Friday, January 25, 2008

How to Choose a Healer

Mitzibel has chimed on in with a request of her own:

Here’s the thing. This past weekend I costumed a play that I got roped into acting in, as well. Basically, in the course of two days I spent about 20 hours strapped too tightly into an ill-designed “costume” corset (I mean like, “goth girl playing dressup” costume, not “I worked two weeks from a pattern from 1834 to make this right” costume) and in ballet slippers on a concrete floor. When I woke up on Sunday I could hardly move; turns out I screwed up the little vertebrae that connects your spine and your pelvis, the iliac-something.

So the doctor that I went to gave me good drugs, but also scheduled me for therapy—massage, deep heat, sonogram---and when I showed up, they gave me to the office chiropractor.

Now, I’m not a big fan of alternative medicine—the last chiropractor I went to had one arm and offered me a discount on hot oil full body massage lessons if I brought in one of my “co-ed pals” to practice my lessons on. This topic was brought up while I was lying topless on his table while he massaged me with Icy-Hot. Yeah. These days I stick to “legitimate” doctors.

But this one . . . well, he was awfully convincing. If the X-rays of my spine put up next to X-rays of normal people didn’t convince me, the difference in my range of mobility before and after he cracked my spine and neck certainly did.

But I’m still wary of quack-itude, especially since he’s prescribed a weeks-long regime of adjustments and massage.

So I think it would be spiffy if you could post a guide to choosing a good body-worker. I’ve had massage therapy in the past, and most of it was BS. I’ve also had quite a few friends who’ve been trained as massage therapists who left me feeling worse after their work than I did before.

Pretty Lady's recommendation is very simple: Ask. Your. Friends. Not the lousy bodyworkers; the ones who may have received good bodywork. She guarantees they're out there.

Also, put a query on local Internet message boards and forums; people who have had an excellent experience with a bodyworker are frequently eager to talk about it.

This is the short answer. Now Pretty Lady will elaborate.

You see, alternative healthcare practitioners fall into three rough categories; the Quacks, the Functional, and the Gifted. Functionals, with sufficient study and practice, can occasionally rise to almost-Gifted efficacy; and of course there are many, many people out there who are Gifted at Quackery. This is why it is paramount to rely on testimonials from persons whose character is known to you, plus a heavy dose of Gut Feeling.

Above all, you must listen to your own body, both when assessing the results of a session, and when choosing a course of treatment in the first place. Do not take your chiropractor's word for it that you need to come in three times a week for the indefinite future or risk permanent disability; Pretty Lady used to work for a chiropractor like that. His professional advice had a great deal more to do with the fact that he was scrambling to pay the rent on his Wall Street digs every month than with actual concern for his heavily-insured clients. Pretty Lady was doing all the work, anyway. Shortly thereafter she went into business for herself.

What Pretty Lady tells her clients is that they are the experts, both upon their own health and their own finances. She has no real objection to the self-indulgent person who wants three massages a week, except that it's boring to work on them, but it isn't usually necessary except when a person is recovering from a toxic infection so massive that it precludes doing yoga, and when this client is a purist who refuses to take painkillers.

Pretty Lady herself sees no reason at all to choose between 'alternative' methods of therapy and 'traditional' ones; these modalities, in her view, can and should be used in a complementary manner. One does not see a shaman for a broken leg, any more than one goes to a brain surgeon for depression. One simply proceeds in a scientific manner; try something, and assess the results. Repeat until dead or better.

When choosing a practitioner, one should additionally be skeptical of extraordinary claims. Chiropractors who assert the ability to Cure All Ills, including asthma and cancer, are delusional. For that matter, so are the M.D.s who talk like this. However, Pretty Lady's very own Mommy recently informed her that after two visits to her friend's chiropractor in Denton, the hip and back pain that has plagued her since the birth of her third child has abated to the extent that she is giving up painkillers. This, after twenty-five years of scoffing, "Chiropractic. Piffle." The yoga classes three times a week have helped a lot, too.

It is perfectly possible for one form of therapy to be of monumental assistance at a crucial moment, and later, not so much. In the course of healing her own chronic malleolar tendinitis, Pretty Lady visited an acupuncturist three times. The first time was useless, but since it was a free swap, she returned. The second time, the acupuncturist stuck a needle in her right wrist, and her left ankle felt better. This event triggered a cascade of psycho-emotional insight, which put a whole new complexion on the deeper significance of dragging one's left malleolar tendon upstairs; the third time was fine. After that, it was back to yoga class. Needles aren't much fun.

