Years ago, a client came to me with low back pain. He did not believe in acupuncture but decided to try it out of desperation since no amount of western treatments were helping him. He was a known man and at this point he could not move without help. He didn’t hope for much relief and told me about it right away. I, of course, was eager to prove that acupuncture works and low back pain will at the very least feel much better after session. However, in spite of my best efforts to make a difference (cupping, gua sha, needling etc), he felt no relief and instead felt irritation with my efforts. My frustration grew in geometrical progression to his irritation. I wanted to keep him as a client since I was fresh out of school and had just opened my acupuncture practice but I felt that I was failing as both, an acupuncturist, and massage therapist. The tension in the treatment room grew higher but I kept on working on his back as he suddenly started sobbing. Sobbing turned into weeping, weeping turned into loud screaming, but no words. Words would kill the communication. I now felt terrified and helpless but kept silent. This emotional torment lasted for a while but to my shock, his pain felt better and he left my office without any help walking.
He never came back for another session but did call me the next day to thank me and to tell me that he is impressed with the results since his pain was completely gone and he felt better than ever before. I still don’t know what this catharsis was about in his life. He never told me that. I only know that the improvement in his lower back pain was immediately followed up by me experiencing his frustration with life as my own. Something, that he was not aware of, was killing his back and was felt by me in the session. It was released soon after he became aware of the feeling. This session taught me the meaning of the word “receptive” and inspired me to begin thinking of shamanic healing.
The success of acupuncture or bodywork session often depends on receptivity and our intuitive read of client’s energy. Since “psyche dwells in the body”, every time we touch a patient, we touch their psyche as well, with consequences to the practitioner and the patient. Direct physical touch opens up the channel of psychic communication because the connection we make with another through touch is instant and intimate. Touch opens ourselves to feeling physical tension and often, emotional realities of our clients. In that, the bodywork session is reminiscent of shamanic seance.
Not all acupuncturist physically touch patients. Acupuncturist’s healing intention is usually channeled through the needle. Nevertheless, another person’s energetic field, especially in the small space of a treatment room, is always felt by the practitioner and therefore this field is available for interpretation.
The essence of shamanic healing is about making oneself available to experiencing emotional states of other people and knowing how to interpret them in the service of the patient. Traditionally, in order to become receptive to person’s unconscious messages, shaman uses a rattle to induce a hypnotic state which is very similar to a dream state.
In massage therapy, similar receptive trance state is naturally induced by the rhythmic movements of massage, dim lights and music. In the regular walking state, we have natural built in defenses and resistances to psychic bonding. In induced trance state, these natural defenses are gone so we engage with the psyche easier. Have you ever noticed that each massage session has different timing? With some clients, time never ends and with others, time flies. In both instances, we are receiving certain unconscious messages from the client. To mobilize body’s natural capacity for healing we should understand the kind of psychical energy we are engaged with and interpret these messages in the service of healing.
Have you ever had frustrating patients? Tell me about it!