Words play an important part in the realms of healing. Conventional medicine focuses on physical problems. It offers medicines and other physical manipulations (hormones, surgery, and genetic alterations) as ways of dealing with problems. We are conditioned through the use of the term, medicine, to view these physical approaches as therapies of choice. This focus tends to divert awareness from other ways of understanding and dealing with disease and dis-ease, such as energy medicine.
Wholistic medicine focuses on body, emotions, mind, relationships and spirit. This extends the range of conceptualization of the causes of illnesses and of potential ways for dealing with them. More on this below.
Give it a name and you feel you know what you’re talking about.
Words are analogs for perceptions and actions that allow us to communicate with each other about our personal experiences, feelings, desires, and thoughts. Words are learned through the cultural conditioning of our families, schools, and the broader cultural milieu.
While words can facilitate learning, they may also retard or even obstruct learning. The commonly accepted use of a label may impede changes in perceptions about that subject, and may make it difficult to change our ways of relating to the concepts conveyed by the label. This is a serious problem in health care.
The words we use to define our relationships between caregivers and careseekers shape the course of treatment. Each of these terms deserves scrutiny.
Healing comes from Germanic and Old English roots that mean to make whole. Within Western medicine, healing has been narrowed in common parlance to mean restoration of the body or psyche to its pre-traumatized condition.
Among practitioners of Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki, and numerous other such traditions, healing refers to the laying-on of hands and/or to healing by mental intent, meditation, and/or prayer. Within the community of healers, there are widely varying opinions about the best name for this therapeutic modality (Benor 2001a: b).
The laying-on of hands has been used for many centuries – offered within religious contexts and by Monarchs of Europe. This has colored an otherwise simple, descriptive term with religious overtones that many find uncomfortable.
Spiritual healing alludes to the spiritual awarenesses and awakenings that occur in healers and healees during and as a result of healing. Within this understanding of healing, the process is one of growth towards a deeper understanding of our connection with something vaster than ourselves. For some the vastness is that of the natural, physical and energetic universe; for others it includes an omniscient, omnipotent Deity. This is the term that I, the editor of the IJHC, prefer and the one I will use to designate this form of treatment. Where it is clear that this is the subject for discussion (i.e. not to be confused with healing of the physical body), the term healing alone will be used.
Faith healing is a term used by several groups.
Members of some religious communities believe that faith in their teachings about religion is required in order for healing to occur, that illness is manifested when members of the flock lack faith; and that health will be restored when faith is restored. Members of these communities – who hold to these beliefs – may indeed be able to influence their states of health through acts of faith. There are sects who handle hot coals and poisonous snakes, as well as ingesting cyanide to prove their faith.
Members of the scientific community have used this term out of a belief that healing is no more than the product of suggestion – a placebo effect – that is potent only to the extent that healees believe it might work. Many journalists use this term, under the influence of either of these communities.
While faith may facilitate healing in the faithful of a given religion, it is not a general requirement for spiritual healing. This is witnessed by numerous experiments in which animals, plants, bacteria, yeasts, cells in laboratory culture, enzymes, and DNA responded to Spiritual healing (Benor 2001a; b).
Mental healing is the term under which studies of spiritual healing were listed for many years in the Index Medicus, the physician’s annual compendium of published research in journals selected by the editors of this hefty tome. Many of the parapsychology journals (which are peer-reviewed and which hold to standards for research that exceed those of many medical journals) in which healing studies are published are excluded from the Index Medicus.
Psychic (psi – Y) healing is the favorite term of parapsychologists, who for decades were the main group of scientists who published studies of spiritual healing. Healing overlaps with psychic abilities that have been extensively researched by parapsychologists, including telepathy, clairsentience, pre- and retro-cognition, and psychokinesis (PK; “mind over matter”). Healers often have intuitive/psychic impressions that guide them in assessing and treating the problems of healees*. These may include insights into past physical and emotional traumas, as well as current stressors that have contributed to current problems.
Quantum healing is a term popularized by Deepak Chopra, referring to explanations from quantum physics that suggest explanations for healing*.
Shamanistic healing refers to healing in traditional societies in which the shaman is a priest, healer, counselor, mediator in conflicts, and mediator between worlds of spirits and the physical world*.
Bioenergetic healing, vibrational healing and subtle energy healing refer to perceptions common to healers and healees during laying-on of hands treatments, including sensations of heat, tingling, vibration, and cold. These create the distinct impression that an exchange of some sort of energy is occurring between healer and healee. Thus far, there have not been conventional energies identified consistently that account for the effects of spiritual healing.
Divine healing alludes to the ultimate source attributed by some to all change and healing.
Unconventional healing and paranormal healing are terms used by scientists who view spiritual healing as something that is outside of the ordinary ambit of conventional science.
Distant mental influence on living systems (DMILS) is a term coined by William Braud, in studies of intent, projected from a distance, to influence the electrodermal response of subjects in a laboratory.
Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki, and numerous other healing modalities* are specific approaches taught by various schools and healing traditions.
No one term encompasses all of the processes and manifestations of healing. My own preference is to add wholistic to spiritual healing to indicate that healing can come through body, emotions, mind, relationships, and spirit.
Benor, Daniel J, Healing Research: Volume I, (Popular edition), Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution, Southfield, MI: Vision Publications, 2001.
Benor, Daniel J, Healing Research: Volume I, (Professional Supplement), Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution, Southfield, MI: Vision Publications, 2001
*An expanded version of this article appears in Benor, DJ, In a Word, International J of Healing and Caring – On Line, www.ijhc.org January, 2001, 1-8.
(Continued in next column)