Words--while seemingly "only" sound--are actually conveyors of thought. One word conjures forth a multitude of images of feelings: "Ocean," "Breeze," "Fireplace," "Mommy." Those images and feelings, in turn, call on a cascade of chemistry that literally alters the most fundamental physiologic responses: bleeding, autoimmunity, blood pressure, peristalsis, inflammation" There is no biological process that does not vibrate along, for ill or good.
That is the basis of Verbal First Aid and the reason why it is so powerful.
One colleague tells a beautiful story about the power of words in her clinical practice:
G had come to my office five times, and I hadn't been able to help her feel better. She was only twelve years old, but had the posture and stance of an old woman. Her early childhood, back in El Salvador, had been plagued by fright and uncertainty. She had seen war, known grief, and she had been raped by a group of soldiers.
When she arrived at her new school in Washington D.C., her teacher recommended she be taken to a doctor, as she complained of leg pains and sometimes she stayed in her classroom during recess so she could sit quietly, rubbing her legs. The doctors found nothing wrong with her legs. In fact, it was found that she was in remarkably good health for the ordeal she had lived through only a few months earlier.
During my time with her, on her sixth visit, she casually told me that her oldest brother had been tortured in front of her, and that a soldier had fractured his leg with the butt of his rifle. I immediately suspected that the pain in her legs had to do with the incident. Later I asked her about the time she had been raped, but she clammed up, as usual. Feeling ineffective in front of this damaged child, I let my intuition take me, and I asked her if she liked her biology classes. She nodded. I asked her if she knew we were made of many, many cells of different kinds. She nodded, and let her chin sink into her chest. I let her stay in her silence while I spoke in a whisper.
"You know, G. Cells are continually renewing themselves. Older cells die and new cells are born to take their place. Our skin cells fall away all day long, when we shower, when we sleep and are brushed by our sheets, when we get dressed. All of our cells are rejuvenated regularly" Think of this" All of the cells that were in your body when those men took you, have died to let other new cells take over. You have no cells left that were touched by them. All of your cells are new and don't know what happened to the others."
G lifted her head and looked at her arms and legs. She felt the skin on her neck. She didn't say anything, but I knew a change had taken place. That day, she did not limp when she left my office. She looked back at me and smiled. The following day her teacher called me to tell me that G had joined the others during recess, that she no longer complained of leg pains, and that she smiled frequently.