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Complementary Healing Methods: The GP's Dilemma

by Dr Jayne LM Donegan(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 124 - June 2006

As a GP and Homeopath working in an inner city practice with 20,000 patients and a high turnover, I see a wide variety of people in my NHS surgery. An increasing number of my patients are looking for alternative ways of improving their health, and healing their illness rather than the linear, "you have a bacterial infection, take this antibiotic and you will be cured"¨, scenario. They are open to looking at these issues from the deeper – 'why did I become susceptible to this bacterium in the first place?' – question. In my experience, addressing the latter generally leads to a longer term improvement in their function and quality of life than the more simplistic approach. They then begin to see that disease does not just ¡¥strike out of the blue¡¦, but that there are often well-defined steps leading to their current condition. It also enables people to take back ownership of their health as they realize that it is more to do with what's in here than what's out there.

As a GP, my job is to offer the best range of treatment that I can, based on my experience and taking into account nationally approved guidelines. As a GP, however, with experience and knowledge of more than just conventional medicine, I derive a great deal of satisfaction in seeing how much people improve when their symptoms are no longer suppressed with antipyretics, antihistamines, steroids and non-indicated antibiotics, and when they start to balance their lives more healthily between work, play and rest.

And then I am presented with someone in whom the damage has already been done, who has just been given a frightening diagnosis such as cancer, and who is clinging to the hope that the chemotherapy, radiotherapy and radical surgery that conventional medicine has to offer will save them, no matter what the cost – physical, emotional or financial. Some of these people are not open to any kind of 'alternatives', they are just plain terrified, and with good reason. So what do you do when you know that there are other safe, effective treatments that might be of benefit to them? To suggest nothing would not be considered "negligent"; they are, after all, receiving standard care, but it seems a shame when you know that there are other therapies that would help.

When faced with this dilemma, as well as supporting such people through their treatment, I have, over the years, evolved a selection of options that can be done by anyone, anywhere. They do not involve having to choose a new kind of therapy nor finding a therapist, and they are not seen as particularly threatening to those who are not at all keen on trying what they perceive to be 'alternative medicine'. Nor do they involve anything that would interfere with their current course of therapy – it may take nothing more than stepping outside of their front door or lighting a candle.

In addition to lifting their spirits and so helping to mitigate some of the worst side-effects of the treatments that they are undergoing, people often then feel that they then wish to explore this kind of approach more deeply and seek an experienced therapist. Sometimes their way of viewing the world changes so much that they come to view their illness as a turning point to a deeper and richer understanding of their life and how they live it, rather than just a disaster.


Healing comes in many forms – deep healing can take place without words, using the stronger language of our non-verbal senses: the language of beauty, light, fragrance and touch.

Much of the modern world focuses on the left brain activities of words, logic and linear consequences; but there is a more ancient path to wisdom which values communication that is outside of words. A wisdom which knows that we are part of a greater whole and that each and every one of our actions has a consequence for everything in our universe, from the smallest atom to the furthest star.

When we seek to heal ourselves or others truly and on every level, we must turn back to these ancient ways and to the knowledge that we have been born into a good and beneficent universe that has been designed by our Creator to heal and not harm us, to support and not crush us.

We are a mirror of the universe. There is nothing out there that is not in us. What we do to others we do to ourselves. When we draw from the innate healing powers of our surroundings to develop the deep inner powers necessary to heal ourselves, we also heal the world around us.

The Sense of Smell

The sense of smell is our most primitive sense. If you see a picture you can remember an event, if you hear a sound you can remember a scene, but if you smell an evocative scent you can see, hear, feel and smell as if you are there, now, in the midst of it. The olfactory nerve reaches the brain right in the middle of our limbic system which is the emotional centre of our brain. Thus scented oils stimulate healing through our emotions which set the tone for our hormonal orchestra and hence the workings of all systems in our body and mind. This is the basis for aromatherapy. Essential oils use the organic essences of aromatic plants for healing and the maintenance of vitality. Lavender essential oil stimulates the immune system; it promotes health and restful sleep. It eases fear and negative thoughts. Rosewood soothes apprehension, Jasmine lifts fear.

