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The Difference Between Curing and Healing

Lissa Rankin's picture


The Origins of Pain

I saw a patient today who inspired me- let’s call her Sally. She suffers from a host of medical conditions that threaten to rob you of your mojo- fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pelvic pain. When this young woman walked into my office, she looked like crap. Before looking at her chart, I thought she had cancer. Gaunt and pale, her skin hung on her skeleton like she was in the last grip of life. During the first half hour, she didn’t smile once. I felt the anxious tug we doctors feel when we see people like this, the one that says “I’m not going to be able to help this person,” which triggers insecurities and, often, judgments, in our own minds. It becomes about us, rather than being about them. We have a tendency to turn off because we don’t want to fail. But I vowed not to do this. Sitting in her presence, I was determined to be present for Sally and sit with whatever is true, rather than letting my own stuff get in the way.

What is true for Sally is that she has spent the last decade plagued by pain, fatigue, and a body that is betraying her. She has been to universities, fancy alternative medical clinics, and specialists. Someone told her that her condition is “incurable,” and somewhere, a while back, she decided to believe them. But she never gave up trying to be well.

When she came to see me for a gynecologic complaint, I heard her words, but what I saw in front of me told me that her condition was deeper than what her words betrayed. This was not about a pain in her pelvis, this was about a core wound. I listened while she talked about her pelvis, but I focused more energy on watching her, feeling her, being with her in the moment. What rang out loud and clear was this message: “I am not well.” And yet, I could see this glowing, radiant energy beneath the surface, a vision of a vibrant, vital being, leaping in the air and spinning with glee.

Unbidden, she began to tell me about her favorite place, a remote town near Santa Fe, where she owns a vacation house. She fantasizes about quitting her job, living there full time, and spending time with animals in some way. Currently, she owns her own business, selling software to help people maintain their gardens. She works until 2am many nights, finishing projects and meeting deadlines. A team of people bow to her leadership. Years ago, she gave birth to her company from a place of passion, but lately, she dreads everything about it. It has become her ball and chain, and she suspects it is related to her illness.

The Power to Heal

Last year, fed up with being sick, she considered quitting her job. She went as far as selling her primary residence, with the intention that she would live full time near Santa Fe. With money in the bank to help support her, she settled into a new life. And miraculously, her symptoms disappeared. For two whole months, she felt like a vibrant twenty year old, brimming with energy and vitality. She hiked every day, ate wholesome food, wrote in her journal, and meditated. “I did everything right,” she said. And her body rewarded her with new life.

Then her mother had a heart attack, and she left Santa Fe to return to California, where she is now caretaking her family. Because she is back in the area, she has resurrected her business. Within days of returning to her old life, her symptoms reappeared. She has been coming to our integrative medicine center almost weekly ever since. Her thick chart belies a series of supplements, laboratory tests, and referral letters that conclude, “There is nothing we can do.”

Yet, to me, seeing Sally for the first time, the answer is obvious. Her body has already told her what it needs to be healed. She needs to release the expectation she has placed on herself to care for her family. She needs to let go of her business. And she needs to move back to that small village near Santa Fe, where her body knows how to heal itself. Only I can’t say this to her. It is not my place to give advice. Advice implies that someone is broken- and nobody is broken.

Instead, I ask her, “What does your body need in order to get better?”

She says, “I need to find care for my mother, let go of my business, and move back to Santa Fe.”


When she says this, I see, for the first time of our visit, a faint smile. I ask her what she will do when she is there. She says, “Hike, ski, paint, play with my dog. Maybe start a new business, something related to animals.” Her smile widens. She begins to talk about the steps she would need to take in order to put this plan in place. Some steps she has already begun, as she has known intuitively what she needs to do. Within moments, she is grinning. I ask her how her pain feels in this present moment- right here, right now, and she says, “It’s gone.”

Then something shifts. A dark cloud wafts across her. She curls her shoulders inward. Her smile disappears. Her brow furrows. Sally says, “I can’t do this. And what’s the point? My doctor said there was no cure for my condition.”

