It’s been 24 years since I became intrigued about healthcare. That was the first year I started volunteering in a physiotherapy clinic which would eventually lead to a winding road to where I am today. In that time I’ve witnessed how people care for others, how people are able to receive care, how much people truly want change in their life and how trauma plays a big factor in all of it. Not matter the clinical setting (hospital, home health, outpatient, long term care, assisted living, wellness setting) I witnessed the same themes in regards to ‘healing’.
Only in the last 10 years did I realize how important our use of words is in the journey of promoting balance and wellness. Just last week I stumbled across another ‘ah ha’ moment that deepened my own understanding and belief systems about how I could be a more effective practitioner and inspire my patients to want to continue on their healing journey. After recently looking at my website and seeing the word “help” plastered all over my mission statement I realized I could be cultivating my mission with more authenticity in how I use my words in clinic. I found myself the last 6 months spontaneously asking new clients, “So how can I support you today?” instead of “How can I help you today?”. I then realized there are subtle but meaningful differences between the words, ‘help’, ‘serve’, ‘heal’ and ‘support’. Social class, race, culture and beliefs about worthiness and accountability all play an important part in how the practitioner and client identify with simple words that many use with little awareness in the health and wellness industry.
So what’s the difference?……
This is probably one of the most overused words in the healthcare and wellness industry. I admit, I even got on the bandwagon when I put the word “Healing Arts” in my business name. Like many people, though, my consciousness continues to evolve compared to when I created my business in 2014. Nonetheless, the word, ‘heal’ suggests in modern western medicine and wellness culture that there is a quick fix, a one stop shop for the client to feel better. It puts all the pressure on the practitioner to ‘heal’ the client without inspiring the client to embrace the necessary lifestyle changes so that symptoms are managed better or don’t come back. Many practitioners don’t consider the word ‘heal’ as a way of empowering the client to bring unity to different parts within themselves physically and emotionally. It goes directly into ‘fix-it’ mode so the person can get back to their old way of life without considering a new relationship with the world or themselves. Also I think of the word ‘heal’ like I think of the word “relax”. For example,have you had someone tell you “You just need to relax and you will heal”? It’s challenging for the patient to relax or heal without more conscious reflection on the how and what internal and external physical or emotional protectors are keeping them from accessing more vitality in life. The ‘why’ is also important. Why does the client want to ‘heal’, and what is the ‘why’ for the practitioner (the intentions)?
Help suggests that the client doesn’t have a foundation of self authorship or empowerment. It is like the annoying little sister to the word ‘heal’. There is a hierarchical system in place, enforced by a multifaceted culture subtly viewing the client as ‘less-than’. Help suggests the potential for the practitioner to encourage the client’s self victimization beliefs that they are in constant need of help and there is always something to fix. Helping people subtly suggests that people are going to constantly need the most up to date healing modality/form of medicine in order to ‘heal’ themselves. This is different than a treatment plan that is focused on maintaining the progress a client has made. On the other spectrum there are cultural and generational influences that shame people for asking for something they cannot provide for themselves. For many western people, this temporary need for additional support can easily transfer to a long term need for help without encouraging self authorship of the client. Perhaps a little emphasis, but not much, is placed on inspiring the client to find innovative ways to live life with a new perspective or new way of living.
Serving is a term that subtly suggests (from a cultural perspective) the practitioner is lower than the client in status. The client is here for a service that enforces ideas of “I give you ‘x’ money and you give me ‘y’ and if I don’t get results right away then you didn’t give me what I wanted”. The words of service doesn’t consider self autonomy of the client to take responsibility of their life. The word ‘serve’ has even more negative meaning for a practitioner who is a person of color due to the long history of slavery for thousands of years.
Some practitioners, feel that being of service is calling upon something ‘higher than’ them to perform a task/duty. They will perform that duty at all costs. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset given the right intentions. For me, I see this not as summoning some kind of magical force, magical incense or stone for the sake of service to a higher cause or Being. They could be tools but many use them as crutches. I aim, and am still learning how to go deeper than that, to acknowledge that because I am part of all Creation (like everyone and everything) I choose to step into the essence of my own being-ness to do what is right despite challenges. Some may refer to it as surrendering to the soul.
Service is also used linked with clarity of purpose which are two different themes. The practitioner’s presence, attention and intention with the client is their purpose. The modality being used is the vehicle. The seemingly undying commitment for the greater good of all (that some mistake for service) is the reflection of the soul, not so much because of an institution or belief system. Those belief systems are just tools.
The first rule above all else for any practitioner is “Do No Harm” and ultimately comes from this requirement to put the client first. However, service at all costs doesn’t mean it should be performed at the expense of the practitioner’s own health. This is how burn out has become an epidemic within the healthcare field. Although serving and helping positively imply that the needs of the client to come first, it also means the practitioner must put aside their unmet needs of their own un-integrated parts of themselves that can unconsciously be projected into treatment sessions.
Supporting puts the focus on the client as their own healer/teacher. The practitioner just co-creates the foundation to make change possible. Support creates a collaboration of both practitioner and client as the client is 1/2 of the solution to their health goals. The client and the practitioner share equal power.
One way I have learned to support clients is using a technique called “Interface”. With the intention of supporting the client, the practitioner meets a client with an equal balance of energy and physical structure. The term I am describing that is taught in the bodywork of Zero Balancing and in other healing practices (using other terms). The interface is where the practitioner and client meet in the middle zone. The connection is not completely energetic nor is it only working with the physical components of the body. I have often found that when I am more energetically connected with the client than physically I can feel drained afterwards or even physically feel their symptoms in my own body. When I am too focused on the client’s structure than I may miss important emotional and energetic/subtle cues from the client. Many times clients will comment on how they feel held, heard and…yup…..SUPPORTED verbally and non verbally when I meet them in the middle! Interface can happen with any interaction in life or with any treatment given the right intentions. As a result the client and the practitioner feel supported in their own individual way as healing is not linear or one way.
Ultimately support means that the practitioner sees the client first and foremost already physically and emotionally whole in their essence instead of someone needing to be fixed. Because of this there really is nothing to ‘heal’ but rather bring more awareness and union of a person in relationship their Self in various ways physically and emotionally. (An intention like this is facilitated with the use of the interface as described above.) The objective and subjective symptoms, clinical tests and dysfunctional habits obscure the person’s ability to see their own whole-ness. When these variables are reduced and/or eliminated with the practitioner’s support, the client is able to be more fully engaged within themselves and responsible for their actions, their habits, their relationships to their environment no matter the obstacles that may be present ahead. Supporting someone else allows both practitioner and client to take self authorship for their part as co-collaborators with the main focus of aspiring towards balance and the goodness that life can offer.