The Dynamics of Holistic Treatment: Mind and body
By Michael Klachkin
In our modern age (the 21st century) we face a reality that is at odds with both the physical and mental constitution of a large part of the world’s population. As a result of this disharmony, most of us are in a constant state of stress. Life has become an obstacle course that is gradually becoming ever more dense.
Scarcely a moment is free of problems – external or internal – a predicament that demands constant alertness and almost infinite speed of response.
The opportunities for inner respite, in which we may relax and renew our energy, are few and far between. It seems that only a precious few manage to survive this ordeal. For most of us, the endless need to cope with inner and outer sources of tension takes a heavy toll on both our physical and mental well-being.
The answer, or solution, to this intolerable state of affairs is to be found in our ability to occasionally retire from the mad race – to distance ourselves from it – so that we may restore our physical and mental balance. Many of us feel the need to do so, but the question is – How?
There are many answers to this question and each one of us must find the way that is best suited his or her nature and preferences. But first we must be able to feel, understand, and to be fully aware of our need to restore balance to our lives.
The realization that we have lost our balance arrives at an insightful moment of self-awareness. This may be an unexpected moment of grace, in which we assume a third-person perspective, which allows us to objectively observe our reality.
The need for perspective
The meaning of ‘perspective’ in this case is a view from the outside, which allows us to observe our lives, actions, and emotions - and to reexamine the path we have chosen – whereby we can reach conclusions about how to continue. Are we on the right path? We must always keep in mind what our goal was when we set on a particular course and ask ourselves: how good was our conduct along this path? The return to this moment of perspective allows us to properly adjust our decision-making in hindsight.
One of the essential characteristics of human beings is self-awareness. Self-awareness is a mental state in which our thoughts and feelings are balanced and “in their right place”- and do not overshadow or hinder our ability to see thing objectively. It is a state of mind which enables as to choose rather then being controlled by our emotions or external pressure - a choice that arises from a deep harbor of inner peace.
We are faced with choices at every waking moment, both momentous and mundane. The ability to choose at essentially any time is a special gift of mankind, and we must strive to regain and master this ability – in other words, to be able to choose in accordance with our character, values, ideology and (preferably positive) objectives.
Hence, in order to regain our ability to choose freely, we must aspire to reach some sort of perspective which will enable us to reexamine the path we have taken, and later on to draw the necessary conclusions of the adjustments and choices we should take.
Things, however, are not that simple. On the path to self-awareness and perspective, we find various frustrating forces along the way. Such obstructions come both from within ourselves and from the world around us, which strives to harness us to the mad frenzy of modern life. This endless race is usually not chosen by us, nor is it in our own interest – it is a product of the interests and power of others, as the prophet said: "wherefore complain? There is nothing new under the sun, and such is the way of the world". That is, each era of human history evokes its own difficulties and conflicts. We have no choice but to trust our own inner capacity to face the challenges of both inner and outer reality – for the two are always in dialogue.
Today, the difficulty in arriving at a pure moment of perspective is greater than ever before. As in addition to forces of inner resistance, the invasive agents of the outer world are constantly and intensively at work, as if in order to prevent us from arriving at this desired state of tranquility, that allows perspective and awareness.
In my opinion that should be our goal - that is: reaching a proper respective. (If we really wish to maintain our inner balance, mental and physical) and to get rid of obstacles which stand in our way.
There are many ways to attain this goal, and it is up to each one of us, to find a way that is suited our character, as well as the nature of our problems and ailments. I believe that should be our goal.
The need for a therapist-guide
Most of us need assistance in the quest for inner peace and perspective – somebody who can guide us on our first steps, before we find a way within ourselves. Many of the great teachers of the past, developed their eventually independent perspective, under the auspices of a mentor, or guide, who helped them along their formative years. The teacher, guide or therapist, can provide the first stepping stone that takes us one step away, from the swamp of emotions and thoughts that clutter our minds, into the lucid perspective that is necessary in order to develop self-awareness.
This, to my mind, is also the aim of holistic treatment. Whatever the technique or medicinal tradition, the process of holistic treatment should provide a vista of awareness, allowing patients to gain insight into their physical, mental, and sometimes even spiritual condition. Holistic treatment, unlike specialized medical care, is meant to be deeper and more comprehensive. It is supposed to show us, how we are responsible for our own state, and what in our way of life requires adjustment. The subsequent question is then ‘How do we adjust our lives?’ My experience suggests that the most common error is an error of perception and discernment, that is, a tendency to attach importance to trivial things, and failing to see what is really important. Another factor is our innate negligence. That is, our tendency to avoid facing our problems and weaknesses by changing our habits and way of life. These obstacles may be deep-rooted and therefore considerably difficult to surmount.