Healed Versus Cured

I can’t help telling her the story of my father. Dad was diagnosed with a gigantic goomba of a brain tumor when I was 7 months pregnant. A body scan revealed that there was cancer everywhere. A biopsy confirmed metastatic melanoma, which comes with a near certain death sentence. My father, a physician who did his senior thesis on melanoma, knew the facts about his prognosis. So when he called me one morning at 4am to say that he had a vision and that God had come to him to tell him he had been healed, I groaned. “Oh no,” I thought. “The brain tumor is growing. He’s delusional. And he’s in denial.” I nodded and told Dad I was thrilled that he was healed, but I dreaded the repeat body scan that would tell him the truth. When the body scan showed that the tumors were growing, Dad got quiet. He didn’t speak of his vision again. My heart ached.

A month later, Dad failed to experience any of the expected symptoms of a gigantic brain tumor. He had no headaches, no seizures, no vomiting, no dementia. He was plain old Dad, only with a bald head from the whole brain radiation they gave him. So when Siena was born and Dad said, “Can I go now?” I wasn’t prepared. What did he mean, “go?” What exactly did he plan to do? Dad said he was going to quit eating and die a peaceful death. He wanted our permission. Reluctantly, we gave it.

Dad kissed us goodbye, and when I asked whether he was scared, Dad said, “I’m not scared. I’m joyful.” He kissed away our tears, closed his eyes, and died peacefully 48 hours later.

Only in retrospect did I learn a very important lesson- one that has fundamentally changed the way I practice medicine. I realized that, in spite of my skepticism, Dad had been healed- that there is difference between healing and curing. I always thought they were the same. Now, I realize that you can healed without being cured, and you can be cured without being healed. I spent 12 years of medical education learning how to cure people, but no one once spoke to me about healing. In fact, we don’t even use the term “Healing” in reference to patients. We might talk about a healing wound, but a healing patient? Nah. Too woo-woo.

The Whole Picture

So when that doctor told Sally that she would never be cured, he failed to look at the whole picture. Yes, there may not be a drug she can take to rid herself of symptoms permanently. But I absolutely believe that she can be healed. Her body has already proven it to her. The power to heal lies within us all, if only we tap into it.

What about you Pinkies? What needs to be healed in your body, your soul, your heart, your life? What would it take to feel better? What steps might you take to put a healing plan into place? How can we support you?

Committed to helping you (and me) heal,



Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you for your sweet

Thank you for your sweet words of validation, Anges- I love you too!

I would argue that we all must claim our roles as healers. Yes, any of us who do it well do it as "healing facilitators." We do not "fix" someone else. We just serve to hold up the mirror so another PInkie can find the magic within them to heal themselves. But that, by definition, makes us healers. We don't fix others, we empower them. Own it, girlfriend. YOU are a healer.

The way I see it, the wound within me sees the healer within you. The healer within you sees the wound within me. And in this place, we connect. This is where true healing happens.

Why do they not teach us this in med school? It PISSES me off.

We hold so much power within us. Love to you, Lissa

Anges's picture

You might want to look at my

You might want to look at my blog "I can sir"... I hope you don't mind me mentioning this...


Anges the Soul Awakener

Anges's picture

You already know I am in love

You already know I am in love with you... and this is not helping at all LOL

As a healer (the term is not even appropriate - I should say a healing facilitator) I know one thing: we are the only ones who can heal ourselves. Others can give us the tool but the healing power is in us. Nowhere else. And it happens when we connect to our souls <3

jane's picture

healing is often about

healing is often about finding our God/Goddess nature... about connecting with our truth... whether that be by Reiki (a wonderful story in the comments!) or by the contact with a true healer such as yourself Lissa...when the heart and soul is heard and acknowledged there are shifts which no one can predict... blessings to you for sharing your Dad's heart rending story....

carol mccracken's picture

You inspire me

You inspire me

antoinette's picture

thanks love your page you

thanks love your page you inspire me god bless girlfriend


Lissa Rankin's picture

Oh my, James- now it's me

Oh my, James- now it's me that's crying. Thank you so much for your beautiful, clarifying words. I want to make your comment its own post! Wow. You get it. Thank you, sweetie.

