Seven Steps to Approaching Healing
By Emily Taylor Yunker, DVM, CVMRT, clinical veterinary herbalist
I am presenting a process, or schematic for helping companion animal caregivers and animal care professionals sort through the many therapeutic options available, to figure out how to truly support health and healing from a Holistic Approach, and to limit harm while improving outcomes. This is highly integrative, and there are no “bad” choices. The schematic is laid out in a specific way, from least likely to cause to harm, up to known causes of significant harm. We can start with thinking about the safest, most supportive interventions, and avoid the most dangerous when they are not necessary.
Susun Weed, one of my mentors, has an entire course on this topic which is just brilliant and I wish every medical practitioner of any kind would take it, as well as each person who wants to make informed and empowered decisions. You can take it here. http://www.susunweed.com/seven_rivers_healing.html
I will outline the basics here, then give a brief overview of each.
Step One: Do Nothing (Embrace Emptiness)
Step Two: Investigate Options (What is the story?)
Step Three: Engage Energy (Mind Medicine)
Step Four: Abundantly Nourish and Strengthen
Step Five: Stimulate and Sedate, (Incite Strong Responses)
Step Six: Take pills, including supplements and medications
Step Seven: Invasive Medical Interventions with side effects (Destroy Obstacles, Break & Enter)
The first four steps are beautiful, gentle steps we should all be working with daily, and they are the foundations of good health. Starting with Step Five, we start increasing the risk of harm and we should proceed with caution. As a Holistic Veterinarian I engage with Steps 4-7 daily. Steps 1-3 are very personal and are best done individually, though there are certainly energy workers who work with Step 3 in powerful ways. Most people are surprised to see supplements listed so far down the list. In our culture, we tend to view pills as a quick fix. If it has a “natural” label on it, we tend to use pills with very little thought or investigation and we expect simultaneous safety and strong immediate efficacy. This is a fallacy that gets us in big trouble. We must ensure we are utilizing the first five steps along with that pill in order to really experience the changes we are seeking. For true health, we need to build up a strong foundation with steps 1-4 so that the detrimental effects of steps 5-7 will be temporary and tolerable. The goal is to use them only has needed and to recover fully from them, rather than to depend on them forever.*
*Caveat: I am literally a doctor. I am aware that some medications or interventions at steps 6 and 7 are forever. That is OK. This is not a judgement, it is a guideline. If you must use medications forever, or experience major medical interventions regularly, it is even more important to engage with ALL of these steps frequently, and likely daily in some form or another.
Let’s look at these steps individually.
Step One: Do Nothing (Embrace Emptiness)
There is almost always pressure to choose treatment options and make decisions quickly when faced with health problem. I understand this pressure and I have experienced it personally and professionally frequently. Sometimes you literally have a practitioner standing in front of you with a form waiting for you to sign off on a treatment plan. Sometimes you or a loved one is in pain and you feel an internal need to fix it immediately.
But here’s the secret I have learned from working in emergency rooms: You don’t have to rush almost ever. At the very least, you almost always have a few minutes to collect your thoughts, take a deep breath, and ask questions. A hot drink can really help ground people making big decisions. A trip to the bathroom to wash your hands and look in the mirror can make a huge difference. Take some Motherwort or Zoloft and a few slow breaths.
In most healthcare settings, you don’t have to make any decisions at all that same day. Go home and sit with it for a while. Don’t immediately jump to the research phase either. Just sit with it. How does your body feel? How do you feel emotionally about this? What thoughts are popping up repeatedly? Just notice them, don’t examine them too closely. You will gain a lot of clarity around what you are figuring out by just noticing it, without directly engaging with it.
Put a time limit on this step. “Belly button gazing” can go on a long time, sometimes becoming a way to avoid reality.
Step Two: Investigate Options
This is your opportunity to ask the internet. Or your neighbor. Or get a second opinion from another doctor. See what information is out there on the topic. Read a book. Take a course.
This step also needs a time limit. In this Information Age, we could spend the rest of our lives on Step 2, experiencing Information Overload and complete decision paralysis. Gather some information, make a decision, move on. You can always revisit this step again whenever you need to.
Step Three: Engage the Energy
This particular form of “energy” is mental or spiritual (not magnetic or electric field therapeutic devices, etc). This includes spiritual practices such as prayer, guided meditation, crystals, spell work, positive affirmations, story-telling, spiritual healing, group worship services, etc.
There is so much research supporting spiritual practices for health that oncologists frequently recommend engagement with church or other service as part of their patient’s plan. The stories we tell ourselves and the ways we approach health and life generally are correlated with outcomes.
