Monday, May 4, 2020

The Phases of the Healing Process

One of the most awesome things in life is the birth of a child.  It is the ultimate reward, seeing a baby come into the world, an experience that brings unparalleled joy.  The reward comes at the end of a long process, citing not just the birth itself but the 280-some-odd days leading up to it.  Be it unanticipated or the result of a conscious plan, pregnancy and the subsequent birth arrive all the same through a physiological process that takes an original pair of cells and turns them into the trillions of cells that shape a newborn baby.  Going through it is to varying degrees a life-altering challenge, taking as it does a lot of patience and support, but the payoff is worth every bit of the effort. 

Pregnancy can be categorized by multiple phases, as can birth.  Truthfully, just about everything in life that we value requires the completion of various phases, from a championship season by a sports team to a degree hanging on the wall to retirement at the end of a successful career.  Health is no different.  Nevertheless, generations who have been conditioned since a young age to regard symptom management as the hallmark of healthcare are generally reluctant to accept that health is a process-based achievement instead of something that can be quickly acquired.  Instant gratification has become such a big part of our lives and it has made several things that were once an inconvenience simpler, but that mindset does not belong at the core of a discussion about health any more than it does when talking about excelling in school or winning a national title.  Imagine a world in which couples thought that having a baby took just a few weeks in total, that it would not be hard and at times be very uncomfortable.  That alternate reality has become a microcosm of American healthcare. 

Among the goals of grassroots education aimed at changing the health system is to help the public understand healing, an infrequently discussed topic in the conventional medical practices that dominate 95% of healthcare in the United States.  Pregnancy is an apt point of comparison to healing because most everyone experiences pregnancy in some way and becomes familiar with the trimester milestones, the various associated symptoms, and the rigors of labor and delivery.  It has been estimated that between only 3% and 12% of Americans lead healthy lifestyles, so the reality for most of us is that our healing journeys are going to be lengthy, include multiple phases, and have their fair share of ups and downs; it is important to recognize that and embrace the challenge so as not to quit striving before the body has had the opportunity to make significant change. 

So, to better understand healing, please review the following breakdown of its phases.  Though a lack of uniform language exists to connect the forthcoming labels of the healing process across all health practitioners, the themes of each description should mostly translate. 

The first phase of the healing process is stabilization.  Be it long-term structural imbalance and the effect that the shifted anatomy has on the body's ability to function properly, having little to no guidance in how to actively combat the cumulative effects of emotional stress, malnutrition (part of the definition of which is not eating enough of the right foods), or a sedentary lifestyle that involves no regular physical exertion, the initial step toward health involves the adoption, often through regular facilitation from experts in the various fields of the healing arts, of better anatomical, physiological, neurological, psychological, and nutritional habits.  Existing symptoms can still remain prevalent during this phase.  Rome was not built in a day, the body does not break down overnight, and it will not heal overnight either, but this phase points the suffering in the direction of healing.

More stable ground, so to speak, has been reached when there is a reasonable expectation that constructive habits can be sustained without as much guidance.  At that point, the healing phase begins.  The longer healthier habits (i.e. normal function, structural alignment, meditation, etc.) remain in place, the more the body and mind change from states of dis-ease, characterized by growing consistently toward sickness, to states of ease, characterized by growing consistently toward wellness.  The healing process is akin to traveling back across a road already traveled, so know that, as the body heals, there can be some bumps along the way, sometimes in the form of familiar symptoms flaring up and at other times in the form of symptoms that have not manifested in many years coming back.  One name for this dynamic is retracing, which acknowledges that just as it took many years for the body to lose health, it also takes time to regain it. 

During the healing phase, which is the longest period of the process, health practitioners are still needed regularly to facilitate further goal-setting, provide accountability, and make adjustments to certain habits, though the proverbial ball is increasingly passed from the healer to the person doing the healing.  The wellness phase, then, is characterized by learning what life is like with general health having been achieved, approaching a new normal physically and mentally.  The habits instilled to realize that level of well-being are challenged by but mostly upheld through stressful life circumstances, with facilitators steadily decreasing their roles.  Finally, there is the lifestyle phase, when health becomes an expectation, responsibility for maintaining it has been fully accepted, the body’s ability to express its optimal resiliency is readily apparent, and health practitioners are periodically visited just to make sure everything is OK.

In Utopia, healthcare would follow the lead of dentistry, teaching self-care protocols within the first few years of life, making visits to health practitioners about being proactive rather than reactive, and encouraging spinal check-ups along with nutritional counseling, exercise requirements, and classes about stress management as soon as elementary school.  Back in our reality, health must unfortunately be lost before it can be found.  Be it an unanticipated diagnosis that demands imminent change or the result of a conscious plan prompted by the proliferation of symptoms that can no longer be instantly alleviated, the ensuing phases of healing follow a physiological process that will require patience and support, but the health potential realized will be worth every bit of the effort. 

Thinking good things for you, as always,

-Dr. Chad

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