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When Healers Cause Harm

photo: Seattle Municipal Archives on flickr

photo: Seattle Municipal Archives on flickr

When we hear that someone is a “healer,” certain assumptions follow.

We assume they know what they’re doing. We assume they will do their best to heal us.

And we assume their methods will not bring us harm.

But what happens when our assumptions are proven false?

What happens when those who are supposed to heal us cause us harm instead?

Years ago, I had chronic back pain. In order to make the pain go away, I tried a variety of approaches.

One of these approaches was a chiropractor I’ll call Harriet the Healer.

Harriet came to me well-recommended. Several people I knew had gone to her. The friendly guy who ran the health food store told me Harriet was fantastic.

She’s a healer,” he said.

He emphasized the last word with a knowing smile. Like she was one of those people who could not only mend my physical maladies, but align my chakras and deep-clean my aura as well.

do you woo woo too?

So I set up an appointment with Harriet.

The first few sessions went well enough. She cracked my back and turned me onto Bach Flower Essences.

No problems, no concerns.

My back still hurt. And I didn’t think Harriet was the best healer ever, as I’d been told, but I was willing to keep coming back.

I wanted to feel better.

It was after I’d been coming to see Harriet for a month or so that things started to get ever so slightly off.

She began to make a habit of telling me intimate details about her relationship with her boyfriend. This was not the most professional behavior, in and of itself. But there was more.

I sensed that there was an agenda behind these confessions. That she was telling me about her boyfriend to make some kind of point.

And then it came. The day she revealed her bias.

We were talking about my back pain and the degree of healing – or lack thereof – that I had experienced.

She leaned back, crossed her arms, and said,

“When you start to wear more feminine clothing, that’s when I’ll know you’re healed.”

photo: cod_gabriel on flickr

photo: cod_gabriel on flickr

I just sat there, in shock. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and still in the process of accepting and embracing my androgynous gender expression. 

I knew that what she’d said was complete hogwash, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

At least, not at first.

When I left her office that day, her words kept ringing in my head. Indeed, I remember them even decades later.

When you start to wear more feminine clothing. . .

Was that why she’d been telling me about her boyfriend? Did she suspect I was gay? Was she trying to extol the benefits of a straight-and-narrow path? She seemed somewhat androgynous herself – was she trying to “set me straight” in an effort to heal her own issues?

I had no idea.

All I knew was that I couldn’t see her anymore.

A line had been crossed. What was supposed to be helping me had turned into something else, something hurtful.

I eventually found my way out of back pain by the works of Dr. John Sarno.

I also eventually found my way into a full-on, super-charged enthusiasm for my androgynous gender expression.

photo: barbara stafford

photo: barbara stafford

When I look back on my time with Harriet, I am proud of myself for leaving.

I know she was doing her best – we all are. But in my case, her best didn’t work for me.

I recently wrote a post about owning our power. I observed that noticing when we give our power away is the key to taking it back.

In the case of healers, there is an implicit agreement:

I’ll see you as an authority and you will draw upon that authority to heal me.

photo: Larry1732 on flickr

photo: Larry1732 on flickr

Except sometimes, like in the case of Harriet, the healer’s own “stuff” gets in the way.

That’s why it’s important to continually check in with our inner knowing.

Is this person right for me? Is this healing modality working? Am I feeling better, not worse?

From my time with Harriet, I learned about Bach flower essences. I learned that I can walk away from something that doesn’t feel right. I learned that a person can be a healer to some and not to others.

Ultimately, we’re our own healers. We’re made of Divine stuff, and we can tap into that unlimited power to heal ourselves and others.

That unlimited power can also guide us in making decisions about who to ask for help. And who not to.

All these years later, I am grateful for my time with Harriet. She moved me forward in my path toward healing, a path that included leaving her.

She did me the great favor of not meeting my expectations. By offering me something that didn’t work, I had to find something that did. And I had to become strong enough to leave.

The best healers are those who strengthen our own relationship with Source. Intentional or not, that was the result of my time with Harriet.

I guess she was a healer after all.

photo: Wonderlane on flickr

photo: Wonderlane on flickr

Who have been your Harriets? How did you find your power? Share your comments below!

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20 Responses to When Healers Cause Harm

  1. Jo Lauer June 18, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Z, thank you for addressing the potentially dark side of healing. In my profession (therapy), there are many abuses of trust under the name of healing. What hurts one, hurts all. It doesn’t get talked about a great deal.

    I love that, in your wonderful “Z” way, you flipped it around and found the benefit for yourself, the place where it could draw you nearer to “the Source.”

