In many traditional cultures, healing isn’t just about medication and treatments. It involves ritual and drama as well, which are conspicuously missing in modern medicine. If a person doesn’t get better, has no energy, has pains that come and go and loses interest in life, a ceremony will be organised. Everyone will come, and the healer – or priest, or shaman – will call on whatever higher powers they believe in.
Sometimes the patient’s soul is lost or has been stolen by spirits, and the healer must travel to the other world to fetch it back. Sometimes there is drumming and dancing, and the patient is encouraged to talk, to say whatever they are feeling and thinking, to weep and laugh and scream. Everyone else bears witness. The patient is not isolated, but right at the centre of attention.
The implication is obvious. If there is an element of depression, bad feelings that haven’t been expressed, or neglect, it really does help to be allowed to tell your story. And not just allowed, but commanded. The shame that leads us to hide from our friends when we are not coping is deeply unhelpful. Quite often, I am the only person to whom my patients tell their ‘shameful’ secrets, or they may have just one friend who takes the burden. All too easily, a co-dependency develops in which the friend actually helps to perpetuate the situation. Addictions to alcohol or drugs, food issues, hiding loss of memory or panic attacks are all problems where this tends to happen.
The ceremony brings it all out into the light of day, back from the shadowy spirit world. Whether or not there is ‘real’ physical illness going on, it helps with the emotional and spiritual malaise, and sometimes that can be the turning point. We need to be seen and heard, or we dwindle. A good system of healing will build in ways to help that happen.