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The Healing Potential in a Word - Part IV

by Dr Daniel Benor(more info)

listed in healing, originally published in issue 127 - September 2006

Caregivers and Careseekers

We have many terms for those who offer treatments and those who seek them. Each has its own tradition and shapes the relationships of the caregivers and careseekers in subtle but pervasive ways.

The first term I suggest for consideration is respant, asking you to consider all the other terms in contrast with this one.


Bernie Siegel (1986; 2002), a remarkable surgeon, developed support groups for people he was treating who had cancer. He says that the most important thing he learned was to be quiet and listen, letting group members sort out their own problems. He finds that people have a deep wisdom that understands their own problems and know ways to deal with them. The doctor's job is to ask questions that will challenge people to discover their own solutions to their problems.

Siegel coined the term, respant – standing for responsible participant – to replace the term patient. Respants are encouraged to ask their doctors lots of questions, so that they themselves can make informed decisions about dealing with their problems. Respants look for ways in which they can improve their own conditions, including lifestyle, diets, supplements and self-healing techniques.


Doctors are perceived to have knowledge and expertise to diagnose and treat problems – placing most of the responsibility for dealing with problems on the physicians. The doctor is expected to make a diagnosis, and administer treatments. Within the conventional medical model that views most medical problems as dysfunctions of the physical body, this works reasonably well; modern medicine is excellent in diagnosing and treating infections, physical trauma, structural abnormalities and hormonal imbalances.

The prescriptive model is often less successful with chronic problems. For instance, arthritis, chronic pains, neurological disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome and other chronic disorders may not respond to medical treatments. Doctors continue to prescribe one medicine after another, seeking one that will provide symptomatic relief. Patients may have adverse reactions to the medications, for which they are given further medications. They often become weary or despairing with the lack of progress – if they survive this process. (In the US, over 100,000 die annually from medications improperly prescribed.)

The label doctor has now come to have the kind of associations that are given to a priest, with an aura of knowledge, wisdom and power to heal. On the positive side, this mantle of authority vastly enhances the placebo, or self-healing potential, in all medical interventions.

Sadly, on the negative side, power corrupts. Many within the medical profession have assumed that their methods of healing are the only true methods, all others being the work of infidels. This attitude, plus economics and politics, have led doctors to lobby successfully over the past century for exclusive legislative license to declare who should treat, and how treatments should be administered.

A major segment of the public has voted with its feet and health care dollars for therapies outside the knowledge and competence of the medical profession. Awareness of the billions of dollars spent out of pocket for complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) in the US has encouraged medicine to begin to integrate these approaches into medical care, and is encouraging legislation that allows the public freer access to these treatments.


Therapists provide treatments much as doctors do. They are the experts, providing advice, psychotherapy, herbs, homeopathic remedies, flower essences, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, massage and other interventions.


In many of the CAM modalities that promote self-healing, the caregiver is more a teacher than a therapist. Respants are instructed in lifestyle changes, meditations, relaxations, imagery and other self-healing approaches to practise on their own.

I have come to perceive myself primarily as a teacher in most of my interactions with my psychiatric psychotherapy clients. In addition to instructing them in their options with various medications, I often introduce self-healing approaches – particularly acupressure techniques that, clients report, are rapidly and potently effective in dealing with stress reactions, pains and allergies.

Healer and Healee

Healers have gifts of intuitive awareness and abilities to facilitate wholistic changes in body, emotions, mind, relationships and spirit. Many healers and healees have modelled aspects of their interactions on the conventional medical system. Healers identify problems and provide the necessary treatments. This mode of interpreting healing is reinforced by the media, who like to headline the occasional unusual cures. Some healers promote this perception of healing, thriving on a sense of power, providing their healing as a medical doctor would perform surgery, with every bit as much ego inflation.

Recipients of healing are often called healees. Following the medical model, healees are often passive, expecting healers to provide whatever is necessary to treat their problems.

There is a trend toward encouraging healees to take more responsibility for self-healing – among progressive healers, modelled after approaches of CAM practitioners who empower people they treat to activate their self-healing abilities, encouraging them to be respants. Within this definition of healing, treatment is viewed by many as a boost to healee energies, rather than as a cure for their problems provided by the healer. Others view this respantifying process as helping people to connect with their innate healing wisdom, with their higher selves, with spiritual guidance, or directly with the Infinite Source.

While this is a growing trend, the term healer carries entrenched nuances of passivity that can hinder the shift towards healees taking charge of their lives and dealing with their problems themselves. Healers have not found an alternative to this word that feels comfortable. Consider the following alternatives.


Patients expect doctors to diagnose their problems and prescribe treatments to fix them. The very term, patient, suggests someone who patiently waits for someone else to intervene on his or her behalf.


Many CAM practitioners refer to the people they treat as clients, acknowledging that people have choices in selecting therapists and that therapists are advisers and teachers.


Siegel B. Love, Medicine and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients. NY. Harper & Row. 1986.
Siegel B. Respants: Information, Inspiration and Expiration. International Journal of Healing and Caring – Online, 2(1), 1-5. 2002.

*An expanded version of this article appears in Benor DJ, In a Word, International J of Healing and Caring – Online, 1-8. January 2001. (Continued in next column)


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About Dr Daniel Benor

Daniel J. Benor, M.D. is a psychiatrist in New Jersey who blends wholistic, bodymind approaches, spiritual awareness and healing in his practice. He is the author of Healing Research, Volumes I-IV and many articles on wholistic, spiritual healing. He appears internationally on radio and TV. He is on the Advisory Council of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychotherapy (ACEP). He is editor and producer of the International Journal of Healing and Caring ­ On Line See more by and about Dr. Benor at:


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