When Healing, Are You a Patient or Participant?
“One does not have be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.”
The opening paragraph of ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma‘, by Bessel Van der Kolk addresses the many ways humans can experience trauma, either as a victim or witness. Though not a book about Reiki per se, the chapters lay out a clear correlation between human connection and trauma recovery.
Van der Kolk, a Dutch psychiatrist and PTSD researcher, uses the book to explore “the extreme disconnection from the body that so many people with histories of trauma and neglect experience”.
In her wonderful article on the book over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova writes, “Such post-traumatic reactions make it difficult for survivors to connect with other people, since closeness often triggers [a] sense of danger. And yet the very thing we come to most dread after experiencing trauma — close contact with other people — is also the thing we most need in order to regain psycho-emotional solidity and begin healing.” Van der Kolk also illuminates the point in this passage:
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives…. Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: These are complex and hard-earned capacities. You don’t need a history of trauma to feel self-conscious and even panicked at a party with strangers — but trauma can turn the whole world into a gathering of aliens.”
How does this relate to Reiki? A Reiki session creates a safe, quiet space for healing and listening, where a client can feel fully supported, heard and even loved. The non-sexual, soothing touch experienced during Reiki can help to re-regulate neural pathways. Some clients recovering from sexual molestation have reported that a Reiki session was the first time they actually felt unconditionally loved, or received physical touch without the other person expecting something in return. Van der Kolk goes on to write:
“The brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths: (1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being; (2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning; (3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, moving, and touching; and (4) we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.
When we ignore these quintessential dimensions of humanity, we deprive people of ways to heal from trauma and restore their autonomy. Being a patient, rather than a participant in one’s healing process, separates suffering people from their community and alienates them from an inner sense of self.” [emphasis mine]
By stimulating a person’s natural, innate healing abilities, Reiki offers the necessary close human connection but puts the client back in the driver’s seat of their own healing process. Rather than putting all control and hope in the hands of doctors, therapists or medications, Reiki restores basic control (and hope, and dignity) to the client. Support staff such as doctors, therapists and the Reiki practitioner themselves can then be seen as exactly that — support staff, a willing cadre of caring people to listen and help the client as they re-route their own neural pathways and release old emotional and energy patterns. Each individual is the main participant in their own healing, thereby allowing a healthy sense of self.
And this vigorous restoration of control does not apply only to trauma! Any person who suffers from physical pain, injury, exaggerated stress or other health anomaly can also find themselves back in control and helped by Reiki and the close connection offered in a session.