Really, just about any experience one has when visiting a healer, however out there, can be put to good use, provided one has the proper perspective. Pretty Lady has received invaluable insight regarding the mind-body connection, the nature of personal responsibility, and the nuances of codependency, by the simple expedient of visiting as many gypsy psychics, neurotic homeopaths, masochistic shamans and student massage therapists as she could find, even if this insight was merely 'never, never, never DO that again.' We attract the lessons we need until we've learned them. Life is marvelously efficient, that way.


Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady is so multi talented. She is also an actress. Pretty Lady must, indeed, be a renasaince woman.

Doom said...

I hope each can find one who can lead them to health. I myself have become a major cynic. At this point, I either like or trust the person, or not. I have zero faith in their capacity, either way. This doc I am with, I like him, he tries, he has come as close as any, he has no chance, but I do wish him well and work with him because he believes the words out of my mouth (doesn't write it off as more proof of illness) and he tries very diligently (even taking risks for my behalf).

I am extremely dubious of shaman, acupuncture, chiropractor, etc. Even if they have it on, their margin of error can be lethal. Unless their methods have been understood, it is difficult to ensure they are interchangeable. Even medical doctors come to learn that not all, or even most, sometime any, typical method for something as straightforward as high blood pressure treatments work. Sometimes I wonder if I am only half human or something... literally.

Of course, and with a hope you understand, Pretty Lady. Though, I am curious about what type of healer you are? If I lived closer, and you thought you knew the deal... Well, I am not sure. I think when healers know my politics and are juxtaposited, they may not be able to help... Politics is powerful, and healing guidance is from under, not over-consciousness, I think.

skittish... a bit...

BoysMom said...

Question about safety:
I have this recuring back issue--supposedly an inflamed disk--but it only shows up when I'm pregnant. Whatever it is puts pressure on the nerve to my right leg and I go numb from hip to knee for the second and third trimester. Baby's born--hey presto, feeling's back, back stops aching, everything's fine.
MDs won't/can't do anything: surgery while pregnant is out of the question and for me who will not have an epidural or even carpal tunnel surgery, they've got to be crazy to think I'd let them mess around near my spinal cord under any circumstances.
I've heard that chiropacters could, in theory, help, but is it safe?

Pretty Lady said...

Boysmom--I would ask around for a proven chiropractor whom people you know trust, and then I'd go visit when you weren't pregnant. Good chiropractic, plus some type of physical therapy such as yoga, can improve your range of motion and decrease pressure on an out-of-place disc, so that it slides back into proper position and re-hydrates itself. A disc that is out of position and is being ground between two vertebrae will flatten out and cause long-term pain and lack of mobility.

A good chiropractor is MUCH safer than any kind of surgery. I do not know about chiropractic care while pregnant--pregnancy hormones cause all of your ligaments to loosen, so any kind of chiropractic care could be riskier, and could also not 'stick' as well. If I were you I would focus on strengthening my back between pregnancies.

You also might look around for a good prenatal yoga instructor. I am lucky enough to be working with a really good one at the moment. Sometimes it seems as though at any given time, at least a third of the women in my neighborhood are pregnant or have a newborn.

Doom, the truth is that people heal themselves, through approaching the process with honesty, diligence and grace. Another person may be able to help you in this process, but they can't come in and impose healing upon you. Also, not healing physically does not imply failure. We can really only see a very limited number of causes, effects and truths from our individual perspectives.

I have rarely met an alternative practitioner, even a really bad one, whose margin of error was 'lethal.' Medical doctors are far, far more likely to kill people with misdiagnoses, incorrect or incompatible drugs, and botched surgeries. Alternative therapies are much less invasive and thus have a much lower chance of doing severe harm by accident.

Where people make their mistake is, as I said, thinking it has to be an 'either/or' choice. Of course if you go to see a shaman for metastatic cancer, and don't use any other treatment, there's almost a 100% chance that you will die of cancer. Don't be a nincompoop.

The reason to engage in alternative treatments is because they acknowledge the fact that everything is connected, in a way that Western medicine doesn't. Past traumas are stored in your body until they are processed and released; if your mind is not ready to cope with them, your body simply files them away. Then they remind you that they're there by causing trouble.

An alternative therapy can help you when stored traumas start surfacing, by bringing them to your attention a little bit at a time, allowing you to cope with them at your own pace, and eventually release them.

This is what is meant by the mind/body connection. You don't heal yourself by willing yourself to 'think positive thoughts'; you do so by observing honestly what your body is telling you about your mind, and what your mind is telling your body in return. Often your mind will tell your body a lie, simply to cope with an overwhelming pain; this is a perfectly natural and functional survival mechanism. Except that eventually, the truth must emerge.

