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Notes on counselling

The healer’s hand

Dr. Soumitra Basu

Editor's note

Modern medicine seems to have forgotten the importance of touch. One of the first things a tiny baby or a dying man in coma respond to is touch. When all words fail, a touch can heal. In these notes, a psychiatrist discusses the importance of touch for counselling.

One of the most sensitive areas in counselling is the healing touch. If we could only but remember the cool comfort, the warmth of security felt when, as children, our mothers would stroke and caress our foreheads when we were down with fever. That was the magic touch! The counsellor, the healer, the doctor, the surgeon, the nurse, the physiotherapist, the reiki healer, the pranic therapist and even the care-giver have to learn to recreate that magic touch in his or her unique way.

After all, it is the hand that acts or executes the healing. The surgeon has to use his instruments, but his success really lies in the dexterity, suppleness and perfection with which his hands handle them. The responsibility of the healer increases when he has to directly place his hands over the patient’s body, whether for diagnosis, therapy or for just conveying a sense of security. In whatever way, this touch must be a healing touch.

How to make this touch a healing touch? Each touch must be a ‘conscious’ touch. In other words, the healer must learn to infuse ‘consciousness’ into every touch. There is a universal energy around us in the cosmic consciousness. The healing hand has to be sensitized in such a way that it can link that universal rejuvenating energy with the patient’s body. The hand must be able to focus that energy to the affected part of the body in concrete, physical terms.

There are several steps to sensitize the hand for healing. The first requisite is that there should be absolutely no feeling of repulsion in touching a body affected by any disease, disfigured by any trauma, distorted by the vagaries of age, disgraced by intoxicants or even defiled by something as grievous as AIDS. The healer should be able to create the compassionate touch to any skin — wrinkled, furrowed, infected, discoloured, ulcerated. The body of the client, irrespective of caste, colour, race, religion; independent of age and disease and regardless of finesse or rusticity. This calls for a mind-set that is detached and non-judgmental. The development of this state is not easy; it comes through long years of self-preparation coupled with a technical expertise in one’s field. It is not enough to develop a psychological attitude of detachment. There should also be a sound technical expertise in one’s field, perfected through experience. It is this combination of non-judgmental detachment and a thorough technical expertise that actually sensitizes the healer’s hand. In other words, the synthesis of ‘matter’ and ‘Spirit’ gets reflected at the level of the healing touch.

The next requisite is the infusion of ‘joy ’into the healing touch. Practising non-aversive detachment does not mean that the healer has to be indifferent, passive and impersonal. If there were not the poise of ‘Bliss’ or Ananda in the experiential realisation of the Absolute, existence would have no value. It is because of this ‘joy’ in creation that human beings still cling to life despite the load of suffering. However, this ‘joy’ in creation is different from our usual notions of happiness which is the opposite of unhappiness. The ‘joy’ or ‘bliss’ of Satchidananda is self-existent, motiveless, desireless and exists just for the sake of existence. Such a bliss can justifiably be transmitted only by a realised soul, a yogi. It is not expected that an ordinary healer can convey this unalloyed bliss. But if he or she can be sincere in their work and not bring an element of consumerism or commercialisation during the healing process, a beginning will be made. There is something else. If the healer can combine detachment, technical expertise and joy in the healing armatorium, a fourth element enters to enrich the healing touch. That element is the poise of confidence. It instils faith in the healing process. And it is faith that cures.

There is another step which can be pursued by a very small proportion of healers. If pursued, the process of healing gives an opportunity for the healer to progress spiritually. By exceeding the ego-based poise, he or she can shift to a beyond-ego principle (Psychic Being) as the fulcrum of one’s being. This allows the flowering of the subtle, inner dormant powers of the being which accelerate the healing process. These inner powers range from accessing a more developed intuition to harnessing a dynamic vital energy and executing material action through subtlised senses.

The beyond-ego principle or Psychic Being is the repository of unalloyed love, the source of our most intense and sweetest emotions, and treasure-house of our deepest feelings. It is this love that springs forth from the depths of our being and gives to the healing touch a certain poignancy, a subtlety, a finesse that effectively transmits the unexpressed element in healing. The healing touch exceeds its therapeutic value to become a touch of love and compassion in its purest mode. The healing touch then becomes an effective channel for transmitting Divine Grace.

It is too much to expect that a vast majority of healers can delve into such depths. But it is also fair enough to expect that every healer must use his or her healing hand with dignity, sobriety, detachment and reverence. In fact, the healing touch acts as a channel between the superconscient forces and the physical body. Knowingly or unknowingly, the healer acts as a priest at the altar of Life, helping the client to establish the lost harmony at a new level of equilibrium, but also getting a chance for one’s own progress and growth along the hierarchies of consciousness.

The importance of the healing touch can be inferred from two of the commonest problems that the clinician faces. Elderly people suffering from dementia respond to the healing touch in a dramatic way. They often suffer from bouts of irritability, anger and frustration, which can often get worse by sedatives and psychotropic drugs. They respond positively to the healing touch and care-givers are instructed to stroke the whole body. How beautifully it works! The other example is children suffering from Down’s syndrome (Mongolism). How they love to be physically stroked and caressed! No amount of counselling can give them that spontaneous joy. We have nothing much else to bring happiness to these hapless children than the healing touch!

Perhaps the finest compliment gained by a healer is when the patient requests to be touched with the healing hand. If the healer has been able to execute his or her healing touch with perfection, the hand will carry the memory, so that one’s guardian angel can invoke the “beauty and the thrill of a remembered clasp…”*

* Sri Aurobindo. Savitri. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p.419.

Dr. Soumitra Basu, a practising psychiatrist, is the Director of a new school of Psychology, the Mira Vision Trust. He is also one of the editors of NAMAH.

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