Nature abhors a vacuum. The less defined or understood a particular condition or disease is by the medical establishment, the more it exposes the explanatory frameworks of the individual practitioner or client. This goes especially for complex issues like chronic infections, metabolic or endocrine imbalances, inflammatory conditions, and degenerative diseases. When there aren’t agreed upon explanations for causes, treatment, or prognosis, it becomes a hazy blank canvas for individuals to paint a story. Is that a helpful story? Narrative medicine is not just a tool in the toolbox. It’s an entire dimension of the healing process that is either working with you or against you.
Addressing narrative is a missing piece in many medical or healing practices, including herbal medicine. Health and illness narratives affect our entire operational framework of a particular health issue. And these are huge blind spots in the practitioner and client relationship.
Practitioners do not often enough examine what they bring to the table in this regard. Infrequently do they critically appraise and question their assumptions about why people get sick, how they get healthy, and where their strengths lie. And this worries me. I hear alarming judgments from practitioners about their clients, everything from “well that damage is permanent, there’s nothing I can do” to “they’re screwed” or further (my personal favorite) “they just weren’t born with a lot of chi”. If you have these judgments about your clients, you probably shouldn’t be working with people. And you should probably get more educated and try to be more imaginative. Biology is amazing. The human being is adaptive and creative. Things that we previously thought were incurable are now curable, damages that we thought were permanent are now reversible. How are you describing your clients or patients? This illuminates how you’re seeing them, and how you’re treating or supporting their health (or not–how you may be distancing yourself from them because you don’t like how they make you feel, or you’ve given up on the prospect of a good outcome). Furthermore, how is their experience impacting their identity?
When practitioners and patients connect in a healing or educational setting, these narrative universes connect and collide. And patients rarely question and examine their practitioner’s worldview, assumptions, and blind spots. The consequence of this is that bricks are being laid without agreements on the building plan. And then we just hope it turns out ok. If you are a client or patient, vet this aspect of your practitioner.
- What are their assumptions?
- How do they see the healing trajectory?
- What vocabulary are they using to describe your situation?
Ask questions about why they’re thinking what they’re thinking, and see if it aligns with your inner knowing and instinct. If it doesn’t, either make a good boundary and filter, or find another who is more likely to be an effective partner. Don’t keep yourself in a story that is potentially disempowering.
I feel that this is a gift the wounded healer can offer–through their own journey they have become intimate with this dimension, and are often more skilled at these interactions. With thoughtful use of narrative exploration, clients can better situate themselves on a path of spiritual deepening and envision new routes for recovery–often better than a clinician can.