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Monday to Friday 8-4pm and by appointment


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Ask a Naturopathic Doctor: What is a healing crisis?

by Katherine Willow, ND

This is a fascinating topic about the symptoms we encounter in attempting to become well. They may be physical, emotional, mental or energetic and include fatigue, headaches, fever, water retention, joint pains, anger, sadness, scattered thinking, energy rushes, changes in consciousness, dizziness and countless others. They are what is meant when naturopathic doctors and alternative practitioners in general warn that you may feel worse before you feel better.

Healing crises are an integral part of homeopathic medicine, where one notices a “return of symptoms” on the road back to health. In other words, there is a brief repeat of symptoms one has had in the past, in backwards order of occurrence. Symptoms that were more recent will recur first, with symptoms from early childhood showing up much later. They can last from seconds to days.

In naturopathic medicine, a healing crisis is seen as a detoxification of the body as it unloads congestion and toxins that have been stored in the tissues. Many naturopaths integrate homeopathy into their practice and use both definitions of a healing crisis when monitoring a patient’s progress.

German New Medicine (GNM), a set of newly discovered biological laws about healing, explains healing crises in detail.

For instance, what causes them?

Briefly, healing symptoms are the result of moving from the part of our nervous system that responds to stress (sympathetic) to the relaxed part of our nervous system (parasympathetic), when the tissues are no longer tense and allow flow, detoxification, repair via inflammation and even infection. GNM shows that some cancers fall under this repair function and are self-limiting, including cancer of the breast ducts, ovaries, lymphatic system and brain.

How does one differentiate a healing crisis from a disease?

One looks at what came before. If we have experienced escalating stress and bad habits, we can assume disease. If we are improving our habits and resolving deeply held issues, we can assume healing. Sometimes there is a combination of both. Screening assessments like blood tests and hair analyses help uncover sources of disease that may not be obvious when we are following a good lifestyle.

How does one treat a healing symptom?

This can be tricky. Usually the best thing to do is to rest a LOT . One is more tired in a healing phase. Light food, remedies, energy therapies, appropriate herbs and supplements and bodywork are wonderful supports.

It is good to avoid suppressing healing symptoms, as they are the mechanisms by which we become well. When we override them with drugs, certain herbs, caffeine or just our willpower to push through, we weaken our vitality, including our immune system.

Why do some people have them and others don’t?

According to GNM, this depends on the intensity and duration of the stress phase, whether there are modifying effects such as drugs or caffeine, whether there are constant relapses back into the stress phase, ie due to triggers, and which tissue has been targeted. In naturopathic medicine and homeopathy, we also consider the vitality of the person—stronger people tend to have bigger healing crises, small consolation at the time!

Are healing crises dangerous?

Not usually. Even when there is alarm, the situation can usually be handled with gentle methods.

How can healing crises be avoided?

Go slowly in your healing program and take good care of yourself along the way with appropriate nutrition, lots of rest, moderate exercise, gentle cleansing, emotional support from inside and out and a connection with spirit, however you understand it.

Katherine Willow ND is a fourth generation registered naturopathic doctor with over three decades of experience. She is founder and director of Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre (www.ecowellness.com) and has a specific interest in German New Medicine and how emotions relate to disease, about which she gives monthly introductions.