I am a licensed massage therapist who incorporates a certain amount of intuitive energy balancing in my work, including Reiki. I DO NOT try to 'heal' people, or direct energy in major ways; I just use all the skills at my disposal to work out tense spots and adhesions, while 'listening' to the overall flow of energy through the body with my hands. I can feel where energy is blocked, sluggish or overactive; I do my best to balance and ground the flow, without being intrusive.

Whatever this brings up for my clients is unique to them, and is their business.

Doom said...

Ok. Some nice points. Really, when you noted that someone else cannot actually heal me, I realize you are quite aware. I have met few healers who know this, but a few. As for healing myself, yes and no (though I am being a little picky here and agree with you as far as you took it). In some ways, healing is up to me... and God. Guidance can be helpful. Really, I am impressed with your answer. But that guidance, at it's best, only attempts to create or develop an environment which improves the probability that I or more, my body, with grace and a few other secret ingredients, will produce a favorable outcome. (like a cast which limits movement, or a hospital setting which limits parameters and places attention closer and allows greater frequency of contact)

Perhaps I have no reason to know this, but I have spent twenty years trying to heal from something that drives most to suicide, homicide, prison from some other reason, or drugs. And, finally, I actually have a good, if and if so far, a little life. I know a health which many "healthy" people do not know.

As well, the notions you describe in finding healing is, again within my opinion, fantastic. I have had to honestly asses my life, my past, my intentions, sometimes with, sometimes without, passion. I have had to clinically view any potential lies, any incongruities, and I have had to face my worst elements, honestly and head on. Not easy for a psychic gimp. It is something I have noted in others who have, within reason, regained health (to whatever level).

Oh, I blather. I was just curious, then I got stuck, sort of. Thanks for talking. Uhrm, I hope you find success and joy in your varied works, medicine woman...

Pretty Lady said...

healing is up to me... and God. Guidance can be helpful.

Absolutely. That's what I meant by 'grace.' All I can do is open myself up to the possibility of receiving it.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of food for thought here. On a more concrete angle though I'd like to comment on finding chiropractors. I am a definite believer in the good ones. I got raised going to one. When I was 5, if I was good in the waiting room during my mom's appointment this huge, laughing, German giant would toss me in the air, tie me into a pretzel, and after a few 'cracks' and giggles send me off with my mom.

While chiropractic can do a lot of good on serious issues a lot of its greatest benefits can be found at the subclinical level. An M.D. tends to be stumped by things you neither cut on nor medicate. If your problem can't be fixed that way then you don't *have* a problem, now please leave. Meanwhile you still ache/hurt/are exhausted/are scared by the unknowns/are frustrated. Or simply want to treat a short term problem effectively. Enter - among others - the chiropractor.

My current guy is worth his weight in gold. But there have been changes in the field and he himself would not let one in ten put hands on his neck. There are only two others in town he will trade with. And yes, a bad one can actually hurt you. And nearly anyone milking the insurance system is to be avoided. (See three-visits-a-week.)

In addition to relieving a lot of low level irksome pain, or cleaning things up after a fender bender or fall, or tweeking my hips so my feet know what straight means and quit making me lopsided, ending headaches or working on TMJ (even the best have to think on this one - always remind them to do the upper thoracic fix) I've gone in after the first days of flu. You know - your body wants to get better but the neck and sinuses won't clear up. If it doesn't, you get sicker and it goes to your chest. Get your neck adjusted!! The garbage will drain and you actually finish healing. Anyway. Back to what I meant to say to begin with.

Finding The One.

Don't just ask friends. Most people just don't know their bodies well enough. Ask people who make their livings with their bodies. Other bodyworkers are a good start. But also, my guy works on half of the city's ballet troupe! These people are harder on their bodies than football players. So - dancers, pro athletes, other MTs, PTs, etc. Ask a sports trainer who he sends his team to. People whose income and ability to enjoy life depends upon how their body works. And yes, elitist as it sounds, if the richest lady in town favors him she might have actually done her homework and be benefitting.

Also, the first time you're in - feel free to chat with the guy about his experiences in school, his views on the different philosophies and politics of his field, his classmates, how man people in town he swaps with, what continuing ed he does - and *always* be willing to be a nice pest: "Thank you so much, and I do feel better. But I think this spot still needs some help. Can you check it again? Hmm. Better. But not quite there. Ah, that's the spot! Thanks!"

And for what its worth I favor chiropractors who do 'manual' adjustments as well as using the activator. (Metal thingamajig with a spring mechanism that thumps vertebrae into order. easy to use, gentle, safe, does good things.) But a pretzel type maneuver - actually wrapping you around then strong-arming your body to 'crunch' or other twisting/rotating methods- adds a 3-D aspect to the adjustment that the activator can't copy. This is where a bad chiropractor becomes a problem but a good one has you dancing with joy.

