Lessons From A Dying Man

On Healing: Lessons from a Dying Man

It was an early fall morning while I was driving to work. The harsh summer sun had passed for another year. The angle of the light smoothed the shadows, the trees were starting to turn, and the wind was a light caress. It was one of those rare commutes where my usual worries melted away and I felt one with nature as I passed the city lakes. I was connected, open, defenses down, and a little vulnerable. I guess I was at peace. As I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio, a story of a college music professor dying of ALS came on.  His name is Bruce Kramer. The reporter was talking about his love for music; specifically choral music. My defenses engaged in the form of judgment. “I don’t like choral music,” I thought. But as the music began I was touched deeply. Once again my defenses melted away. I was open, and connected, and  I could see things from a different perspective. Mr. Kramer said, “The music takes you outside of yourself.” And that it did, much to my surprise.  I was enjoying some choral music.

There is no fixing for life

Mr. Kramer talked about how the music was healing for him. The interview quickly changed when the reporter asked a difficult question that seemed to stun Kramer. She said, “You know that there is no cure for ALS so how can the music heal you?” Kramer regained his poise and elegantly spoke of how our culture equates cure and fixing with healing. “There is no fixing for life”, Kramer proclaimed. He went on to define healing as “When I find myself in a place where I feel quiet, secure, loved.” What a thoughtful, courageous man. His words touched me deeply. I began to think about healing and psychotherapy.

Cure, fix, and healing in therapy

When people seek psychotherapy they often want to be fixed or cured. I’m often asked to give someone “the tools” to fix them even before I really understand the affliction that made them want help. Moreover, the medicalization of psychotherapy and pressure from insurance payers has changed the focus of treatment to the cure or fix concept.  Unfortunately, many people who come to therapy have chronic conditions that have no cure. But what they are experiencing is not them being broken, but rather their brain transducing what is happening in their culture, family, and work. Our experience of these aspects of life profoundly influences how we feel, think, and behave. For example, we know how child abuse causes changes in the brain resulting in lifelong mental and physical health problems. Therapy offers the experience of healing;  feeling quiet, secure, and loved, that is missing far too often in our lives. If we didn’t have such a mean society, if our families were better connected, and if our relationships had more love, we would all have better mental health. Therapy teaches how you can increase healing experiences by improving relationships and connecting to nature, music, art, literature, and sport. Try finding a moment each day where you feel quiet, secure, and loved. See how you can be transformed.

To a good life.

Mark Hansen, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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