A Foundation of Healing Presence
May 31, 2016 10:28PM
Connect with the patient’s spirit so the body will heal. The importance of this simple concept was once highly valued among physicians, but has become understated or omitted entirely in much of medical education to make room for additional science courses. Yet, today the value of relationship-centered care is becoming more appreciated in all areas of health care.
One of Maryland University of Integrative Health’s (MUIH) founding beliefs is the power of relationships to heal. Faculty and students commit to embodying what is called a healing presence. Beyond substantial technical training, students develop and demonstrate qualities that include empathy, respect, service, self-reflection, compassion and mindfulness; they learn to recognize and experience the powerful impact of their words and actions.
Manifesting first between professors and their students, healing presence coursework is woven throughout all levels of the academic and clinical experience. When instructors model healing presence it becomes clear that it benefits everyone involved in an interaction, not just patients. “I observed moments where the healing that occurred in the classroom spilled over into interactions with patients where students were able to be present with them in new ways,” said Leah Turner, a MUIH graduate.
The ability to intentionally use words, voice tone, posture, attitude, demeanor and touch to create a healing environment is rooted in empathy and compassion. The healing rapport created between patient and practitioner enables them to establish a receptive state into which a treatment that engages the patient’s spirit is delivered.
“I love being present for the self-realizations and transformations, big and small, which take place in my clients each time I see them. And I love the self-realizations and transformations that occur in me each time I treat clients,” said MUIH alumna Liana Brooks-Rubin.
Healing presence is not simply a “good idea” or a “nice feature” for practitioners. It can also enhance business success. When patients connect deeply with their practitioner and see them as a true partner in their healing, patients develop a higher level of trust, are more compliant, more likely to commit to long-term treatment and are more likely to refer others. Many of the graduates from MUIH are highly successful and credit their ability to develop these healing relationships as something that sets them apart.
In many studies conducted over the past decade, research has shown that empathy, kindness and good bedside manner play a significant role in the healing of patients. Though it may take some time before the landscape of health care shifts to encompass these qualities, properly trained integrative health practitioners can begin transforming treatment spaces into sanctuaries for patients to heal on all levels—body, mind and spirit. Not only can practitioners offer the gift of healing presence but eventually be a healing presence.
Tyme Gigliotti, M.Ac., L.Ac., is an assistant professor, clinic supervisor and chair of the Clinical Practices department in the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine department at Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has been practicing since 1998.