James Serendip's picture

Excellent and important post

Excellent and important post Lissa! As a hypnotherapist and not a licensed healthcare provider I have to be careful never to use the words "cure" or "heal" or I could end up in jail, but to me what you have really uncovered here is about empowerment or disempowerment around our own bodies and our health. We humans have come to accept that our bodies are like clocks and once the spring is wound and set in motion, then the only way to change what is happening is to tinker with the mechanism (called Allopathy). But I can tell you from years of personal experience that our minds and bodies cannot be separated, and very real conditions in the body can respond in profound ways to changes in our thoughts (or even just what we focus on).

Hearing Erin's story in the comments reminds me of many that I have helped with conditions like ulcerative colitis, Crohn's, IBS, and for many of these people, when the underlying emotional traumas are finally released (sometimes from childhood!) the conditions seem to just disappear, as if by magic. But it is so important to understand that it isn't magical at all. It is how our mind/body complex works, and WE ARE ALL WORKING PERFECTLY... we just may have gotten into a situation where the input to our body/mind is not really appropriate for us any more, and so the body responds.

But you also bring up a much larger issue which I talk about with many of my friends in the healing professions... which is that "health" is not always what is right or needed for a person, and if that is the case, you can do whatever you want with them and they will not get "healthy" but they may get WELL. We in the healing fields must begin to consider a much bigger picture of the individual -- what are we here to do? why are we who we are? we need to consider our karma or our spiritual purpose as well as just the connection of thoughts and physiology. As the amazing story of your Dad demonstrates, not only can we sometimes heal what cannot be cured, sometimes we can also cure what cannot be healed, by simply being true to ourselves instead of external expectations or the desires of others. He got what he needed out of his life experience -- he go to be present for a most precious moment in his family, and then it was perfectly ok with him to go. Not only had he healed his symptoms, he "cured" for himself the idea of this physical affliction ruining things for him or taking him from the experience of his grandchild's birth. Death is not an illness. It is a natural part of life. Just as even illness can sometimes be our cure. Often people will become sick because at a deeper psychological or emotional level they NEED some rest or attention or quiet time, and that need is greater than the need for physical health.

I want to encourage your readers to consider health on a more big-picture scale, and realize that if we are in balance in our minds and hearts and energies, then we can be healthy or healed even if our bodies are damaged, and the body is often almost a metaphor for what we are experience in our total being. So if something is not working so well in the body... what does that part of the body represent? (i.e. SPINE represents support, Feet=grounding, COLON=release vs. holding on, SKIN=boundaries etc.)

We are what we perceive ourselves to be. This doesn't mean that the body isn't real, or that you can think yourself out of any illness, but rather that the mind is always a good place to start with any challenge we are facing. When you have control of your thoughts, you can access the full potential of your body. And I believe that our true nature is LOVE, and so if our thoughts and actions and words are in resonance with love, we are aware and clear and truly expressing ourselves, but if our thoughts or words or actions are not in resonance with love, we have fallen asleep at the wheel. This applies with illness as well as other areas of life. If I can be loving with myself and my body even when my body is in pain or discomfort or danger, then I am truly awake!

Megan Monique Harner's picture

Oh my goodness! What a great

Oh my goodness! What a great post. Still crying. That completely clarified and resonated with me. <3

Simone da Rosa's picture

This is true integrative

This is true integrative medicine: body-mind-spirit are all called into *action* on their united behalf. I loved that story of your dad the first time you told me, Lissa. It truly spoke to me and the veracity of his dream was never one iota in doubt in my constantly going mind. He was standing still enough for both of us. Good & Bad witches are both Reiki masters so there's no doubt of efficacy there, either -- so I love me some miracles. :) Thank the Universe the only thing people have ever had tried to cure me of is my optimism. Grateful for all the work we all do - thankful you have this platform to share all this good stuff, lady. Keep on going for all our benefit!

