Special Guest Article by Jonathan Ley
Years ago, I had the great fortune of getting to train with a well-known naturopathic doctor who had a very high success rate turning around serious medical conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and much more.
I had the chance to learn a unique approach to helping people detoxify their bodies using a combination of dietary recommendations and medicinal herbs as well as helping them develop a greater awareness of how they lost their good health to begin with. This approach made way more sense than anything I’d ever come across before, and I thought that if could just align myself with what he was doing, I’d be able to replicate that same level of results.
As I got out into the world teaching this methodology, developing my practice and taking on more and more clients, my level of effectiveness and success gradually went up to the point where I was working with a lot of people with advanced cancer and other serious health conditions all over North America.
I saw people having some of the most remarkable recoveries but on the flip side there were also people that I worked with who didn’t recover no matter what I did with them, which is something that health practitioners seldom like to talk about.
I never had bought into the idea that there is such a thing as an incurable autoimmune disease but rather inherited the belief system that it is possible to turn anything around if someone has a strong enough conviction to live and is willing to do whatever it takes to heal . Even though I was very effective as a practitioner by most anyone’s standards, if some of my clients weren’t getting better, there was still more for me to learn.
So I redesigned my practice, developed better ways of helping people change their diet and working through food cravings. I also started using different natural remedies, and incorporated other alternative healing modalities in my practice. As a result of these changes, my level of results went up again, but I still had health clients who weren’t getting better.
Around the same time, I was working with another brilliant mentor who suggested that I try “active listening” in my practice.
Although I had heard this term mentioned before and understood the importance of listening, I still didn’t quite grasp what he meant by that. After all, I thought I had been listening to my clients . . . they would come into my office, list out their symptoms and ailments, and I’d get them to write out in detail what they were eating and the food cravings they had. I’d ask them about sleep patterns, their home environment, and would even ask them to list out what stresses they had in their lives.
He said that active listening isn’t just about listening to a report of their symptoms and life circumstances. Rather, it is about creating a safe enough space for them to open up and share a lot more about the sensitive or delicate areas of life that aren’t normally discussed and to be an unconditionally loving witness, feeling where they’re at and what they’re going through without reacting, or necessarily jumping to fix any of their problems or giving advice.
He expanded on this further suggesting that perhaps a big factor to why people are unhealthy is due to being stressed out or feeling stuck or powerless in particular areas of life where they are jammed up with emotions or feelings they’d been unable to fully feel, express or release.
One of the biggest gifts someone could offer them would be to listen to them fully and give them the space to feel and process their way through these emotions. He added that if people could feel their way through things, this could potentially open the door for miracles to happen with their health.
I resisted the notion of doing this for a long time. With only a limited time per appointment, the idea of taking the extra time to find out a lot more about where they were at, along with taking on their energetic burden seemed like opening up Pandora’s box and more than I could handle. Furthermore, I could tell that many of my clients just wanted to get in and get out with a quick solution to have some relief and weren’t really looking to open up about what was going on in their lives. But then there were others who I sensed were looking for something more and yearning for someone to just listen to them.
I also had read and studied enough about the mind-body-spirit connection to know that people’s health conditions are often connected to the stresses they are experiencing in their lives, and I’d seen countless examples of that happen where someone’s symptoms would flare up the worst when they were under high amounts of stress. Experience had told me that unless some of those underlying stress factors got addressed, there was a good chance that whatever medicines, dietary changes, or other recommendations I made might not make much of a difference at the end of the day.
When I was finally ready to try this out, I remember working with a woman who had been diagnosed with endometriosis which is atypical or abnormal cells in the lining wall of the uterus. Her doctor had also found precancerous cells in her cervix.
She desperately wanted to have another child but her doctors were considering recommending she have a hysterectomy (surgical removal of some or all of the organs of the female reproductive system) which would have ruled that possibility out. When I first started working with her, I could feel that she had a huge amount of anger and frustration bottled up inside. She’d been to many other allopathic and alternative health practitioners with no results to show and it seemed like no one had been listening to something she had been trying to say.