I should mention that this step also includes Flower Essences and Homeopathy, which are energy medicine rather than plant medicine.
Step Four: Abundantly Nourish and Strengthen
We made it to Step Four before saying “Diet and Exercise”! Look at that! Look how much we can do for our animal companions and ourselves before we even think about the things most mainstream sources tell us to do.
That said, food literally builds bodies. Both on a cellular level, as well as the level of gene expression, in the way we feed gut bacterial, the way we feed neurons with chemical signals, and the way we make and use hormones. Food does it all.
We need to feed abundantly, utilizing a variety of food options when possible. While observing the effects on wellbeing. Taking time and thought to prepare and eat with attention and care. It can be a joy, not a necessary evil.
This step includes the use of Nourishing Herbs. Herbs that are safe as food products, for use daily, to strengthen the body and mind.
Movement is also nourishing. The way we use our bodies has a profound effect on inflammation, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Bodies are built in response to the way they are used, just as much as what they are fed. Bodies must be used fully as frequently as possible to keep them capable and flexible and strong.
So stretch out on the floor, reach up high, dig with gusto, climb and crawl, rest fully.
Step Five: Stimulate and Sedate (Incite Strong Responses)
This is where we need to start exercising caution. Steps 5-7 carry increased risks. Some of these steps also place us in situations where we are relying on other people’s skill.
These modalities include most body work, including massage, acupuncture, heat and cold, and chiropractic. This also includes energy modalities such as pEMF (magnetic fields), laser therapy, moxibustion, shockwave therapy, etc.
For many people, this is the entry point to “alternative medicine”. These are therapies that are sought out as alternatives to drugs and surgeries, or alongside major interventions to support the body during recovery.
I will add two things to this section that some people don’t think of. Many herbs go here. Herbs that are taken for specific medication-like effects, but are still “safe” go here. Adaptogens for example. The second is diets that severely limit food groups. Any diet that excludes a whole food group has the potential to cause significant harm to the body when used for a long time. These diets should be used with caution and should be supported as much as possible with the other steps.
Step Six: Pills
Pills are concentrated forms of a substance. The form allows us to use a lot of substance without having to taste it or engage it with our senses in any way. This means we are bypassing the mechanisms that protect us, such as smell and taste. We would normally avoid or at least limit out intake of anything toxic or bitter due to smell and taste. Additionally, manufacturing practices can cause harm even when the raw product is safe. High doses have side effects. Some things have side effects even at therapeutic doses. Some herbs are less safe than some pharmaceuticals. Some nutritional supplements and nutriceuticals have higher risk than some prescription medications.
We need to do our research, ask questions, and observe effects mindfully. We should support the body with nourishing herbs, body work, diet, movement, energy work, and “do nothing time” before and alongside this step.
Over time, use of more powerful herbs, nutriceuticals, and medications will damage bodies. We need to actively build bodies up before, during, and after to stay vital and healthy. We need to support liver and kidneys, and our gut health.
Aside from pills, strong herbal tinctures with toxic compounds go in this category. Essential Oils also belong in this category. All of them. They are concentrated forms of a pure substance. They have been highly manufactured. They are delivered in way that allows for maximum absorption and strong fast effect.
Step Seven: Break and Enter (Destroy Obstacles)
Diagnostics and treatments in this step cause known harm. We engage with them because we hope that the harm can be overcome and is worth the damage. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, intravenous drugs, topical products designed to remove skin or lesions, laser surgery, etc.
Some caregivers refuse these treatments entirely. However, the removal of a tumor or the administration of an IV antibiotic can save a life and extend good quality of life. This step is a last-ditch effort when all other options are unsuccessful. These options are incredibly powerful.
After the obstacle is destroyed, the battle is won, we must repair and restore and revitalize. Recovery requires rest and the best food, the most supportive herbs, the gentlest body work, the most mindful application of energy. As the body becomes stronger, it can then re-engage the body and mind more, using more stimulating modalities and body work, and decreasing the number of pills needed to maintain comfort and quality of life.
We can move back and forth between steps as frequently as needed. Ideally, we don’t skip steps, but every life is different and needs change.
Start looking at your pet’s health routines. Are you spending most of your time in steps 6 and 7? Time to go back to Step 1 or 2 for a little while and re-evaluate. Are you a pet health professional? What can you do to allow Step 1 every day for your clients and patients? Start thinking about steps 2-5 and how you can start incorporating those steps into your discussions and treatment plans.
Holistic medicine is about doing everything we can to support the whole being, and limiting the harm.
Step One: “First Do No Harm”