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August 1, 2010

The Inevitability of Healing: Verbal First Aidâ„¢ for Recovery from Surgery and Illness

By Judith Acosta

What this means is that the images we hold in our minds, the beliefs we store in the deepest part of ourselves impact the way we heal in an immediate and palpable manner, not only on how we feel emotionally, but on how our cells behave, whether they adapt and grow or become inflexible and decay.


One of the privileges and challenges of my work with people has been the necessity and possibility of seeing things differently. "Things" can mean any number of situations: their circumstances, their resources, even their pasts and futures and their accountability for their present. In fact, it is my ability to see accurately that they are counting on.

I have to see the truth where they have been hiding from it. I have to see their pain when they have been concealing it. And I have to see their strengths when they have been blind to them. This ability to see truly and clearly is the cornerstone of healing of any kind. It is also the foundation of Verbal First Aidâ„¢ in a very particular way. Sometimes it takes the form of gently "reminding" people of some rather important things they may have once known, had some intuitive sense of when they were younger, but have over the course of a crammed, business-driven life full of "gotta-do's", forgotten.

Verbal First Aidâ„¢: A New Science of Human Healing

Science is changing, perhaps nowhere more radically than in the understanding of medicine and the human organism.

First things first: We are not what we think we are. Most of us go through our lives believing or acting under the assumption that we are our jobs, our bank accounts, or our images (the way we look, our desirability, our social success). We act as if we were random collections of molecules in bodies--and little else--reaching for some brass ring, occasionally bumping into other bodies, some of which we like and move along with in a clump for a while and others which repel us.

According to the newest research in epigenetics and even according to the more established principles of quantum physics, we are not just "mass" or "material." We are very complex, elegantly interconnected beings of energy. We are not just affected by thought, we are continually evolving manifestations of it.

The greatest proponent of this line of thinking has been Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist whose research has pointed to the ultimate adaptability of the human genome and that we are influenced by our own thoughts (images and ideas) at the most fundamental level of existence.

Since the early 50's, biologists have assumed that DNA "controls" life by controlling the cell via the nucleus, but in his research, Lipton discovered that cells could live for months without their nucleus. In fact, they continued to behave and react to the environment. If it wasn't the genes, then, what was controlling cellular behavior?

What he concluded was that the DNA simply responded by making choices based on perception of the environment.

What this means is that the images we hold in our minds, the beliefs we store in the deepest part of ourselves impact the way we heal in an immediate and palpable manner, not only on how we feel emotionally, but on how our cells behave, whether they adapt and grow or become inflexible and decay.

According to Lipton, genes cannot turn on and off by themselves. Rather it is the personal and social environments which signal a change is needed: stress and fear signals the need for "protection" and our genes respond. Our health--physical and emotional--is a reflection at the genetic level of our perceptions. Beliefs and images are directly translated not only into the common understanding of chemistry (e.g., fear stimulates adrenalin and vice-versa), but into our very genetics. And therefore into our destiny.

This simple but stunning scientific fact is why Verbal First Aidâ„¢--the therapeutic use of words to facilitate physical healing--works the way it does and why it is so terribly important, particularly with children, who have not yet learned to become inured or jaded by social expectations.

Why Children Profit From Verbal First Aidâ„¢

To start with, children are simply far more open to possibility. They are therefore more susceptible to suggestion. As quickly as they can imagine a monster under the bed, they can picture a cut magically healing, get their bleeding to stop by seeing a faucet in their mind and turning it off, or transform pain from something unbearable and fearful into a variety of more subtle sensations--warmth, tingling, a signal that tissue is granulating and restoring itself.

Verbal First Aidâ„¢ is not only a tool that can help them facilitate healing in the immediate crisis (a fall, a burn, a frightening nightmare), but can give them resources for a lifetime. By teaching them that they can change a perception of pain, alter an immune response, or smooth over a scare easily and quickly, we also teach them what they themselves are capable of in terms of their own self-management. By using Verbal First Aidâ„¢ with our children, we help them experience from the earliest age that they have some control over what they think, what they feel, and how to use those processes to their highest potential.

Adults are more closed because they have been filled with a multitude of ideas about who they are and how things "must be."

General Reminders About Healing

There are some basic concepts to remember when you or someone you love gets hurt, sick or requires surgery.