Put a few drops in a bowl of water over a candle to release the healing vapours, mix them with a smooth oil and massage them into tired areas of your body or put them in a deep bath surrounded by candles, and immerse yourself in their healing waters.


For thousands of years crystals have been valued and cherished for their beauty and their healing properties. Crystals help us to focus our energy to heal ourselves, others and the earth in which we live.

Rose quartz opens up the heart; it soothes and heals giving inner peace. It promotes love, compassion, understanding, sharing and forgiveness. It makes us more receptive to beauty and hastens recovery. Love is the most powerful healer of all and loving ourselves is the foundation of good health and happiness.

Rinse your crystal in spring water and leave it to dry naturally. Then light a candle and place your crystal next to it. Rest your eyes on the flame, and as the light expands filling the furthermost corners of the room, allow your breathing to slowly rise and fall. Imagine yourself somewhere happy and well-loved. Later, take your crystal outside in the sunlight and gaze at it, absorbing its essence and aligning your vibrations to its healing powers.

Beauty is important. Surround yourself with beautiful things, especially those from nature. Beauty feeds the soul.

The Sea

Sea shells connect us with the sea. The oceans are very deep; yet when we look at them we see only the light reflecting at the surface. The deeps are hidden from our view like the depths of our mind. The sea is a symbol for the collective subconscious of the human mind. The sea is also a symbol of nurturing and mothering. In some languages it is almost the same word: 'la mère'/ 'la mare' ('mother'/ 'sea' in French). At the shore the waves rise and fall with a soothing rhythm, the tide ebbs and flows building up and breaking down. The sea nurtures living organisms and grinds rocks into smooth pebbles.

Hold a shell. Marvel at the intricate colours, folds and spirals. Feel the different textures, the rougher outer coat and the smoother inner curve. Put the shell to your ear. Hear the sea. Imagine yourself being floated away on a current, held up and supported by the warm waves and drift away wherever it takes you, nurtured and loved. Float away on the sea of your own subconscious. Allow its healing currents to waft you gently to a place of warmth and security.


We all need light. The light of the sun is the energy from which all forms of organic life derive their energy. Its brilliant rays contain all the colours of the rainbow. In winter there is less sunlight as this is the time that nature lies fallow. During this time we humans also used to rest, sleep more and tell long stories in front of glowing fires.

Nowadays there is not much difference between how we live our lives in the summer and the winter, but our bodies feel the difference. They feel slower and more sluggish. Some people feel this as depression; it is called, 'the seasonal affective disorder'. It is not really a disorder though, it is just a sign that we are living outside of our natural rhythms.

In the winter, take time to embrace the difference and slow down a little. Tell stories, sing around a fire. Artificial light does not have the same qualities as natural light; so light lots of candles to brighten the inner darkness and to feed your pineal gland, the 'third eye', which senses the passing of days, months and seasons.

Go outside during the day and look near the sun without glasses or sunglasses, push up your sleeves to expose your arms to the light, this converts cholesterol in your blood into vitamin D which strengthens our bones, stimulates our immune system and acts to prevent the formation of cancers.

Fresh Air

Fresh air, moving air, whatever its quality, is better than the stagnant air of a closed room or house. Air is what we inspire and what inspires us, it is our spirit. In Hebrew, 'ruach' the word for wind, or moving air, is the same word that is used for the soul. We can¡¦t get too much of it. Air has different qualities; the salt laden air of the breezy seashore, the crisp, clean air of the mountains, but whatever fresh air we have available to us we need to utilize in the largest available quantities. Bedrooms should always have an open window at night, even if it is only a crack in the very cold weather – wear a cardigan in bed but breathe fresh air.

In the spring, summer and autumn we benefit from spending as much time as possible outside in the sunlight and fresh air. If inside, windows and doors need to be thrown open.


