Throughout my life and my career, I have come to know that unresolved emotional issues and trauma are the root cause of most physical illness and disease. For over 30 years, I have been researching and helping others as a counselor, healer, coach and naturopath, and I have also been seeking ways to heal and improve my own physical and emotional health. In the process, I have been to and have experienced almost every kind of therapist and healer that exists. Finding the healing you seek may feel hopeless or impossible, but I don’t believe it has to be. It is my hope that I can offer insights from my personal history and professional experience on what actually works, heals and prevents unhappiness and dis-ease.
Emotional healing is often needed when people are suffering from physical health issues and difficult life or relationship issues. Sadly, I often hear people say they have tried therapy and it did not work or that it is difficult to trust in the therapeutic process. I understand this. I saw my own mother suffer throughout my childhood with severe depression and emotional issues. She went to psychiatrists and psychotherapists for years, and she even tried hypnosis to stop smoking. Nevertheless, she died of a horrible cancer with many unresolved issues when she was just 54 years old and I was 24 years old. I personally suffered for much of my life with PTSD and terrible social phobia and anxiety, all of which stemmed from considerable childhood physical and emotional abuse.
Before my mom died, I was headed to the life of healer and counselor. Friends, family and strangers often sought me out for help. After her death, I pledged to find out what was behind her misery and her cancer. I wanted to do something about the incredible suffering I witnessed in the world. It was at that time that I committed to spending my life researching the answers to my questions, so that I could help others heal their lives and to prevent such suffering. In sharing my experience, I hope to help others avoid all the time and money it took me to heal. I missed out on a lot of my life, and for my mom it was far worse, as it is for many people.
Blocks to the Emotional Healing Process
To begin with, avoid (as much as possible) all pharmaceutical medications, traditional medical doctors and psychiatrists that know little more than dispensing medications. The majority of all health problems do not need medications, accept in a minority of circumstances. When seeking help for emotional issues, avoid for the most part all traditional psychotherapists, analysts and what I call “just talk therapists.” These types of therapists often perpetuate the problem by keeping their clients stuck in their story of suffering. While we all need compassion and validation for our experiences, I do not believe simply talking about difficult emotional experiences is an effective means to healing. There are forms of psychotherapy that really work and are transformational.
Avoid drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and all mind-altering drugs. It is amazing how many people lie to themselves about the amount of alcohol they drink and why, or smoke pot to relax and take the edge off. In truth, these individuals are numbing themselves out and in doing so, separate from and ignore their deeper feelings and needs. If you want great health and happiness, I encourage you to notice instances where you may feel pulled toward something that allows you to suppress or “turn away” from anxiety, fear, and emotional difficulties. Instead, do all you can to turn toward your own experience, to make it more conscious, to feel it more. Every time you suppress or mask uncomfortable feelings or emotional pain you are going down the path to disease, cancer, heart attacks, failed relationships, failed businesses, and all kinds of troubles. Furthermore, using ‘sacred herbs’ or hallucinogenic drugs to gain consciousness or enlightenment is complete foolishness and entirely unnecessary.
Lastly, do not get in the habit of using over-the-counter medications or even health supplements to suppress your symptoms. Make up your mind to heal the real causes behind your symptoms.
Health on All Levels
If you are going to get to the real causes behind your symptoms, it must be understood that you are whole, and profound and lasting healing can only happen when each part of you is attended to and healed. Approach all physical and emotional health problems with consciousness, on the physical, biochemical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. For instance, there are people who have been in therapy for years that will likely never get over their anxiety or depression if they do not correct mineral or nutritional deficiencies, or support their adrenal glands or thyroid. There also are people who take the perfect supplements and have the perfect diets, but will never get over their anxiety or depression if they do not work with someone like a psychotherapist who knows how to resolve the root emotional trauma from the body and mind.
To assist you in working with your physical and biochemical health, I have found naturopaths to be the most helpful, though other kinds of practitioners like acupuncturists, homeopaths and chiropractors can be very helpful. In searching for any type of practitioner, counselor or doctor, look for those that are truly holistic and that you feel a heart and spiritual connection with. Unfortunately, many naturopathic schools are turning out doctors that are little different than traditional medical pill-pushers chasing symptoms.
Finally, approaching the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of your well-being is fundamental in the process of rediscovering your innate health. For most people, this will involve finding a skilled therapist or similar healer, who understands the value of resolving emotional trauma and other difficulties stemming from the past.
Finding the Right Therapist for You
While they are not always easy to find, great therapists do exist. Academic degrees, even lots of very impressive ones, do not make a good therapist. Look for a psychotherapist or counselor who is deeply empathetic, heart-centered and intuitive. They will create an environment in which you feel welcome, safe and free from judgment. However, remember that no person is perfect and in any case that you feel unsafe or judged (or if anything else doesn’t feel right), be certain to state your experience to the therapist. Often the most valuable insights and healing take place when difficulties arise in the therapist-client relationship, though the therapist needs to willingly reflect on themselves and genuinely share and resolve their own feelings within the therapeutic relationship. With this in mind, realize that conflict will arise at times within yourself or with the therapist, but it should not be an immediate signal to run from the relationship and quit the therapy, as often these are the times when great breakthroughs will occur.
