Offered by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D.
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Need for the Program:
Some people want the opportunity to work intensively on a health problem in order to make major progress in a short period of time. Historically, this has been how healing has proceeded from time immemorial - in intensive spurts of time with the healer followed by time apart to integrate what has been accomplished. Since the early 1980's, I have preferred to help people achieve their health and wellness goals within this format. My philosophy for this program has been inspired by my study of the traditional healers of Native North America, along with an interest in the Asian Quiet Therapies and meditative traditions, and a deep respect for all spiritual paths.
Background on Philosophy Behind the Program:
Native American medicine has been practiced on the North American continent for at least 10,000 years. When Europeans arrived in North America, Native people of this continent were a healthy lot. Plagues and epidemics from Europe soon changed that, but do not mitigate against the effectiveness of Native American methods for attaining long-term survival and avoiding chronic disease. Conventional medicine has lost this wisdom for transforming illness into health through mind-body-spirit integration - a fundamental concept among Native North Americans and most of the remainder of the indigenous world. Conventional psychotherapies have also fallen short of their ability to transform people's lives. They have parceled out therapeutic time in hourly increments in frequencies of once or twice weekly. Weekly one-hour appointments or even yoga classes before work allow us to address only our most critical and immediate concerns. The time needed for inner exploration, for personal transformation, and for the exploration of how personal issues, nutrition, family problems or spiritual matters affect our health is sorely lacking.
Conventional therapies have neglected opportunities to facilitate a profound change within a short period of time. They have also ignored the power of ceremony and ritual in treatment. Ceremonies couple the patient's intention to heal with the power of belief and faith in the ceremonial process. They lead to peak experiences that kindle insight into our condition and increase our belief in our own abilities and capabilities. Since medical school graduation, I have been working to integrate the thoughts and techniques of traditional Native American healing elders with more common behavioral medicine techniques and psychotherapies. I have wanted to find the most effective and most aesthetic way for me to midwife people's personal transformations and healings. To improve my approach, I interviewed a number of Native American healers to learn how they conceptualized their work and how they thought it could be translated into modern American culture.
The traditional healers told me that time is the first important ingredient in the healing journey, comparing starting this journey to beginning to push a rock up a hill. It takes a lot more effort to get the rock moving at first than to keep it moving. They wondered how seeing someone once or twice weekly could provide enough "oomph" to start the healing process. "How can you push a rock up a hill if you keep stopping and letting it roll back down?" they asked.
In organic and biochemistry, an energy of activation is required to initiate a reaction. Once initiated that reaction may proceed irreversibly to completion without much further energetic input. Without sufficient energy of activation, the reaction never occurs. A cake without sufficient energy of heat remains mush. A minimal level of heat is needed to actually cook the cake (transforming the internal arrangements of its molecules). The healers loved these comparisons to chemistry, and reflected upon how nature is the same at every level. In systems science, we say that each layer is isomorphic to the other.
The healers related that they typically stayed with the sick person until the job was done. They rarely helped more than one person at a time, and people often traveled great distances to see them. These great distances necessitated an intensive approach, since the journey from home to the healer could not be made many times.
The healers would concentrate their work over a number of consecutive days with multiple hours spent each day on healing. Ceremonies often took place every night. Lakota healers would do sweat lodge ceremonies at night, sometimes followed by yuwipi ceremonies. Dineteh healers would perform nightly chants lasting as long as ten days as in the Blessing Way or the Coyote Way. When sufficient progress had been made, the person would be sent home with instructions to return at a later date for further treatment. Because their healing was more directive, their patients would leave with specific instructions for tasks to complete during the interval apart.
The traditional healers emphasized how they helped people become aware of their inner world - their anger, sorrow, bitterness, rage, and hatred, so that it could move again. They pointed out how modern American culture teaches people to ignore their inner world and their feelings. Children are taught in school to ignore their body needs for elimination until it is convenient for the teacher. They are taught to ignore their wish to play until scheduled recess. Civilization, as it is now constructed, requires a level of ignoring emotions for smooth functioning that the traditionals found sad.
Traditional healers pointed out how strange it is for a secretary to be unable to take time off if overcome by sadness from a tragic case history she was typing. In this example, they thought it was odd that the bosses could imagine that a human being could type a document without entering into the story that the document conveys. They reflected on how emotions got in the way of efficiency in the modern world. They related how their society used to be less hurried. Hurry has become the watchword of modern society, since the faster we go, the more money we make.
In the days before modern pharmaceuticals, rest was a key ingredient of any therapy. Healing may best begin by putting the client to bed. This disturbs daily routines and breaks old habits. It allows the body's repair mechanisms to take over from the defense mechanisms; the parasympathetic nervous system to calm down the sympathetic nervous system.