  1. Energy moves energy. Your cells respond to energy at the most fundamental level. Genetics change based on perception and thought.
  1. Therefore what you think is as important as what you do. It is more than just repeating pleasant aphorisms in the mirror. It is a fundamental belief system. It is your core programming or operating system.
  1. What you say to others makes a difference in how they heal. When you are with a person who has been hurt or frightened, there are things you can say that help and things that can hurt.

What to Say: First Things First

Verbal First Aidâ„¢ requires a few basics (see The Worst Is Over, Acosta/Prager) but the most fundamental is rapport. Getting rapport with a person you are caring for (whether short or long-term) requires what we have called the ABC's of therapeutic communication.

Authority: Who do we follow when we want to get out of a burning building? A firefighter. It is a natural inclination to follow someone who is "uniformed" and whom we perceive knows what he or she is doing. In order to enable a person to follow us (our words) towards a calmer, more healing state, we need to approach a person with some of that same authority. The simplest and most basic way to do that is by saying, "I see where you're hurt. I'm going to help you."

Believability: Whatever we say, we must be truthful. That doesn't mean telling someone that a procedure will hurt or that they're doomed. (We honestly don't know how anything will be perceived or how things will turn out.) But it does mean acknowledging where a person is at that moment. Saying "everything's fine" when clearly everything is not fine brings our credibility down to zero.

Compassion: Our compassion is comparable to the sound wave that carries a tune. Our message of healing, our suggestions are received because the one we are speaking to can tell we care about him. People tend to follow those whom they believe sincerely care for their wellbeing.

Once rapport is developed, you can begin to give healing suggestions. The following are some general examples rather than specific scenarios.

General Metaphors for Healing

When our bodies fail us, when we get sick or hurt or wounded, when we are facing surgery or "procedures", what I often hear from people are two things: 1) Shock--how could this have happened to me? 2) What if this never ends? Is this the way it's going to be for me from now on?

We all seem to fall into the same trap. Despite all our experiences and recoveries, whenever we get sick we forget that we've gotten sick before and have recovered. Despite all our knowledge to the contrary, we forget that we are not just bodies and have resources we can draw on both concretely and spiritually.

If you look around, you will notice something rather surprising and important: Healing is the rule rather than the exception. But for the obvious (at least to me) fact that all of us are temporarily making a journey through a fallen universe and will one day hopefully be called Home, most people heal reasonably well from most injuries and illnesses.

The following are some ideas to keep in your pocket for use in most any crisis, whether physical or psychological:

1. Inevitability

There are certain things that are inevitable, given the proper conditions. The sun rises and sets. Winds blow and branches bend. You focus on one thing and forget the other. The following is just one example of how this metaphor can be utilized with demonstrations from nature:

"Trees lose their leaves so water can be stored in the roots and trunks and branches and small animals hibernate to maintain their weight and their strength. Every time a leaf falls from a tree a bud is revealed. It may not open till spring but it is there, it is there" is there".All that is there. So that when it is the right time and the sun inevitably warms the ground, all of nature uncovers itself, unfurls like a flag in a gentle breeze."


"It is inevitable in nature that we see one thing, but not the other. We focus on one sensation and forget the one we just had before. We look toward the horizon and pay no more mind to where we've been""

2. Natural and Obvious Examples of Ordinary Healing

"That you heal in ways you are not only unaware of, but you do not need to do anything, not a thing, to make it happen"it just happens. Everyone's been cut on the finger and put a band aid on it and then".like everyone else you forget about it until one day".you take the band aid off or it slips off and your skin is healed, knitted together seamlessly as if a cut had never occurred"And who knows how that happens?"

3. Personal Experiences

If you know a person well enough, you can recall for her certain instances in which she thought that she would never do or feel "x" again, but she did.

"I bet you remember when you had that cold and it felt like you would never see the end of that runny nose but you did. And the cold came and went the way your hair grows. You can't see it growing, but it does all the time and then there's that one moment you can be surprised to find out that it's long enough to fit into a pony tail"and the discomfort is gone and you're better."

All metaphors and suggestions for healing are best when they are individualized, tailored to the moment and the person. But these can serve as pocket reminders for you to use with yourself and anyone else you wish to help at any time.

Authors Bio:
Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical homeopath in private practice in Placitas and Albuquerque. Her areas of specialization include the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She has appeared on both television and radio and is a regular lecturer throughout the U.S. She is the author of The Next Osama and co-author of the books, Verbal First Aid and The Worst Is Over, which has been dubbed the "bible of crisis communication."