I recommend a therapist who will help you to see your innate goodness; after all, you’ve likely been doing the best you can with what you’ve been given. A very skillful therapist can help you leave the past behind and become fully empowered in the present to live the life you deserve. They will encourage you to nurture yourself, and to have a daily practice where you can be in silence and invite deep relaxation. Your life will begin to move and transform in ways that free you. You’ll let go of guilt, shame and fear. You’ll start to look at life differently. Your hope and faith will rise and positive changes will begin happening in your life and relationships. Blocks will melt away, your life will become more productive and your relationships more fulfilling. Eventually you find yourself feeling freer and forgiving others, even if little to nothing may have changed in the lives of the other people in your life.
Somatic and Mindfulness-Based Therapies
I have found all the best therapists are trained to work somatically, meaning that in every session guide you will be guided to remain in connection with your breath and sensing your emotions as their arise in your physical body. For example, if you’re telling your therapist that you had an argument with a friend or partner over their losing a job, a somatic orientated therapist will ask you to tune into your body as you tell the story. Maybe your heart begins to race—so tune into that. Stay with it, what’s there? I can only imagine the racing heart may possibly be saying “fear.” A somatic therapist will help you stay with the experience, rather than getting caught up in the story of the job loss; staying with feelings of worry about money, the children’s tuition that must be paid, and such. It is in these moments of great inner focus that incredible things often happen and the client is able to move through difficult experiences and emotions with greater clarity, insight and peace.
It has been my experience that the best therapists understand the importance of body awareness and mindfulness in their practice. To be specific, these therapists may have training in Gestalt, Somatic Experiencing, Transpersonal Psychotherapy, Hakomi and other mindfulness-based therapies. Gestalt therapists often invite the client to dialogue with different parts of themselves, or with people in their lives. This can be tremendously transformational, enlightening and healing. This type of therapy brings the client into experiencing their issue right in the moment, rather than just talking conceptually and intellectually about it. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique that can be helpful as well. Something else that is very useful is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). I have been using it myself and with clients for over ten years and I find it tremendously helpful. Once learned well, EFT can be very helpful for a client to practice on their own. More important than the therapy or technique, I prefer when therapists can combine their training with their own personal experience and unique gifts.
I have also greatly benefited by and encourage dance movement, social dancing, time in nature, journaling, drawing and painting, healing music and voice work, light therapy, various types of body work, and transformative heart speaking.
Last but certainly not least, I want to emphasize the importance of spirituality in healing. At our foundation we are spiritual beings, deeply connected to one another, the world and to the larger universe. However, this connection is often lost when painful experiences and emotional wounding scares us into closing down our hearts, disconnecting us from ourselves, our Source Energy and the world around us. This disconnection is the root cause of all suffering. Rather than leaving this dimension unspoken or ignored altogether, I find it of the utmost benefit to bring our spirituality right out into the open and directly into the therapeutic or healing relationship. In this process, we become more in touch with our divine self, our deepest authenticity and basic goodness, and in doing so, we can experience these same qualities in all other beings.
I have come to understand the healing journey as an inherently spiritual one. I have found the most meaningful and most helpful emotional therapy included the spiritual and energy dimensions, and led to deeply transformative, life changing and enjoyable experiences. The spiritual tradition or religious orientation clients belong to matters very little. In my practice I work with people from every religious background and spiritual orientation, agnostics and atheists included. The important piece is my willingness and capacity to communicate in a language my client can understand and agree upon. Deep relaxation, inner focusing, meditation, prayer, energy work, even shamanic work can have their place in psychotherapy, and often lead to remarkable or miraculous healing progress.
Despite many people’s unproductive or bad experiences, psychotherapy can be very healing and life changing; it certainly helped me tremendously transform my life. I find great therapy leads a person to their true deep self, where there is peace and connection to one’s gifts, creativity and enjoyment of life. As a result of some great psychotherapists, along with my own considerable self therapies, I no longer suffer from PTSD, social phobia, procrastination, anxiety, deep grief or depression. Again, a combination of things helped me. All my naturopathic knowledge, research in diet and nutrition, lifestyle and environment helped me tremendously as well. Though without holistic psychotherapy, inclusive of body, mind and spirit, I would not have healed my health and life in the major way I have experienced.
Today I am 54, the same age as my mother when she died. I am very healthy, very at peace, and have a very successful naturopathic health business, as well as a very successful psychotherapy and life coaching practice. I wish my mom could have known and received the help I have, though she inspired me with the passion to follow this path. I am grateful now to be able to fulfill my pledge of years ago; to be able to guide others to live healthy and happy lives.
Read my related article, Whole Body Healing Starts in the Emotional Mind.
It is my hope and my life’s passion to bring great health and whole-body healing to the lives of others. If you want more information on counseling/healing sessions with me, please visit me online at www.ImagineHealing.com and www.LongNaturalHealth.com.
Timothy Long, Psychotherapist, Life Coach and Naturopathic Health Consultant