Do you want to know how to get well – even prevent disease? Then you need to look at disease differently.” Challenging words from family physician and healing consultant Dr. Nelie Johnson of Maple Ridge. In a 2012 article in the Vancouver magazine Health Action, she went on to say: “If you continue to see disease as a physical affliction, then you will be limiting your choices and limiting your chances to get well.”
Dr. Johnson and I met recently for a conversation regarding how we see health and healing. She said, “We have to look at disease differently in the context of our lives, because the current perspective and methods of treatment are often not working or not working enough.”
I asked her how she came to this conclusion.
Within the first ten years of her medical practice, she became increasingly discouraged. Despite making sure her patients, in particular her cancer patients, were getting maximum medical treatment, they were still very fearful and feeling powerless. Fear and distress would surely get in the way of getting well. She felt there had to be more that she could do to help her patients help themselves. There had to be something that was missing. A largely physical approach to physical disease such as cancer was clearly not enough.
There had to be more to consider. She began to glimpse the underlying link between the appearance of disease and how people were living their lives – not only lifestyle but their thoughts, emotions and beliefs. She asked herself the question, “What if our beliefs about disease are getting in the way of health and healing? We think of [disease] as having an outside cause – something beyond our control, like bad genes or pollution, even bad luck.”
From over 20 years of training and experience, Dr. Johnson knows that behind every illness or dis-ease (emotional stress) is a story directing how we react to the world, and the thought patterns and reactions we operate from unconsciously.
“Let’s imagine that healing [of] disease is possible. In fact this is not only imagined but has become a reality for a few. So why does it not happen more often? My experience tells me that our belief structure about disease and illness is in the way. I have come to know that disease is the body‘s message to us that we are out of balance – holding on to toxic beliefs and emotions. Further, each disease carries a specific message of what is out of balance, of what obstacles are in the way of health and well-being.” She continued with the question, “What if healing occurs more often than we realize; and the possibility of healing – from colds to cancer – is within our immediate grasp?”
In our current allopathic treatment of disease as purely physical, we are only now beginning to re-evaluate what other cultures and traditions already know – the possibility that healing may have a mental and spiritual component. Health professionals are increasingly acknowledging this link. In an article from kevinmd.com, American studies show that “forty-three percent of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress,” and “ninety percent of all doctor office visits are for stress-related illness and complaints.” I don’t suppose the numbers are that different here in Canada.
In Dr. Johnson’s approach to caring for the patients, medical treatment has a vital role. “It offers physical security to the patient so they can then look into the underlying mental, emotional and spiritual issues. However, equally vital is the patient’s own inner emotional work. Ideally I would like to have both medical care and the patient’s own inner emotional work occur in parallel, together.” She shared a touching story of a woman patient suffering terribly for years with fibromyalgia. Medical treatments were not giving much relief. Dr. Johnson enquired more deeply into what had been of concern for her from the time the condition first began. At the onset there had been a severe disruption in the family that created deep friction and hostility among her siblings. Further there was an unresolved deep wounding from childhood that left the patient more vulnerable to the family stress.
Along with medical treatment, she took advantage of private counselling with Dr. Johnson. She became aware of patterns of thoughts, feelings and beliefs about herself that she had unknowingly been holding on to and that were affecting how she responded to the stress in her family. Fibromyalgia was the physical result of her unconscious mind’s attempt to contain that stress for her. She learned how to release those stress patterns, healed her relationship with herself, and experienced freedom from the painful condition. Not only was this woman’s health restored, but the family friction also lessened. For some years now she has been enjoying her life in excellent health.
Dr Johnson went on to say “Love is the big healer – unconditional love. Healing involves removing conflict and stress from our lives and nurturing a loving regard for self and others. ” Her comments and story resonate with me and serve as a reminder that love, together with a willingness to be aware of the emotional factors in our health are important. Dr Johnson and I approach it differently yet not dissimilarly. In my experience this is where the spiritual component can be a healer.
One of the most powerful statements in the Bible shows us the divine source of love and its effectiveness. “There is no fear in love. Perfect love puts fear out of our hearts.”
A simple example of this came at a time when I was feeling very lonely, tense and worried. I was also experiencing severe headaches. A friend came over to stay with me during one of the episodes. Our conversations and prayerful approach brought such a supportive sense of spiritual love for both myself and others, that I was able to see the stress I had been carrying without being overwhelmed by it. I recognized that my joy and health were not dependent on others. This was very liberating. The severe headaches disappeared and I have never had them again.
Dr. Johnson is of the opinion that we have become too reliant on medication. “I get the impression that more and more of us are afraid of our bodies. Every sore throat could be strep throat; every cough could be a chest infection or worse. The media and advertising have benefits; but they also have contributed to increased worry and fear too. We need more discernment in how we use the medical system. I believe the public needs more basic knowledge about common illnesses, why they happen and how to take care of them.”
From my perspective, developing a prayerful practice that brings us into a sense of divine love helps us to become aware of whatever is blocking the way to our health and frees us. This does not only widen our approach to how we view health, but also to how we experience healing.