The pre-therapy process
The common dynamic of seeking help from a therapist runs along these lines:
- We are bothered by a persistent problem that robs us of our peace of mind. This may be physical pain, or any kind of emotional-mental burden.
- The problem becomes so frequent or excruciating that we begin to seek help.
- Sometimes we look for a simple solution like prescribed medication, illegal narcotics, alcohol, travel, shopping, or any other means of temporary relief. Unfortunately, these quick solutions do not solve the problem, but merely address some of its manifestations in a superficial way. We are then forced, to seek serious help, and are faced with a choice: do we try to deeply investigate the problem – to understand it and to try and address it at its root – or do we sweep it under the rug?
- We often admit that we are suffering, and may even succeed in solving the problem or learning to live with it. But sometimes we find, that we cannot do this by ourselves, and require assistance from a therapist, doctor, guru and the like.
- If we choose to accept assistance, the treatment phase can begin. The insight that help is needed and the act of seeking help put us in a mode of acceptance – the wall of resistance around us is finally cracked, and light is allowed to enter the dark places within. There is a saying in Hasidic lore that only a broken heart is whole. And this, I believe, is what is meant. The act of asking for help is important. It reminds us that we are not omnipotent and that we are vulnerable. This is an ego-shattering understanding. By seeking assistance, we undermine our pride and conceit aspects of the false ego, which prevents us from arriving at the truth.
The Rabbi of Kotzk was once asked ‘Where is God to be found?’
And he replied: ‘Wherever he is given entry’.
Of course, it is possible to undergo this process towards self-awareness, without assistance, but the truth is, that most of us require feedback and guidance from somebody who can also serve as a mirror in which we see ourselves with clarity.
- This process allows us to ask questions, and little by little, sense the forces that act upon our lives. We begin to gain a better understanding of our inner nature. This leads us inevitably to the question, of how we can improve our lives.
In short, the journey towards improvement, begins with pain - physical or mental, which acts as a trigger for seeking help and change.
The purpose of specific treatment
The concrete purpose of specific treatment, is to allow us, to overcome physical or mental blockages, which prevent us from making progress on our own. The role of the therapist is to help us finding our bearings, and attain a more independent and balanced state.
The treatment process
The typical stages of the treatment's process are:
- Identifying the pain or ailment and attempting to understand its source.
- Trying to understand the “message” conveyed by this pain, if it exists.
- Finding out, whether the pain is a product of the patient’s actions and way of life, or a product of external circumstances.
- If we conclude that the pain is a result of our own actions, then we are in a position to alleviate it. We usually find that the key to solving the problem, is to be found in our own perspective and way of life, which thrust us into a dead end of pain and suffering. Of course there may be many contributing factors such as: genetics, education, environment, socio-economic status, etc.
We see, therefore, that the role of the therapist-guide, as someone who is not directly involved, is to identify the source of disruption, and help us regaining our balance, by removing the pain and the blockage as far as possible, and by this regaining our perspective. A successful treatment allows the patient to face his problem without obstructive barriers and allows the innate healing abilities of the body, to work properly.
Of course, there are many approaches to holistic treatment, but I believe that most of them, are designed towards these goals.
The role of the therapist
- To be a good listener.
- To act as a mirror for the patient.
- To provide an objective perspective.
- To lead the patient to a clear description of the problem or question, that is on her mind.
- To help the patient arrive at an answer.
- To help the patient make her decisions explicit, and to realize their consequences. That is, to help the patient to take responsibility over his choice, incase he really wishes to make the necessary change that is hoped for.
- To select a suitable and effective therapeutic technique for the problem at hand – for there are many techniques and traditions of mind - body treatments, and each case may require a different approach. (Some well-known medicinal practices are: Chinese medicine, Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Yoga, manual therapy of various forms, and motion therapy.)
The variety of therapeutic techniques that have developed over the years, suggests that different pains and problems (some of which develop into outright diseases), arise from different aspects of human existence; they may be “simply” physical, or they may be emotional, perceptual, instinctive, cognitive, intellectual, and so on. Each person has an inner language which is a function of his character. I believe that the development of various approaches, which essentially involve different languages, allow for a kind of dialogue between the patient and himself. Finding an optimal technique means, finding a suitable and effective language for the patient and his special problem. In fact, people tend to choose a technique according to their nature – that is, they are attracted to a technique that are compatible with their language, and that are suitable for addressing their problem.