Anyway, after searching in three towns, that's my take on finding these artists. Best of luck at it. Sorry to be long winded. And my best to pretty lady today. :-)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous---what you said about the sinuses? Absolutely. It still seems crazy to me, but my massage guy can get my head literally *flowing* in about a minute and a half.

All is going well; I still get no "quackitude" vibes, he's progressed me onto physical therapy exercises while wearing awkward braces. The pain I went in for initially is gone, and pain I've dealt with for over a decade is improving. And if you'd told me two weeks ago that I'd be able to stand up right now, bend over, and place my palms flat on the floor, I'd have laughed in your face--I wasn't able to do that when I was a *cheerleader*. Maybe there's something to this stuff after all . . .I'm happy with the mix of "traditional" and "alternative" therapies I've been getting, and I don't feel like I or my insurance company is getting scammed--two weeks of every-other-day physical therapy doesn't seem excessive for a lower back injury as painful as this one was, and they're moving me off that schedule after this week onto once-a-month "maintenance", which they said they wouldn't even be doing if my X-rays didn't show so much long-term damage.

Thanks for the response, PL. I'm getting seriously good, quantifiable results, without having to deal with some whack-job telling me that he's going to cure my ovarian issues by cracking my back twice a week for the indefinite future, so maybe I'm going to have to drop my own "Chiropractic. Piffle." attitude now ;)

If I'm ever in New York, though, I'll be heartbroken if you can't work me in for a session.

Anonymous said...

Mitzibel, thanks for the tip on the sinuses. I may try the massage therapist for comparison next time! And frequent PT makes a ton of sense. It is a different process. A friend of mine had that sort of a schedule and got back a great deal more use of her shoulder/arm than they thought she ever would. I was impressed by her, the process, and her therapist. Good luck with yours.


k said...

This is a wonderful post and thread. I'm in serious need of some help for my myriad physical issues just now, and the advice on hunting down the *good ones* looks invaluable to me.

My biggest problem with most, oh, can I say *mainstream alternative* workers like chirpractors, accupuncturists, etc. is smell.

As in aromnatherapy, and various oils and linaments and unguents.

Believe me, I understand how and why aromatherapy benefits people. However: One guy's aromatherapy is another one's asthma attack.

I'm allergic to virtually all of those scents. Not as seriously as in the past, thank Heaven. But certainly enough to bar me from many offices that would otherwise be ideal.

I saw an accupuncturist a couple years ago. We had a few visits and then I ran out of extra funds and stopped. (This wasn't covered by my Medicare HMO.)

I deliberately didn't look up info on accupuncture before I went. I also deliberately left out several of my health issues when I first met and talked with the accupuncturist.

To my great surprise, a few things I hadn't counted on happened.

For one, there was a lasting sense of general well-being that strongly reminded me of younger times.

For another, a specific long-standing complaint was cleared up.

I have a lot of inflammatory problems, head to toe. One is pleurisy, where the two chest linings - around the lungs, and the inside of the chest wall -become inflamed. When you try to take a deep breath, instead of smoothly sliding as the lungs expand and contract, the two linings stick. Kind of like how your leg skin may stick on a leather seat in the summer as you shift position a bit. A pinching type of feeling.

This is extremely painful.

I very rarely have out-and-out bouts with it any more. What replaced it was a sort of dull constant ache. Not incapacitating by any means; just background noise, so low-level I rarely mention it to docs.

But it' annoyance, a grind in one's life.

After my first visit, especially the second day after, that permanent ache was GONE.

The other really notable thing? During the actual session, my facial sinuses opened up and drained. Significantly and quickly. I could also feel the (permanently) swollen tissues in my face, especially around my nose and eyes, shrink. I mean, so fast I could feel it moving.

I called her on the phone about the lung thing.

See, I hadn't mentioned that pain to her.

She said, --Oh! Yes, I can see why that happened, that would result from the (I forget which) needles for asthma.


I called my dad, an MD and a fine sceptic. Why would this work?

He said studies have shown that accupuncture does work, and that it releases endorphins that are specific to certain areas, rather than just doing a general full-body type endorphin release.


I went back to her again recently. But unfortunately, she's gotten old and mentally...not as with it as we'd like her to be.

So. Now I would really like to find some of these other folks. And another good accupuncturist too.

We get referrals to them from local pain management docs. Mainstream MD's who are watched by the Drug Police and the Medical License Police with frightening intensity.