"Healing and Teaching: Three Forms of AlternativeHealing and their Implications for Teaching"

by Gerald Grow
School of Journalism, Media & Graphic Arts
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee FL 32307 USA
Available: http://www.longleaf.net/ggrow

Mental Healing

Worldview of Mental Healing

"Mental healing" emphasizes the interpenetration of what are usually called "mind" and "body" and makes use of the power of thought to affect the body. In the worldview of mental healing, people's deeply-held thoughts make them ill or at least create the preconditions for disease and psychological problems. Healers work to remove deeply held resentments, to release unexpressed emotions, to assuage buried terror (all of which, in this view, are caused by deeply held thoughts), in order to build self-confidence and to plant in people a positive and hopeful view of their path through life.

Mental healers insist that, just as people can make themselves sick by the way they think, the way they think can make them well again. On a simple level, a person whose self-image has led to a destructive diet that has caused medical problems may improve the problem and the diet by changing the self-image--which is a way of thinking, an intention, a mental act. Psychologists teach people to improve depression by changing the way they think.

But mental healing travels further out the continuum occupied by these easily accepted cases, to claim that all disease is caused by how we use our minds and can be improved by using our minds differently. Mental healing departs even more radically from the normal view when it holds that thoughts can change not only the body, but even the external world.

Energy-based healing methods rarely seem to employ mental activities--except for some visualizations. In energy systems, thinking is more likely to be considered part of the problem and pre-cognitive energy flow the solution. In mental healing, thinking is both problem and cure.

Self-Talk and Affirmations

One widely used form of mental healing works to replace habitual destructive thinking with habitual constructive thinking through the use of affirmations--"seed thoughts"--that are repeated with such intensity that they become regular, recurring programs playing in the unconscious. Affirmations can also be used to nudge unconscious negative thoughts to the surface so they can be identified.

Affirmations have recently gained widespread respectability through the technique of "positive self-talk."(Note 8) Self-talk, however, is based on the psychological view of the world, where each individual is isolated within a separate personality, alone and talking to one's self. Affirmations, by contrast, belong to the healing view of the world, where the mind can affect the body and the world, and where separateness is an illusion. Some practitioners claim that affirmations can also be used to "manifest" physical realities, such as money and relationships. (Note 9)


Our culture's lack of appreciation for the power of the imagination is staggering. We can continue to inundate young children with images of violence, manipulative fantasy, and sheer weirdness, because our culture believes that the imagination is private, powerless, and basically irrelevant. Healers hold the imagination in great respect, trace many problems to its abuse, and often use the power of the imagination to heal.

Patients can do their own healing visualizations, or the healer can do them. Typically, the patient is taught how to enter a relaxed state, then to create vivid visual images of the desired outcome. A healer may use visualization to diagnose the client's problems, then to treat them. Such healing is premised upon the belief that powerfully held images transmit beyond the mind of the person holding those images, to affect the client's mind, body, and circumstances.

Many healing methods are based on the belief that there are realms of the imagination in which people's separate imaginations meet. Once you have experienced this directly, you see what power the "normal view" normally exercises in limiting our concept of what is real. The possibility that one person's imaginings can directly affect the mind of another holds profound implications for education.

Healing visualizations can be learned from many books and tapes. (Note 10) A form of visualization has been incorporated into the normal medical view in the Simontons' work with visualization in conjunction with the medical treatment of cancer. (Note 11) Autogenic Training, a systematic method of self-healing through visualization has been widely used in Europe. (Note 12) Other forms of healing employ the imagination through dreams, through personal journals, or through creative arts such as painting, sculpture, poetry, dance, and theater. Archetypal approaches, based on the work of Jung, use the healing power of the imagination as expressed through certain symbols that are thought to be universal. (Note 13)

Implications for Teachers

Consider the claims of mental healing: Thoughts and images shape or even determine what people feel, think, the world they experience, and their state of illness or health. Those thoughts and images transmit directly to others and can help heal them. --What implications would these beliefs have for education? How could a teacher use these concepts?

The most important mental healing for you to do as a teacher is to work on yourself. Explore affirmations and visualizations until you find methods that work for you. Then examine the phrases you whisper to yourself and the images you hold about yourself and the world, and replace these with ones that support your deep life goals and bring you intuitive guidance.

Use mental healing to help your teaching. When alone in a deeply relaxed state, vividly visualize the class working together happily, vibrantly, deeply, caringly, with each student growing into their full potential. Visualize specific problem students and talk to them in your imagination. While visualizing, communicate your concern and caring. Ask for insight. Ask what this student needs and how you can help. Visualize the problem student changing, improving, coming into the fullness of being. Then let the image go, with faith that your minds are working on a higher level to improve the situation.

You can perform similar mental healings on problems with administrators and other faculty, but remember: You can't make anybody do something they don't want to do. You can, though, attune yourself and another person to a higher level of common goals that helps overcome problems.

Educators already use a kind of mental healing when they work with a student's self concept, or when they attempt to build self esteem. Every time you say, "You can do it," every time you work to cultivate confidence, positive attitude, and students' belief in their ability, you are practicing a form of healing--using activities that are developed with greater power and discipline in mental healing.

Studying Cultural Images

If the images we hold about ourselves and the world are so powerful, what would be better than to study our culture's images of itself? And what better place to start than with the images in media?

In an appropriate course, students could use advertisements, television, film, music videos, and other sources of popular culture, to study their images of men and women and their gender roles; images of relationships; of values; of minorities. Students could ponder the influence of images of violence images of violence in children's programming and how advertisements make use of powerful images, symbols, role models, and affirmation-like phrases. Such exercises can help students free themselves from being manipulated by media images and make the power of the imagination available for more constructive uses.


You could provide a valuable service by helping students learn to hear when they are using self-defeating self-talk ("I can't do anything right," "I always mess up in math"), understand the mode of thinking that lies behind it, and learn on their own to catch such thoughts and replace them with more accurate and helpful statements ("I may mess up in math from time to time, but I am steadily improving as a result of my own efforts.") This is a healing act.

Art that Makes us Whole

Education tends to emphasize problematic literature that promotes critical thinking about societal problems. In contrast, there is a small, vibrant movement for the re-enchantment of the world, (Note 14) whose adherents are trying to restore the belief that certain kinds of art can heal and unify us. Myths play a prominent role in this school of thought--myths as stories that make us whole and give our lives meaning, stories that give us images powerful enough to express what we are feeling in the present.

From this perspective, art arises from the sources of transpersonal imagery and is a way of celebrating the depths of creative consciousness. Meditations with music would be a simple way to bring deeper levels of mind into the classroom in a constructive way. (Note 15)

Mental Healing in Medicine

You could teach a unit on contemporary medical practices that use some methods of mental healing. Dr. Carl Simonton's work with imagery and the treatment of cancer comes from a medically respectable approach, and Benson's Beyond The Relaxation Response presents a form of meditation that is acceptable in medical terms as a method of stress reduction.

Norman Cousins' books about healing, starting with his own experience with laughter, are another reputable source.

Bill Moyer's 1993 PBS video series, Healing and the Mind, presents many of the themes raised in this paper as exciting possibilities on the forefront of medicine.

Spiritual Healing