Correspondence and reprint requests: Robyn-Marie Butt, R.R.#3, Woodstock, Ontario, N4S 7V7
The art of healing lies not always in its ability to suppress a condition, but sometimes simply in its ability to understand, elucidate, and name a condition. Happily named and secure in the name, a patient may then decide to go on his or her way, and medicine has yet been perfectly well served, because the soul of the patient has been well served. Medical "success" need not be measured solely by whether or not treatment is accepted, undertaken, and executed.
Suppose you are suffering from an illness. Suppose you are not a physician, and you do not know what sort of illness you are suffering from. Because the diagnostic process takes time, for some weeks you are left hanging as to the name and treatment for this illness; in the meantime, your imagination begins offering up images and stories about your condition. These stories and images constitute your metaphorical or mythical condition; in the absence of a medical diagnosis, the images offer to infuse your illness with meaning.
It should interest every healer that the metaphor (story, myth) which a sufferer supplies for her illness may enrich both her own experience of suffering and her physician's experience of healing. Transforming an otherwise purely medical affliction, a myth moves its teller and its hearer from the sometimes over-whelming dictates of quantity of life to the ineffable experiences of quality of life. This being so, healers do well when they encourage patients to make metaphors while coping with their afflictions. Then, whether as healers or sufferers, we fulfill our primary responsibility as human beings, namely, to make meaning. Meaning need not be ponderous or solemn. It can also be comical, light-hearted or absurd. However, contrary to our prevailing Western assumption, meaning is not made in the intellect; true meaning is made in the soul, using the experiences of the body.
The rationalist Western bias asserts that a "myth" is something fanciful and untrue. As Robert A. Johnson explains, this arose "because of the misguided idea that myths were the childish way ancient (humankind) had of explaining natural phenomena that science explains so much better." (1) However, he adds, "certain psychologists and anthropologists are now …