Therapy, Healing and Spirituality: Part 1 – Promises and Disillusionment

Today there are many people who are disillusioned by their experience of therapy, healing or spiritual practices. The promises of the alternative and complementary approaches to healing or enlightenment were great in the seventies and eighties. Here at the start of the twenty-first century, 40 years of results deserve a review.

But does anybody really question therapy and healing practices? Today people continue to flock to reflexologists, aromatherapists, NLP practitioners, counselors,et al, presumably convinced that handing over their money and spending an hour or so of their time will lead to some desired result.

What we want

What is the result? Well, I recently saw a film for marketing alternative therapies that attempts to answer this question clearly. What we want — and notice the ‘we’ which always makes us (oops!) think we are being subtly, or blatantly, patronized, even though we have learnt to love and accept the sense of belonging and inclusiveness or exclusivity it gives us — is happiness, health, money or attractiveness (defined as “sexiness”). Relationship difficulties, career, meaning, purpose and that kind of thing don’t matter as much apparently, although most therapists would have us believe they do.

With such exalted aims you might think that the welter of self-help books, psycho-spiritual gurus and weird and wonderful methods would have some effect, wouldn’t you?

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A Variety of Therapies

Well, judging by the variety of approaches, the proliferation of methods and schools and the weighty promises made by them, perhaps not. Because, after all, if these approaches were effective the appetite for fresh approaches would not be so great.

On the other hand, if these ways and methods were ineffective wouldn’t the increasing numbers of seekers and customers for healing and self-improvement have dried up by now, or at least be showing signs of decline?

An Impossible Bind?

It is reminiscent of the impossible bind of law enforcement agencies that have to justify applying for a boost in funding, while at the same time proving that they are effective because crime figures are dropping. If crime figures are dropping the police must be doing their job. If crime is rising, then why boost police funding? Alternatively, if crime is dropping, why not reduce police funding? Why increase funding if the police are ineffective?

There is no easy answer. If the healing-spiritual-psychological practitioners were subject to the same scrutiny, what would they say to support their claim that they are delivering an effective service, while yearly more and more people, and often the same people, keep coming back for the same thing?

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A Curtain of Secrecy

In fact the alternative/complementary sector has done fairly much what the police do in this near-impossible bind: they play with terms, ‘doctor the figures’ and create new ways of looking at the problem to convince us of the indispensable services they offer and the illusion that they are delivering the goods. A curtain of secrecy is drawn across the real facts to justify the end.

This curtain includes turning the responsibility back on to the patient, client, student or adept (“if you were truly committed, you would be successful”). In psychotherapy the term used is resistance (“your unconscious is resisting your growth process”). Or there’s “if we work a little deeper, we’ll find the right remedy for you,” or “the healing has begun” to justify alternative often bizarre and inept methods of healing. Of course, there’s always the quasi-religious, ‘Just have faith and… a bit more faith’.

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

These remarks conjure up the spectre of the old seventies therapy joke: Question: “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “One, but the light bulb must really want to change!” (Ba-bum!)


by Richard G Harvey