“Healing”, like “love”, “peace”, or “happiness”, is a word we often use that means different things to different people. It is one of those words many of us use without having defined for ourselves what exactly we mean when we use it.
As someone working in a “healing” profession I spent time this past year interviewing people about their definitions and experiences of healing, as well as synthesizing and articulating my own beliefs.

I am sharing some of my findings in this article because I believe that as practitioners our work is enhanced if we are aware of our goals, assumptions and beliefs about what we are doing. And as clients or patients we can better choose our caregivers and participate in our sessions more productively if we are aware of our beliefs and values regarding healing.

As a practitioner with training in numerous modalities including many massage and bodywork techniques, Process Work (a body centered, earth-based approach to working with disturbances of any kind), and Sufi based healing, I can use any of these approaches “purely” or in combination with others, as well as using whatever new approaches arise in the moment. But no matter which approach I take, there is no guarantee that the client’s pain will diminish or vanish, and no guarantee of what will happen during or after the session. This is what I both love and bemoan about my work. I love the variety, unpredictability and mystery of what happens in sessions with people, but the part of me that wants understanding and control feels discouraged at times because I cannot guarantee any outcome for my clients.

It is because I cannot guarantee that I can make a person’s symptoms go away that I choose to view “healing” as something other than “curing”. If healing were only about eradicating symptoms I would not feel ethical about charging money for what I do because even though symptoms often do disappear or decrease, sometimes they do not, or at least not as fully or quickly as the client hopes.

Fortunately, in the process of conducting interviews about healing I discovered that many practitioners and clients share my view that healing is about something more than “curing”. Almost unanimously people I interviewed said that while healing might include physical curing, it is primarily about feeling “better” at a deeper level. For some it is about feeling seen, heard, affirmed or empowered; for others it is about feeling more aware and appreciative of being alive in the moment, while for others it is about feeling more connection to their deepest selves and the world.

Of course most people want to hurt less, move more freely, and have more opportunity to do the things they love in life, so curing or reducing symptoms is a common hope and goal. And for some people this is all that matters to them in the moment. But for many people, coming to me for massage or bodywork is about feeling “better” in some way more than just physical curing, which suggests that it is not only my massage skills and experience which people are drawn to, but also some ineffable qualities that are present or activated in myself and in the client when we come together in a session. The healing session is a co-creative venture between the practitioner, the client, and “something beyond us”, whether we call it God, Intelligence, fate or the Tao.

While I am happy when people leave a session feeling relieved of their symptoms, I must admit that I experience the greatest joy in those moments when my clients connect with deep feelings of ease, meaning, or affirmation of who they are, or feel increased pleasure in being alive in the moment. Process Work founder and therapist, Arny Mindell, once said that each therapist and client should define their own meanings, and I realize this is much of what I do with clients. I directly or indirectly orient people to their experience, helping them discover their own meanings and inner knowing. Finding meaning in a dream, a symptom, or a circumstance often makes life feel not only richer but also easier. I agree with those who believe meaning is present everywhere. Sufi Ibn al Arabi says that "even worms in their movement are rushing with a message to those who understand it."

Definitions of “healing?”
To help stimulate and broaden my thinking I conducted over twenty interviews with people on the subject of healing. Before doing my first interview I came up with my own rough and partial definition: “Healing describes those times when our suffering from symptoms or disruptions decreases due either to a lessening or resolution of the symptom or problem, or due to a shift in one’s attitude or outlook.”
At the end of my project I settled (for now) on this admittedly somewhat circular definition: “Healing is whatever an individual experiences that satisfies her own definition of healing in the moment, and typically entails a reduction in some type of suffering whether physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.”

I invite you to consider how you define and experience healing. If you are a body worker, therapist or health care provider, reflecting on the questions and definitions below may serve to clarify your purpose, values, and beliefs and ultimately may inspire you be of greater service to your clients. If you identify as being a client or patient, reflecting on these questions may help you better select the caregivers you work with, and may help you get more from your sessions. And whether you are a client or practitioner I invite you to TALK about your goals and beliefs with your clients and caregivers because knowing what you both want and seek from your times together is bound to make your sessions more satisfying for both of you.

- How do you define “healing”?
- What does healing FEEL like (physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually)?
- Why do I do this work?
- What IS it that I do?
- What assumptions and beliefs about healing and cosmology underlie my work with people?
- What makes a session “successful” or worthwhile?
- How do I make sense of those times when healing does not seem to occur?
- What qualities or attitudes in the practitioner and the client are most conducive to healing?
- What are my strengths?
- What are my weaknesses or doubts about my presence or skills as a practitioner?
- How can I be of even better service to my clients?

Author's Bio: 

Tamara has been practicing massage and process oriented bodywork in Seattle since 1988. In addition to her private practice and work as a Hospice volunteer, she offers retreats and classes on topics such as meditation, earth and body-centered process work, massage, and death and dying.