Beyond the Physical Symptoms
What Are Patients Actually Telling You?
SERENA GOLDSTEIN, ND
We’ve seen it in practice, heard about it from friends, and experienced it ourselves. Or perhaps we are new to it: the idea that there can be a deeper cause or meaning beyond a physical symptom or emotional response. Just like the friend who wants to get our attention via text, phone, voicemail, an Instagram direct message, and a mutual friend – in short, in any way possible – there can be energies and healing frequencies beyond the physical that relay a critical message. The message can be read through different lenses, depending on our current mental, physical, and emotional state.
In times of the unknown, emotions like fear and apprehension tend to be the lenses through which we read the messages. The surrounding physical and social environment can solidify this viewpoint. However, what if the unknown held healing beyond just our initial goal? What if the timeline of healing also included self-development and personal responsibility? Could we approach healing with curiosity and excitement? Could we even feel supported throughout tumultuous times?
We know there’s a mind-body connection, yet the soul needs to speak. From psychology to physiology to taking a step back from the chaos, here are ways we can embrace the unknown from a place of freedom and personal desire to grow.
While the past few years have displayed a sense of chaos and uncertainty, there is, at least among some people, a hope to return to normal. We also have the option to question what “normal” is. Where did “normal” come from, anyway? Is “normal” even some place we want to return to? And is a single person’s “normal” good for the whole? What’s good for a person is not necessarily good for another. In a clinical setting, we know we will not please everyone, especially if we live in alignment with individualized care.
We are familiar with patients who come into the clinic with multiple concerns and want a quick fix. In this current collective state of fear and apprehension, reminded of our pain and suffering, are we more vulnerable to just want our symptoms to go away? For things to return to what was? In truth, we must first bring order to the chaos inside ourselves.
Just as 2 people can come in with the same concern and leave with completely different treatment plans based on their individuality, people can also come in with multiple concerns and say either, “I know this will be a journey; I’m here for the long haul,” or “Fix me now.” Sometimes these sentences go together, and sometimes one turns into the other. Often, to fix the chaos inside, a patient must be in it for the long haul. It is not a quick fix.
Putting Order to Chaos
Before we even recommend therapies for a concern, we must consider what it means for someone to be in the unknown and have their health and life in chaos. Why haven’t modalities worked? Have our patients felt deceived along the way? Since coming to natural medicine is often a last resort or a rebellion against conventional medicine, our patients have experienced a variety of unknowns on the way to the clinic.
It’s important to assess how and why patients come in to see us. Do they share how everything appeared “out of nowhere?” Do they talk about their busy life and how everything else would be under control if only their body would cooperate? Or do they share that if they could just turn the clock back a few years, everything would be normal again? While they are in your office asking for help (because clearly, something is up with their body), how else can you find a way to direct these questions? Once the answers to the questions surface, I recommend a stock of flower essences and a box of tissues for when they finally vent all their frustrations. After a potentially cathartic experience, patients may then leave – excited to change their lives!
In an unsafe environment, memories and experiences will not be expressed. They stay buried thanks to our ego and its (at least) 10 different defense mechanisms.1 However, symptoms, behaviors, attitudes, and the overall energy of the patient can be important clues to what needs to be addressed in the clinical visit. For example, I’ve had patients rationalize not returning their diet diary by saying they eat well. When I get their diet diary a month later, though, their diet is less than pleasing. But what is the block in recording one’s diet – or following a recommendation? A patient I once had kept missing appointments for a year regarding important bloodwork, attributing it to work and lots of stress. A year later, I uncovered that he hadn’t fully processed a traumatic health incident 15 years prior where he had copious amounts of blood taken. His excuses of stress and work were merely intellectualization and repression. To put order to chaos, we must first uncover the core of the chaos.
It has been said that anxiety and depression come when we stray from beliefs we know to be true, when we are unable to express ourselves, or at the very core, when we forget (or don’t yet believe) our inherent value on Earth. In an interesting cycle, studies have shown depression to cause inflammation,2 while inflammatory cytokines can release chemicals that can make us irritable.3 This cytokine release may not result in outright depression, but joy is inevitably that much harder to reach. Similarly, most of our body’s serotonin is made in our gut, yet stress can disrupt gut bacteria and promote sugar cravings. Giving in to these cravings can, of course, create blissful feelings for a short period of time. However, the long-term effects include stress, inflammation, hormone imbalances, thyroid issues, and bloating – all of which culminate in potentially worse depression, anxiety, or other mood-related concerns.