    That’s a great antidote for just about anything that feels harmful.

    • Angela June 18, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Jo, I so agree. I am a minister, and part of my ministry is spiritual healing work. My teachers were very clear whatever model you use it is about the client, not you. The healers job was to set a safe place, always abide confidentiality and keep your ego out of the way.

      I was also taught to not judge another’s process. When we hear we think get well, but what if healing is to hold the sacred space at a hospice facility for a family?

      Bottom line, we do not know another’s journey.

      • Z Egloff June 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm #


        I love that you address the other “dark” side of healing work: i.e. the healer’s perceptions about what healing “should” look like. Especially in New Thought circles, there is this idea that healing means perfect physical health. As you point out, healing may be to leave the earthly body. Who are we to say what’s right for another? I love that you add this point to the discussion.


        • Angela June 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

          It is difficult. So many really do want to do good work, but when the process does not meet the healer’s expectation they sometimes blame the client. I have personally seen this cause additional emotional stress to the chronically ill. As if they are doing something wrong.

          No matter your belief blaming the ill is not the answer. Also telling others about it is, in my opinion, unacceptable. In some states healers are held to the same confidentiality laws as doctors and therapist, so it may also be illegal.

        • Aloha Lani November 8, 2013 at 1:29 am #

          I totally agree…
          And the healing may come in ways we can’t see as easily…
          Forgiveness, new found peace, becoming ready to leave the body… Perhaps even greater ease for those left behind… so many ways healing can be expressed!

          Truly we don’t know another’s path… and I agree that healing really happens within the person & their Divine… Those of us who have worked in roles of ministering to others are there to create a safe space, to assist in allowing/facilitating the healing process. We are conduits, facilitators – the Divine within is the Source of all healing.

          As a person who has not only been in the role of healer, but also has been dealing with my own chronic illnesses (& dealt with both my own self-judgment & others’ judgment for not healing more quickly); it has been really important for me to see the quieter, less obvious ways that I have been healing over time. And instead of being impatient, being grateful!

          While I keep open to even more rapid physical healing (or even instant healing!), I am most grateful for the greater peace I feel… the more moments of joy, of unconditional love, & greater self-awareness. That, to me, is all essential to my physical healing… really loving Life & myself!

          I have seen so many that are physically well, financially better off, yet so very unhappy in their lives. I count myself lucky for the lessons I have been learning. Maybe slowly, yet still making progress!

          I also very much appreciate Z’s ability to have learnt so much from “Harriet”. So many times I experienced things not resonating – & finally deciding to leave as well. At that time, I took it to be my fault for not doing it right. Or if I just gave it more time, it would work out. Yet in hindsight, it just was not a good fit & helped me choose for myself, rather than give away my power.

          Now I am paying much more attention, much earlier, to what feels good, what resonates, versus the old “shoulds”, or that I am wrong for not relating with a particular healer or technique. (Believe me, with chronic issues, people are very happy to give opinions about what I should do to heal! lol Most of the time I have already tried it :)

          Anyway, it gives me food for thought – e.g. do I do the same thing with others that I’m experiencing with this person? Are they my mirror in that way? Or is it just about trusting myself? Whatever it is, it is a lesson, movement forward!


          • Z Egloff November 8, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

            Aloha Lani!

            I like that you point out the connection between healing ourselves and healing others. When we really spend the time to do our own healing, we’re naturally better healers of others as well.

            It’s clear that you’re really taking the time to heal in your own way – which is also allowing the Divine to lead. And nothing is better than that!

            I also like that you point out the self-reflection opportunity when others offer unsolicited feedback. I noticed recently that I seem to be surrounded by contrary people – everyone is always saying, “Yes, but. . .” I took a little look in the mirror and realized – I do the same thing! Gosh, grow sure is fun – and funny – sometimes!!


    • Z Egloff June 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      Hi Jo,

      I wasn’t sure about putting this post out there, as it’s definitely more of a shadow topic. I’m glad that it resonated with you. I love that you point out that flipping it around, as it were, is a good antidote for anything that feels harmful. Otherwise, we’re left in the victim mode, which is not that much fun. :(


  2. Karen June 18, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    That’s an excellent point you make, Z, and the comments are good, too.

    I can’t say I’ve ever had a “Harriet,” but I’ve encountered plenty of healers and modalities that I became excited about, only to find that they didn’t work as I’d hoped.

