Part One of this discussion is here, inspired by Camilla Laurentine’s entry on Paganism’s tendency to glorify illness as proof of spiritual progress.
Now, having discussed some of my own experiences in physical and mental illness, I’d like to talk about some troubling attitudes toward holistic health and healing. Beth Lynch wrote her own entry about this topic and received a troubling comment that pretty much embodies everything that Camille and Beth were talking about in their respective posts. I’m not going to rehash everything that I said in my comments to the person there, but I would like to discuss what really worries me when people start going on woo alone.
Is there a mind-body connection? Yes, absolutely. However, the people I know who are /actual/ healers working with the mind/body connection [in my personal experiences with hypnotherapy, reiki, etc.] have never discouraged me from using western medicine. You know why?
BECAUSE THEY KNOW IT’S UNETHICAL, RECKLESS, AND DANGEROUS ADVICE.
if you go to a practitioner who tells you to stop taking your meds because their techniques will insta-heal you, THEY ARE A FUCKING QUACK. RUN, DO NOT WALK OUT OF THEIR OFFICE.
Any reiki healer, hypnotherapist, chiropractor, etc worth a damn will tell you that you will get maximum benefit from conjoint therapy, and in my experience, this is the truth. The other thing that I will say about this is that any healer worth a damn would also acknowledge that mind and spirit can help heal your body, but that you will still require a guide. I am not a hypnotherapist. If I want hypnotherapy to help me with my PTSD, I need to see a professional.
Gentle readers, if you’re clergy or even just a friend of someone with a disability, telling them that they can just think their way out of an illness is irresponsible as fuck. It is not your place to make the call to remove a person’s doctor-prescribed medical regime. If you’re clergy or laity leadership, I would even make the argument that it’s a person’s ethical duty to refer or suggest western medicine if you think the person’s behavior is dangerous to themselves or others. Whether or not they take your advice is up to them, but if you really think they’re in danger of physical violence or suicide, calling for a wellness check is entirely appropriate. Pastoral counseling or chatting with a friend cannot cover everything, and if it’s outside your scope of practice, you need to say so in a firm, compassionate manner. I don’t want someone coming to me when they really should be in therapy. I’m not a therapist. I am not familiar with the techniques to guide someone else through that healing process.
Caveat: physical or mental illness should not be a bar to participation or leadership, so long as the person is taking care of their illness. I would also advocate for any given group to have enough leaders (read: depending on size of group) that no one person being out of it due to a bout of severe illness knocks leadership out. In my own study group for example, I am not the sole leader, and when I am ill, there are three other mods. Our group membership holds steady at about 20-25 people, and that’s by group consensus. If I’m out sick, there is still good, capable leadership. We keep our group small so that squabbling is minimal, and so that everyone knows everyone else well enough to feel comfortable with the types of discussion and work that we do. I am comfortable enough with the other mods if I should ever feel like I had to step down entirely, the group would still be in good hands, and I would still be happy as a member there, even if we don’t all practice in the exact same way.
In regards to mental illness, we absolutely reserve the right to remove a member if their illness becomes disruptive to group activities, and said person is refusing treatment. We’re more patient if the person is in the process of getting things sorted, but if someone is booted for untreated mental health, we generally do not ban them for life if they come back later and have settled into a regime that works for them. Your group needs and mileage may vary.
If you do work as clergy or laity leadership, I would urge you to make up a master list of such things as:
- Social work agencies, both public and private. The United Way’s 211 is a good place to start in finding these resources.
- where to find free and low cost health care
- where to find free and low cost medication and medical supplies
- Homeless services
- crisis unit contacts and organizations for people have had severe trauma and/or depression
- Pagan-friendly addiction treatment or 12-step groups
- free and low cost counseling centers for follow up care
- food insufficiency resources
- free or low cost childcare services
- domestic violence centers
- safe spaces and shelters for GLBTQ youth, who are often thrown out of their parents’ homes for being gay.
- legal aid for immigrants, family law, religious discrimination, and other forms of discrimination
I am still working on one for my local community[EDIT: Finished my local emergency services PDF], and I would still like to make a national one. In the meantime I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the submissions that I’ve received thus far. And while I wish this didn’t have to be said, but it does: If there is domestic violence or child abuse in the home, you MUST make that call to a social worker. They are the people who are trained on the safest way to extricate the victims from a dangerous situation. Most of all, if a child tells you that they are being physically or sexually abused, BELIEVE THEM. If we’re gonna be a real religion, we’re gonna have to address some real-world problems.