I created a safe enough space for her to open up and eventually she felt comfortable enough to let me know that she had been sexually abused by someone in her family over a decade ago. . .something she had been terrified to talk about with anyone. Although the incident had happened a long time ago, it was as fresh in her mind as if it had happened yesterday. I just listened and felt where she was at. As wave upon wave of anger, guilt and shame came up for her to feel her way through, she eventually came to a new level of clarity and peace.
The results were nothing short of amazing. She eventually took it upon herself to forgive the family member who had abused her (which was one of the most challenging things she had ever done in her life) and the anger was replaced with love and compassion.
A month later she went in for another medical scan of her uterus and cervix and the doctors couldn’t find any sign of the inflammation and atypical cells anywhere! She never had to go through with the hysterectomy procedure.
Shortly after that, I worked with a woman with stage 4 cervical cancer after she had been given a terminal diagnosis by her oncologist and told she only had a short time to live. Stage 4 cancer essential means that the cancer has metastasized or there are tumours in more than one location throughout the body. The most serious tumours were compressing her ureters, which are the tubes in the body that connect the kidneys with the bladder. Urine is produced in the kidneys, goes to the bladder via the ureters, and then is eliminated out of the body. As the tumours continued to swell and grow, this blocked urine from going into the bladder and getting out of the body and she was very quickly losing her kidneys.
At that time, she was having her bloodwork taken every single day in the hospital to check her level of kidney function. If someone’s kidney function gets too low they can quickly die or go on dialysis.
When I first met her and her family, she and her husband were quarrelling incessantly. They also had a special needs child. Needless to say, there was a tremendous amount of stress in the family in addition to what she was going through with the cancer.
She wasn’t really able to hold down much food or medicinal herbs and, in the beginning, one of the only things I was able to do was just listen to her and create a safe space for her to talk about what was going on in her family life.
Listening to her without reacting was incredibly challenging as she had a tremendous amount of anger in her, but I continued to make it okay for her to express herself and the most remarkable thing happened.
Each day after we talked when her bloodwork came back, we could see her kidney function improving with the only variable that had changed being that she was opening up and communicating a lot more about all that was going on in her life. But then she’d get to a certain point of improvement, get into a big fight with her husband, and her kidney function would start going down again which we could see almost in real time through daily changes in her bloodwork.
At first I found this hard to believe, and I thought it must be due to some other factors, but as it continued to happen like clockwork even when there were no changes in diet and medicines, I finally started to see the connection of how powerful a healing experience it was for someone to have the experience of being heard and loved unconditionally.
Her kidney function trended up remarkably for a few months doing this gradual yo-yo sort of thing with her processing out a ton of anger and other emotions during this time, but she reached a point where one day said she’d had enough and passed shortly after. During this time, however, she let go of a tremendous amount of her anger to the point where there was a lot more peace and love in her relationship with her husband and she departed on much better terms with him.
In no way am I suggesting that active listening is a silver bullet solution. Although most everyone wants to feel better, the reality is that most people perhaps aren’t at the place where they’re ready or wanting to start doing the work of changing their diet or looking at some of the more troublesome or stressful aspects of life and making changes at these levels. For these people, maybe it’s the right thing to do to take a pill, natural remedy or have a procedure which acts to “suppress” or “manage” the symptoms even if there are potential undesirable side effects that come with this approach.
I also realize that it would take a lot for doctors and alternative health practitioners to reinvent themselves and their practices to include the option of working with some of their patients and clients in this deeper sort of way spending a lot more time listening to them and giving them space to open up instead of prescribing a medication or giving a treatment right away.
For the patients and clients who are really wanting to share more about what’s happening in their lives beyond just reporting symptoms, I’ve seen how giving them the experience of really being heard can sometimes produce miracles where nothing else seems to be working. Putting this into practice I found to be incredibly enlightening and pointed to a whole other way of working with people that, my sense is we will see a lot more of in years to come in health care.
Jonathan Ley is an herbalist, detoxification practitioner, and life coach dedicated to bringing active listening and unconditional love into the health practitioner / client dynamic and working with people to help them develop more conscious awareness around their health to experience optimal performance and vitality. Visit his site by clicking here.