Traditionals mentioned the importance of a number of ceremonial procedures, including purification ceremonies, which are also important for the inner life. They see becoming well as a journey - a journey that takes time.
The notion of retreating to become well isn't only a Native American idea. Prior to pharmaceutical therapies, bed rest was one of the most commonly prescribed treatments by both conventional and traditional practitioners. In Japan, "quiet" therapies, involving isolating patients completely for days or weeks are a regular practice. Patients are left alone in a room for seven days without television, radio, or social interaction. They are permitted only basic necessities like food and bathroom privileges. After one week they are gradually introduced back into society by engaging in menial tasks. The third and fourth weeks are times of intensive spiritual and emotional therapy. This isolation allows patients to have not only time for serious rest, but also the opportunity for serious introspection and life review. These practices have their roots in Shinto philosophy and were developed by the Japanese physician, Morita. These practices teach patients that their emotions don't have to rule their lives or seriously affect their health since they are fleeting experiences of the mind.
True traditional medicine takes into account the body, mind and spirit. Native American Healing techniques and Japanese "Quiet" therapies offer strong paradigms for treatment of the mind and spirit. Functional Medicine, a contemporary integrative approach founded by John Bland, is a science-based health care system that assesses and treats the underlying causes of illness through individually-tailored therapies. Three basic tenets are involved in Functional Medicine: 1) Biochemical Individuality, 2) Health as Positive Vitality, 3) Function as Homeodynamics.
Biochemical Individuality is the concept that each individual has a unique set of characteristics. Unlike conventional medicine, Functional Medicine contends that individuals respond differently to environmental toxins, medications and foods. Each person has his/her own unique biochemical patterns including how information is processed between cells and body systems, and metabolism of nutrients.
The tenet of Health as Positive Vitality offers an innovative approach for practitioners to interact with patients. Instead of focusing on the illness, practitioners are encouraged to take "wellness" histories to discover what patients were doing when they were healthy and what they have done in the past that has made them feel their "best."
The third tenet of Functional Medicine, Function as Homeodynamics, examines how homeostastis works in the body. Conventional belief contends that homeostasis is a system of interconnected components which function to keep physical and chemical components like temperature or blood sugar relatively constant. The Homeodynamics theory of Functional Medicine believes that instead of homeostasis a similar system exists that functions to maintain not physio-chemical constancy, but biochemical individuality. A Functional Medical Assessment would include laboratory studies that examine immunofunction, metabolism and the level of environmental toxins in the body.
While these approaches in no way replace conventional therapies, they add new dimensions to therapies that afford patients the opportunity to explore their wellness. Most importantly, they provide the time and individualized attention that is sorely lacking in our current system.
The Program Itself:
The Treatment Process that emerged from the meetings and discussions of traditionals and non-traditionals (including the author) resulted in an intensive experience for clients who can receive 2 to 7 hours per day of therapeutic attention, including the reading of their journal and commenting upon what has been written, reviewing art they may have produced on assignment, general processing and integration of their experiences and what they are learning, hypnosis and/or imagery, body therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, projective techniques including the use of native American images, shields, or animal images; and ceremony. The work might include meditation, Reiki and energy healing, yoga, craniosacral therapy, homeopathic consultation in these individualized programs.
Clients are introduced to the use of ceremony in therapy and for their own personal growth. Night sessions may take place outside in the medicine circle with a fire. Clients are prepared for a sweat lodge ceremony on the sixth or seventh evening and then, if they are strong enough or ready, are taken to the top of a nearby mountain to sit for the night and perhaps receive a vision. Generally, the first day (which may be done in advance of the treatment) consists of an assessment phase, including hearing the person's story of the illness, learning about his or her life stress and challenges, support and stresses, diet, lifestyle, family and friends. We develop images of the illness and of what the healing journey would entail. We consider the energy body of the person and how energy is blocked or restricted, of how the body participates in the suffering. We work together through a talking circle format to develop a treatment plan which makes sense to all involved. This plan can be implemented the next day or later as the person desires.
My goal is to help participants restore a sense of beauty and harmony to their experience of life. Associated with the restoration of balance and harmony is often improvement in physical and emotional illnesses.
During the intensive healing retreat, several helpers and I assist participants to explore self and spirit, to find new ways to embody spirit, and to forge relationships with their inner parts necessary for healing. We do this through encounter, movement, sacred art, and ceremony.
This program removes participants from the pace of daily life, and opens them to the experience of nature.
Results of the Program:
I have taken 105 people through these intensive counseling experiences. I have always been the primary therapist, but with assistants for some of the cases. The clients have been those with a problem they grade as at least moderately severe, and had all had a minimum of one year of outpatient treatment, including forms of counseling, which were ineffective.