The fat cell has at least 10 mostly hormone-based receptors, along with some inflammatory markers and alpha and beta receptors from our nervous system. Even our body is saying that there is no “magic pill.” Still, our philosophy is correct: we must address health from multiple aspects. From the organ itself to a neighboring system and along to where it may exert its effects, we can get a picture of an ever-growing, complex ecosystem. Instead of being afflicted by what we feel is wrong or falling to the many stereotypes of dis-ease, our body is only letting us know where we need to course-correct and love ourselves each moment, if only a bit more. Maybe it is not so ironic that the heart is seen as an endocrine organ – and has been for decades.4
Chances are our lives have been punctuated with a combination of put-downs, frustrations, trauma, and health woes. Perhaps some of those various gut-wrenching reactions were from past lives. Perhaps some serious generational or cultural karma is a factor. Despite these inherited or experienced stressors, we have the power to shift our perspective and change the perceived chaos in the world and our bodies. Using the power of visualization and speaking nicely to ourselves, we can help our patients remember that we are first human beings and not human “doings.”
Our brain doesn’t understand the difference between what’s in front of us or what we visualize. In fact, there have been numerous studies done where athletes have spent time visualizing their perfect game, taking the game-winning shot, and winning the game; meanwhile, the losing team spent that time practicing on the court or field without any visualization. We can always recommend our basic naturopathic therapies – like journaling, lifting weights, or chewing each bite of food 31 times. But imagine the results when they are paired with the advice of having a patient imagine that they are in their desired location and now creating their new life. They can be very powerful.
In addition to visualization, how we talk to ourselves becomes another vital piece in healing. As Masaru Emoto discovered, water in the presence of words expressing positive emotions begin to appear as beautiful, perfectly shaped crystals. Water in the presence of negatively expressed emotions turns water crystals into chaotic and disorganized structures.5 Unlearning the scripts we were told, changing how we speak to ourselves, and cultivating the presence to speak to ourselves with care and patience as we would a child becomes another step in the healing process.
Finally, we must remind our patients that attention goes where energy flows. We should encourage them to believe their body has the capacity to heal – just like it had the capacity to let us know things needed to change! This is another important step in healing the mind, body, and soul.
As naturopathic doctors, we know a lot of remedies, tools, and ideas from our healing journey with which we can support others with their healing. We also have a chance to be optimistic, curious, and believe that there are energies at play greater than ourselves and outside of physical reality. We can uncover their intrinsic motivation when we look beyond what’s in front of us and listen to what patients are not explicitly saying.
I believe this intrinsic motivation is led by the soul, sparked by its inner knowing. This inner knowing is buried under the discomfort of their physical concerns and distrust of their body. How can we help this inner knowing come to the surface? How can we rebuild trust with the body? I think about a time when a patient was complaining of her hot flashes and mood swings returning out of nowhere after being absent for months. I followed my hunch to grab my astrology oracle card deck. She looked at me in disbelief when I uncovered something about her personal life that she had not told anyone nor had come to terms with. The emotional release was palpable.
It’s jokingly been said that most of our job as naturopathic physicians is therapy. But imagine if we saw that time of just listening to their self-expression as the patient subliminally telling us what they really want to change. I believe that all we ever truly want is to feel happy and free, knowing we lived a good life in a place that resonates with our soul. If the eyes are already the window to the soul, let’s use our curiosity to keep looking for what our soul wants to express and experience.
- Psychology Today. 2022. Defense Mechanisms. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/defense-mechanisms. Accessed 25 June 2022.
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Derry HM, Fagundes CP. Inflammation: depression fans the flames and feasts on the heat. Am J Psychiatry. 2015;172(11):1075-1091.
- Beurel E, Toups M, Nemeroff CB. The Bidirectional Relationship of Depression and Inflammation: Double Trouble. Neuron. 2020;107(2):234-256.
- Forssmann WG, Nokihara K, Gagelmann M, et al. The heart is the center of a new endocrine, paracrine, and neuroendocrine system. Arch Histol Cytol. 1989;52 Suppl:293-315.
- Pitkanen, M. On Masaru Emoto’s Experiments with Emotional Imprinting of Water. Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research. 2018:9(6).
Serena Goldstein, ND, is a naturopathic doctor who uses her knowledge of conventional and natural medicine, psychology, ancient medicine, spirituality, and intuition to understand physical and emotional patterns in her patients’ health. With her expertise, she brings insight that enhances motivation and long-term success. Dr Serena has shared her expertise on outlets such as MindBodyGreen, Forbes, and Shape.com, has appeared on NYU Doctor Radio Sirius XM, is a writer and Advisory Board member for Natural Practitioner Magazine, and has presented at venues such as the American Cancer Society, Integrative Healthcare Symposium, and the Autoimmune and Endocrinology Conference at NUNM.