    But that was a gift, just as you point out, for I ultimately discovered it was all about me. When I manage my thought vibration so that I’m allowing more well-being to flow to me, anything — from chemotherapy and radiation (which I’ve had) to didgeridoo and gong healing (which I’ve had) can be our answer. Anything.

    When the patient is ready, the healing appears, and anything or anyone can be the catalyst.

    • Z Egloff June 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      Yes, healing can come in so many shapes and forms. When we’re open and flowing and finding the good in all situations, there’s no limit to the healing we can experience, even in something that initially seems “negative.” BTW, gong healing sounds very groovy. :)


      • Karen June 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

        Haha — gong healing is very loud when done right above one’s head, I might clarify. :)

    • Aloha Lani November 8, 2013 at 1:33 am #

      “When the patient is ready, the healing appears, and anything or anyone can be the catalyst.”

      Yes indeed! <3

      • Aloha Lani November 8, 2013 at 1:51 am #

        And I love didgeridoos, gongs, crystal bowls filled with water, Tibetan bowls…

        Sound healing is so awesome! Receiving it, as well as doing it (e.g. singing or chanting…)

        I chose not to receive chemo or radiation – twice I chose lumpectomies, with complementary medicine as adjuncts.

        I got a clear message (for myself) not to do those modalities…
        Yet I know they have helped others… it is so individual!
        What I find more important is the person’s confidence in the technique or modality – it helps tremendously.

        And then, yes, I too have had the disappointment of techniques not working as I had hoped… It surprises me when that happens, when I have been clearly guided to experience it. Yet each one has been like a stepping-stone to the next level, the next layer of the onion being peeled.

  3. Loretta June 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    What an awesome story! Everyone is a teacher, everyone a healer, when we are awake and aware, and look at it from the right perspective…HUGS!

    • Z Egloff June 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi Loretta,

      Yes, this is true, and it’s a good reminder. We’re all teachers and healers and have all been on both sides of the equation. Staying awake and aware, like you say, is key!


    • Aloha Lani November 8, 2013 at 1:52 am #


  4. Lili June 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    So grateful for this, thank you Z!

    • Z Egloff June 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      You’re welcome, Lili! :)

  5. Sara Nichols July 9, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Great post, Z. Having consulted over 40 “healers” to help heal our son during his 9 years of illness, I have a lot of stories about healers to share. In fact, I could write a whole book about it (and probably should). One thing comes to mind though. THere is a wonderful coaching program run by Maria Nemeth (of the Energy of Money) called Academy for Coaching Excellence. She has a class called Mastering Life’s Energies and a follow-up class called Empowering Life’s Energies. Many ministers and therapists and others take those classes. I remember being blown away during ELE at an exercise they did that revealed to the “healers” taking the class just how much their own stuff sits right between them and their patient.

    Since then and from talking a lot to the better healers I’ve met, I think the best healers do not “get their stuff out of the way” but rather are hyper aware of their stuff and the powerful mirror of healing. They know that each client is an opportunity for them to heal their stuff and that if the client also gets some healing out of it, so much the better.

    I can’t help but wonder how you healed “Harriet” in this encounter? Is she wandering around somewhere wearing butch clothing with her new girlfriend? Sara

    • Z Egloff July 9, 2013 at 11:58 am #

      Hi Sara,

      The program by Maria Nemeth sounds wonderful. I’m grateful that the awareness is out there and so many people are benefitting from it.

      When I got my MA in Counseling from JFK University, there was a strong experiential component, with the idea that we had to do our own healing work in our to be effective therapists. I didn’t become a therapist, but the work I did there changed my life.

      I like your idea of the possibilities of Harriet in Current Time. And that you point out that the client heals the healer as well. :)


    • Aloha Lani November 8, 2013 at 1:42 am #

      Dear Sara;
      I appreciate the image of healers being hyper aware of their stuff… It is much more authentic, & then one’s own stuff serves in the process.

      So much better than being in Egypt, in the river Nile… (Denial in the field of healers & therapists runs deep!) Or, in sympathy with (internally comparing stories, not seeing beyond the current expression, or identifying with the limitation).

      Having been on both sides, I now feel like my own life experience (& awareness of my shadow & what is yet unresolved, & more ease with what might arise) offers me a more grounded place to offer safety to another.

      It also offers me more safety to be with myself, with those aspects I rejected before.

      Another thing that has helped is the abbreviated version of Ho’oponopono… (Joe Vitale & Dr. Hew Len wrote about it.) We all have our stuff – recognizing it, learning from it, allowing the Divine to heal it, choosing forgiveness, taking responsibility – so many ways we can avoid that trip to Egypt!

      Thank you all… <3

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