October 13, 2016
By Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC
The two most common models for healing in medicine are pathogenic and wellness. The pathogenic model posits healing as the return of health by identifying and removing the inciting cause or pathogenic agent responsible for the destruction of healthy functioning. Conventional biomedicine has been quite successful at this. The Wellness Paradigm, defined at www.nationalwellness.org as “becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life,” expands the pathogenic paradigm and places the emphasis on health. I believe a third approach to healing is emerging – the growth model. Illness presents us with the opportunity to learn to better function, and to deepen our understanding and relationship with the world around us. When this learning transforms, growth has the potential for deep healing.
Carol seeks care for exhaustion and anxiety. With a 10-month old son and a partner working six days a week and living on the road, it’s no wonder that Carol is worried and not sleeping. She barely has a moment for herself. She seeks care, yet since she is still nursing her son, she would like not to take conventional sleeping pills or anxiety medication. In the Narrative Health Coaching approach, Carol agrees that a desired outcome for her treatment is to be “more able to trust that everything will be okay for me and my family without me having to do anything.” In order for Carol to succeed, she is going to have to learn to do three things: 1) To be more able to connect to other women who care for children, 2) To be more able to recognize how safe my child really is, and 3) To be more able to let others care for me and my child.
Rather than a medication approach, either conventional, functional or integrative, the Narrative Health Coaching Model revolves around a learning process. Carol engages in exercises over several sessions that initially connect her to other moms. Through this she learns to let others care for her child, who, along the way, she is able to recognize is healthy and safe. As her awareness and her ability to make connections grow, she trusts her instincts and she forms healthy interpersonal relationships that support her situation. Her anxiety recedes, her sleep improves and she is able to engage in healthier self-care practices, like yoga and exercise. Through Narrative Health Coaching, Carol has identified and learned new skills that transform her symptoms from high-energy, unresourceful patterns such as anxiety, and low-energy, unresourceful symptoms such as exhaustion, to high-energy resourceful practices, such as baby boot camp, and low-energy resourceful practices such as gentle yoga. Her transformation leads to growth and healing.
While conventional medicine and wellness models rely on comprehension—recognizing negative symptoms and their causes, or lifestyle behaviors that promote wellness, such as exercise, rest and good companionship, often the challenges we face are less about “knowing more” or “managing better.” Rather, we need to learn to use new ‘muscles’ that will change our limited ways of taking care of ourselves. When learning transforms, growth heals.
Narrative Health Coaching relies upon a scientific learning model that has been articulated by the developmental testing company Lectica lectica.org. Learning cycles, a developmental approach, include: Set – having a clear desired goal to work toward; Seek – the process by which we seek and find the necessary skills we need to learn to reach our goal; Apply – using these skills in real-time circumstances to practice and see how they influence our process; and finally Assess – the process of reflection, so that we can better understand how learning new skills enhances our ability and potentially increases our success. Following Assess, we ReSet our goals with our new knowledge, and thus learning is cyclical. Setting our goals in the zone ‘just right’ for learning – not too hard and not too simple, maximizes the learning potential. When properly scaled, learning cycles support ongoing developmental learning. Successful learning engages the dopamine cycle, and thus it’s addictive, leading to sustained change and eventually mastery.
Valerie sought care for frequent colds that failed to resolve. As we met in the initial session, it became clear that Valerie was a workaholic and she tended to drink too much as a way of relaxing. We agreed her healing topic was “To be better able to harness my body’s resources and vitality in service of both high energy intensive activity as well as more deeply relaxing and playful moments.” Valerie would slowly learn to get better at relaxing and playing as well as recognizing when she was saying yes too much at work. As we worked through the learning cycles, she got much better at honoring her natural cycles of energy. She learned when it was best for her to say no and she got really good at recognizing when folks were demanding too much from her. Valerie learned her lessons well, her health transformed, her colds disappeared and her energy improved. As she succeeded through each cycle of learning, her core got stronger, and she healed patterns that didn’t serve her new healthier life. For Valerie, learning transformed her health.
The potential for healing through growth with Narrative Health Coaching relies on the coach’s and the client’s respective abilities to engage this dance cycle together.