Kathryn Landon-Malone, a pediatric nurse practitioner at True North in Falmouth, takes a holistic, integrative approach to keeping children healthy.
One of the non-medical tools she uses is hypnotherapy. No, she does not dangle a pendant in front of their faces to put them into a deep trance. She uses relaxation techniques and mental images to help change behaviors, reduce anxiety, or gain control over an uncomfortable situation.
For instance, she sees a fair number of children 6 and older with bedwetting problems. She will first learn the child’s story and rule out organic causes that may need to be treated medically. She then has the child draw a cartoon of the body that includes the bladder and kidneys, and together they create a narrative about how the child might focus on staying dry.
“I teach them to close their eyes and take a deep breath and fill their body with deep color and think about what they need to do to keep dry or turn off the faucet,” she says.
Many children will visualize their bladder with a closed door. One child posted a guard at the door, another a T-shirt with the Nike logo – “Just do it!”
“I simply try to keep it fun and light,” she says, “and meet children where they are and engage with them.”
Hypnotherapy is an example of non-medical healing, which is often referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an agency within the National Institutes of Health, CAM includes a wide variety of practices, generally grouped into four broad categories: natural products such as supplements; mind and body medicine such as hypnotherapy and meditation; whole medical systems such as acupuncture; and manipulative or body-based practices such as massage.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of non-medical healing that involves inserting tiny needles into specific points along energy channels flowing throughout the body. Coleen Connolly, a registered nurse and acupuncturist at True North, notes that acupuncture “can be used as a preventive treatment as well as a curative treatment. The acupuncture I practice treats on the mind, body and spirit level all at the same time.”
Before she even inserts one needle, Connolly listens intently to her patient’s story, which in itself can be healing, she says.
“Non-medical healing occurs when a relationship based on trust is developed and a person feels safe relaying her story,” says Connolly. “The setting or surroundings seem to ‘disappear,’ because the focus is the exchange. The practitioner listens, really listens as a witness, reflecting back what is deeply known by the other’s body-mind-spirit. I say the body-mind-spirit ‘knows’ in the way that one automatically knows the right thing to do in a given situation.”
Dr. Bethany Hays, True North’s medical director, adds that the human body has an amazing ability to heal itself when given the opportunity.
“As a culture, we’re way over medicated. Medication is not the first thing I think of when people come in with problems,” Hays says.
That doesn’t mean she excludes traditional medical approaches that may involve drugs or surgery.
“Definitely not,” she says. “If somebody has extraordinarily high blood pressure, I’m going to treat that before they have a stroke, and then I’m going to talk to them about how to get their blood pressure down so I can get them off the medicine.”
The overall goal of non-medical healing is to promote wellness and well-being. Hays believes that listening to patients is a “critical part, maybe even sometimes the most important part of the healing process. It’s another non-medical thing that practitioners can do.
“You need to have a place where you can go where someone says, ‘Tell me your story and give me the long version.’ It’s amazingly healing to get to tell your whole story.”