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The facile humility of “facilitating” healing

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on PainScience.com are updated regularly over the years (see updates page).

The idea of facilitating self-healing is a classic bit of insincere and muddled humility that is routinely expressed by alternative medicine practitioners as if it’s wisdom. Here is a classic formulation, where even the poorly placed comma seems predictable:

A healer is not someone that you go to for healing. A healer is someone that triggers within you, your own ability to heal yourself.

This is sacharine, silly, inspirational-poster nonsense. Self-healing is a classic “deepity”: that is, the most prosaic interpretation of the idea is true but trivial, and the most profound and interesting interpretation is nonsense.

What is the more prosaic interpretation of “your own ability to heal”? Animals can heal from most injuries and many illnesses — this is true, but so what? It’s neither surprising, nor is it anything that needs to be “triggered.” It’s an innate ability, not a rare gift only for inspired animals.

The more profound implication is that we can heal exceptionally well, better than what is generally considered possible — but only with help? Which wouldn’t really be self-healing, now would it? Either way, it’s either impossible by definition, or at least rare and mysterious.

So what’s the appeal?

If self-healing cannot be profound without being unbelievable, and can’t be believable without being boring, why claim it?

The whole point of touting facilitated healing is to seem like a “healer” without coming right out and saying it. It’s blatant humble-bragging, defined as making “an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud.” Perfect.

Crediting the patient with doing the heavy lifting is also a good way to avoid explaining how, exactly, healing is “facilitated.”

Examples of humble-bragging about helping people heal

A massage therapist asked, in a large Facebook group for massage therapists:

Am I the only one who feels like massage therapists are healers in a way?

As of this writing, there are 291 comments, with a fairly even mixture of yays and nays. Clearly many people are happy to embrace the term to varying degrees. One of the strongest themes in the comments is this seemingly self-deprecating idea that massage merely facilitates self-healing:

Again and again, you can see the attempt to humbly disclaim, to push the claim of healing away while still embracing the spirit of it. It’s particularly clear in a comment like this:

A distinction without a difference. Some therapists are willing to embrace the term “healer,” while others want to seem a little more humble about it … while claiming essentially the same thing.

See also: Healer Syndrome: The problem with health care professionals, especially in alternative medicine, who want to be known as “healers”

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