Articles and Media

Healing Others

by Ana L. Palles

Light at the End of the Tunnel The worry lines etched into her face deepened as she listened to the practitioner tell her she could not work on her son without permission. The boy was twenty years old and his mother, Debbie, worried that if something didn't change soon, he might be unreachable in the abyss he lived in. She could feel the darkness enveloping Michael, the same one that kept her on the edges of a deep despair. Perhaps it was depression, or maybe it was something more. She knew he was in pain, but she no longer had any ideas on how to reach him. He was becoming more and more detached, losing himself, and strangely, losing time.

He had been going to regular sessions with Dr. Amherst, a mental health therapist, mostly to please his mother. Michael sat through his weekly appointment with the same impenetrable gaze, walling himself in further and further. He found that he could easily disconnect from his surroundings which would make the time pass that much faster.

Michael didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and he did his best not to revisit scenes from the past. It wasn't that he had a difficult home life, on the contrary, he had a fairly standard, middle-class upbringing and never doubted the love of his parents or siblings.

The therapist suggested a radical concept to the mother and son. Would they be open to integrative care, incorporating an alternative practice into the standard counseling format? Debbie half expected him to recommend acupuncture or chiropractic care since she was already familiar with complementary and integrative practices. But a Shamanic practitioner was the last thing she expected the serious, sixty year old man with a wall full of credentials and honors to advise. He mentioned that there was a local Shamanic practitioner he partnered with and referred some of his patients. He was quite serious and professional. In fact, many of his patients had been achieving powerful breakthroughs as a result of this integration of modalities.

Shamanism is not a belief system. It is an ancient healing practice, elements of which are common to many cultures and exist side by side with many of the world's religions. Dr. Michael Harner, internationally renowned anthropologist and expert on shamanism, started the Foundation for Shamanic Studies with a three-fold mission to study, teach, and preserve shamanism. As Dr. Harner states,

"...Shamanism is also not exclusionary. They don't say, "We have the only healing system." In a holistic approach to healing, the shaman uses the spiritual means at his or her disposal in cooperation with people in the community who have other techniques...The shaman's purpose is to help the patient get well, not to prove that his or her system is the only one that works..."

Debbie immediately took down the information and promised to make a consultation appointment the following day. She knew nothing about this type of practice, but she was worried for her son and would leave no stone unturned to try to help him.

Michael said nothing until they got into the car, then the anger exploded. It seemed like anger was one of the only emotions he could express these days. He was done with therapists and therapies, he said emphatically, and had no intention of letting anyone else try to get into his head. He had gone along with the sessions with Dr. Amherst only as an appeasement, but the truth was that he was getting tired of intrusions into his day to day world. This was his problem to solve and he didn't need interference.

Desperation seeped through Debbie and she struggled with how she could best help her son. He was isolating himself further and further from the world around him and she feared that he would end up being another statistic. She decided to follow up on Dr. Amherst's recommendation. She met with the Shamanic practitioner the following day asking for help on behalf of her son.

Debbie’s bubble of hope burst in front of her. Dr. Caroline, the Shamanic practitioner leaned over with her eyes filled with understanding and concern, said she could not work on Michael. Without him providing his permission and choosing to participate in a session, he and his issues were off limits to her. Although a hard concept to accept, each person has the right to their own choices in life, no matter how noble and loving the intent.

Debbie's visit wasn't a total loss, though. Dr. Caroline offered to do a session for Debbie to help her in her own healing. She quietly explained the Shamanic process, giving her a step by step outline of what would occur and why. While this was all new to Debbie, she nevertheless found that there was familiarity in what Dr. Caroline described. She decided to give it a try, and at the very least, report back to Dr. Amherst that she had done due diligence.

A month later, Debbie began to notice some sparks of curiosity from Michael. She had gone back to see Dr. Caroline again after that initial session and was pleasantly surprised at how much better she was feeling. Debbie was excited that Michael had observed the change in her. He was so good at escaping into his cave that she was happy to see some interest appearing.

Dr. Amherst predicted they would see tentative exploration from Michael, and Debbie understood that her son was working hard at finding his way back. She loved her son and wanted to help him heal more than anything else, but she had come to terms with the fact that she could only control her own healing. Debbie stood by him, made sure he had the support he needed, and then stepped aside to let him find his way.

The Shamanic healing sessions she had been attending with Dr. Caroline had resulted in a restoration of parts of herself she had long forgotten. There was a tangible drop in her tension levels and her friends were commenting on how she looked so different. Dr. Amherst had made good progress with Michael and Debbie hoped that her son would soon discover his moment.

There was also a possibility that Michael would always struggle with the fragmented parts of himself. Debbie hoped that one day, he might choose to open himself up to trying different healing approaches as Dr. Amherst had suggested. It had made such a significant difference in her life, she was now starting each day by giving thanks for all of her blessings. Life was good.


Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone
An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan