story of a doctor who, rather than stand by the bedside of a patient diagnosed with terminal cancer, (standing in a queue around a patient’s bed is common in teaching hospitals), asked if he could sit next to her and hold her hand. That simple act of intimacy at a critical moment in the woman’s life allowed the doctor access to her healing process while it allowed the patient an opportunity to express her emotions and to be “heard” by the doctors who had gathered to break unfortunate news to her. Doctors can heal with compassion. Healing does not always mean an extension of life. It means being at peace with the diagnosis.
From Sonja Crowe, a Service Provider with Green Mountain Support Services, who works in the agency’s community-based Brain Injury Program, I learned that experience and observation can translate into providing better care and services to those who have had a traumatic or acquired brain injury. With intimate knowledge of what it means to live meaningfully with TBI, translating one’s own experience into the care and understanding of others can make a meaningful difference in that person’s healing journey. For Sonja, it comes from gratitude. When we turn something awful into a lesson and see it as a gift, it can be transformative for all.
From Deborah Miller, a mother, homeschooler and writer from Elmore, and from Stefani Capizzi, Executive Director of the North Central Vermont Recovery Center, I learned that efforts at creating a space for a person to tell their story and to be received with courtesy, attention, and dignity, opens up the opportunity to heal from past traumas or addictions. Humility is exhibited when we learn how to listen, rather than find it necessary to command the floor and express our opinions or knowledge at every opportunity. Listening is a practice of the very wisest and it is done all too rarely. Good caregivers listen. Listening heals.
And lastly, from Mary Ann Ginette, MSW, LICSW, who practices at The Manor and works with residents as well as staff to help them understand how they serve as a healer – no matter their position, education or experience. She said, “Our belief is that each individual working at The Manor is a healer being that they provide comfort, support and assistance to the residents and to each other.” The Manor understands that while healing is a requirement of good nursing home care, the wellbeing of the employees who provide that care also matters. This year, in addition to their Employee Assistance Program, The Manor added a monthly “Heal the Healers” program that encourages open and candid conversation. Mary Ann said, “Healing begins with understanding our own personal body, mind, emotional and spiritual connection to ourselves and others. Healing ourselves transforms into a healthy, happy work environment that flows into our care of residents. Balancing work, home, giving and receiving, brings compassion to our work as healers.” The program allows staff to explore their feelings and share their experiences in a supportive and nurturing environment, which translates to better care and understanding of residents.
In our quest to be exceptional care providers we must do these things well: We must possess the skills that heal the body. We must provide the services that ease a person’s suffering. And, we must connect on the most intimate level possible with compassion, gratitude and humility. Our patients are our teachers in healing and provide us the lessons of their illness, injury or infirmity. It is through their experience that we are made better caregivers and that we become true healers.
Mary L. Collins is the Marketing Director at Lamoille Home Health & Hospice. A 2014 Home Care Elite Top Agency, LHH&H is one of eleven VNAs of Vermont home health and hospice agencies serving Vermont. She also serves as Marketing Director at The Manor, a 4 star nursing home and short term rehabilitation facility in Morrisville, VT, and she chairs the Lamoille Region Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.