Most Native People believe that all healing is ultimately spiritual healing, and that the integration of mind, body, and spirit is crucial to getting well. I grew up within an implicit understanding of this principle, and through the course of my life, have come to explicitly believe this as well.
Implicit within indigenous culture's concepts of illness is an appreciation that it is a territory in which we find ourselves, and not an inseparable trait of the person who is ill. Rather than describe someone as a cancer patient, we would say that this person finds herself in the territory of cancer. Implicit also is the understanding that illness is a marker of imbalance. When balance and harmony are restored, illness can be transformed. The limits of this healing transformation are set by the Divine and cannot be known by humans.
For those who are uncomfortable with the God concept, we can speak this awareness in the language of systems science, as Douglas Hofstedter does in his book, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, in which he shows that we cannot fully characterize or describe systems in which we are participants. An organ cannot fully describe its human. A human cannot fully characterize her family. A family cannot fully characterize its larger kinship group. So the rules for our existence cannot be fully known by us.
Finally, indigenous cultures know that sickness and death are not necessarily related. Illness does not invariably lead to death, and one does not have to be ill to die.
While I became more and more impressed with the effectiveness of Native American methods for long-term survival and for treating chronic disease, I also came to understand that all traditional cultures on every continent share this wisdom.
Group Two-Day Intensive Weekends:
These two-day experiences are designed to start the healing journey. Native American philosophy teaches us that all healing is fundamentally spiritual healing. What this means is that any technique works much better when the person's inner healer is activated.
These two-day workshops are meant to help participants find their inner healer. This profound, but elusive part of our self (according to Native American philosophy) organizes healing of body, mind, and soul. What this inner healer is, varies from tribe to tribe, and culture to culture. Some call it spirit. Others call it soul. Others call it Self. When it is activated, people feel transformed. They feel "in the flow," present-centered, mindful, empowered, and intuitively aware of what they need for healing. Our goal for these two days is to locate this inner healer.
The need for these two-day experiences arose because not everyone could afford the time or expense of weeklong one-on-one intensive healing experiences. Nor did everyone know if they would want or need a week or longer time commitment. This two day, small group experience fills a gap between the individual office appointment and the week-long healing experience. It is especially beneficial for people who ask the question, "What approach or method will best heal me?"
While it is true that some approaches have more proven biological efficacy than others, both research on the self-healing response and the philosophy of indigenous healers teaches us that most important is the person in the healing process. If your inner healer is activated and functioning for you, almost anything can work. If it is not, very little can work. Drugs and surgery are such extreme measures that the need for the inner healer can be detoured, but my experience has been that eventually we do need to meet our inner healer or pharmacologically treated disease returns or worsens. New conditions arise. Therefore that is the need for this two-day experience - to start people on a journey to meet their inner healer.
During the two-day workshops, you will learn:
- What we can learn from traditional Native American healers to improve our health care.
- How to use ceremony in your own healing journey
- Use of the talking circle to enrich family life.
- How to use stories and storytelling in healing.
- Native American inspired approaches to guided imagery.
- How ceremony fits into health care.
- About complementary medicine and how it is practiced when inspired by Native American principles of healing.
Nature permitting, we will share a traditional sweat lodge ceremony on Sunday afternoon.
Biography of Lewis Mehl-Madrona:
Dr. Mehl-Madrona is internationally renowned Native American physician and a leader in the field of complementary - or integrative - medicine. Dr. Andrew Weil, of the University of Arizona's Program in Integrative Medicine, wrote of him - saying: "Lewis Mehl-Madrona has much to offer [here], since he combines the heritage and experience of a Native American healer with very thorough training in allopathic medicine. On top of that, he has great passion about replacing the reigning biomedical model with a new paradigm...".
Dr. Mehl-Madrona is currently Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine in Saskatoon, Canada. He is a graduate of Indiana University (Biophysical Chemistry, 1972), Stanford University School of Medicine (M.D., 1975), and the Psychological Studies Institute in Palo Alto, California (Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, 1980). He completed residencies in family practice and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, in Burlington. He is board certified in family practice, geriatrics, and psychiatry.
He has been Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and at the University of Pittsburgh; and Research Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and at the University of Vermont. He was an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine.
Dr. Mehl-Madrona also worked for over 25 years as an emergency room physician in rural New Mexico, California, Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. His focus has been to blend the best of conventional medicine with the healing traditions of Native America and other indigenous cultures.
For more information on intensives or to discuss scheduling an intensive, please contact:
Lewis E. Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry
Department of Family Medicine
West Winds Primary Health Centre
University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine
3311 Fairmont Drive
Saskatoon, SK S7M 3Y5
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