Sleep is second only to love as a healing power. We must allow ourselves time to rest. However, at periods of great emotional or physical stress when we most need sleep, it may be very hard to achieve. All our bodily processes follow a circadian or daily rhythm. This rhythm regulates the release of hormones and the activations and deactivations of all our organ systems. When we are very stressed we release great quantities of adrenaline, our ¡¥fight or flight¡¦ hormone. Adrenaline keeps us awake and alert for the sound of the lightest footstep or rustle of a leaf. The less sleep we have, the more adrenaline we produce in order to be able to function, and it becomes a vicious circle. This is where sleep hygiene is necessary. Sleep hygiene involves setting a fixed routine during times of poor sleep until a healthy routine has been re-established. The old wives' saying, 'an hour before midnight is worth two after' is quite true. It means going to bed at ten o'clock on at least three nights per week. To do this successfully means starting to get ready for bed by 9.30pm. As the body starts to achieve the rest it is craving, it can gradually wind down from 'red alert'. The levels of adrenaline then drop and normal rhythms return and so energy levels begin to rise, good humour is restored and the activities of daily living become less of a burden.


Music expresses feelings and states of consciousness that words alone cannot achieve. Soothing, melodious music stimulates balance and harmony. It lifts our spirits. Listen to classical music first thing in the morning instead of the news. Take a few moments to breathe slowly from below your diaphragm. Breathe in support and nurturing energy. Breathe out fear and hurry.

Sing. Life is a song, so sing as you travel along it.


Growth is an open display of the life-force. We are fed, supported and our air is cleaned and replenished by plants. In the winter, plant bulbs that will sprout in the spring. Choose them for their colours and delicate fragrance ¡V daffodils, nasturtiums. Plant a bowl of hyacinths to keep in your room and others around the house and feel their wonderful smell pervade your surroundings and raise your spirits.

Sit in the park and look at the trees in all their seasons. Many have been here for much longer than we have. Look at the coniferous trees which keep their green leaves all the way through the most frozen winters and fierce winds; they share with us their qualities of hope and constancy in the harshest conditions, showing us the trust and strength we need to survive, to reach the brighter times ahead.

The deciduous trees are younger than their evergreen cousins. In the summer they provide us with lush vegetation and cool shade in the heat of the day. In the autumn they delight us with their warm colours and flaming leaves, changing, through the months as they fall to the ground, to provide a nourishing mulch for future growth. They disperse their fruits and nuts far and wide to animals, birds and on the wind. They know that only by sharing their bounty will they propagate and survive, giving rise to future generations.

In the cold light of the winter sun their black branches look stark and dead against the pale sky. They are slowing down, resting through times of hardship, withdrawing in on themselves and garnering their strength while they wait for spring. Imperceptibly, beneath the surface, the life force stirs again and suddenly, to your surprise, you see the surface of the bare branch changing shape and the imprint of the new buds beginning to open. The warming touch of the lengthening days sees the earth, the flowers and the trees breaking forth with a symphony of life, colour and fragrance.

Sometimes we feel dead, lifeless and despairing. Sometimes we have to subject ourselves to procedures that leave us feeling sick and devastated. We may feel that it is too much for one person to cope with. We may feel at our lowest ebb. This is when we need to slow down, withdraw into ourselves, shut out the unnecessary processes, distractions and demands of the outside world. We need time for inner healing, time for rest and sleep. We need to be still, allowing our energy to nurture the hope and healing in the centre of our being until it can slowly but surely reach out and caress the cold, sad, aching places with its soothing warmth and light so that we can once more produce new growth and flower again.

When we heal from deep inside ourselves and continue to nurture this process on all levels, then we receive true healing ¡V physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.


Palmer M. The Healing Power of Crystals. Rider. London. 1988.


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About Dr Jayne LM Donegan

Dr Jayne LM Donegan MBBS DRCOG DCH DFFP MRCGP MFHom is a holistic GP and Homoeopath. She has been practising Medicine for more than 20 years and Homoeopathy for 16. She uses her wide clinical experience, combined with practical advice and a range of therapeutic and spiritual philosophies, to support her patients on their journey to health and well being. She practises in the NHS in Herne Hill, SW London and her private practice is in Hendon, NW London. Jayne may be contacted on Tel: 020-8632 1634;;

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