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you Anne. Deep bow.

Thank you Anne. Deep bow. Namaste.

And Kristen- I hear you. Doctors are so wounded right now. The system is SO broken.

I practice love, with a little bit of medicine on the side. Somehow, in the world of medicine, we've lost that...

Kristen's picture

Oh my goodness... what an

Oh my goodness... what an awesome story to share. Thank you for posting, Lissa. My wish is to have more doctors out there like you who "see" at much deeper levels. I feel that many doctors are practicing medicine, not for the love of helping people anymore, but for "other" ego-driven reasons. Not all of them, but a lot of them, it seems... Kudos & gratitude to you for "seeing" your patients on such levels of love and human-ness.

Anne Collier's picture

Thank you for two

Thank you for two extraordinary stories, Lissa. I feel so blessed to have read them. And what a concept: a practitioner who listens, looks at the whole picture, and doesn't let his/her own stuff get in the way. The healing has gone beyond your patient. Sending gratitude your way.

Lissa Rankin's picture

WOW! WOW! WOW!!!! Thank you

WOW! WOW! WOW!!!! Thank you Ming. Miracles really do happen, but reiki works too. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel so inspired (heading to my office soon with great faith that healing is always possible).

Ming's picture

this is a blog that my Reiki

this is a blog that my Reiki partner wrote about her collasped lung.

I realize from my brief “Bio” that none of my readers know that I have suffered from a lung condition for many years. My left lung was collapsed and my pulmonologists had to perform a bronchscopy to find if there was any cancer or other disease process going on. Thank goodness, no cancer. Over the years I had regular check ups, x-rays, and many breathing tests. I had always been a little depressed about my situation. I felt having one lung limited me in so much of what I was capable of doing.

When I started studying reiki, I remembered my reiki master (Timothy Stuetz) worked on my lung during one of our sessions. After that, every evening (almost) I would reiki myself putting my hand over my left collapsed lung, hoping to transfer energy into it even though medical doctors said it wasn’t possible. I know I was working with animals but in between I had to take care of myself too. Here is where my story takes a remarkable, interesting and fabulous twist! I woke up this morning with this persistent cough I have had all week. My girlfriend Ming came over and heard me wheezing, forget my husband, she threw me into the car to take me to the hospital. That was it. So we spent Sunday morning in an ER and as the heavens would have it, they took us in immediately.

My young doctor came in to evaluate me. He picked up his stethoscope listening to my chest. I explained to him not to bother listening to the left side due to it being collapsed. He said he heard something on that side and that if it wasn’t the left lung it was the reverberation from the right. After he walked out of the room, Ming and I thought he may not know that much. But we were here. The respiratory tech appears with a one hour breathing treatment but not before the x-ray tech shows up to take me to x-ray. I tell Ming to go get a bite to eat. I also explain to the x-ray tech after he does the front view he doesn’t need to turn me to the left because I have no lung there. The tech says, I’m only a tech, but I can tell you, I see two lungs! So, he makes me come and look at it myself. Of course, I don’t believe what I am seeing. I go back to my bad and start my breathing treatment. Ming returns and we await the doctor’s re-evaluation. The doctor comes back and informs me I have 2 functioning working lungs. I ask him to repeat this after we pick Ming up off the floor. I did not tell Ming previously what the tech had said because I wanted to hear it AGAIN from the doctor this time. I told him it wasn’t possible because all the other doctors had said my lung would never re-inflate.

He called it a miracle. We call it Reiki.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Wow, Erin! I love hearing

Wow, Erin! I love hearing stories like this. It gives me such faith for the kind of medicine we could be practicing. Can you tell us what those doctors did to help facilitate your process? I am so fascinated with how our bodies can heal themselves in the presence of the right love and support. Do tell....

What about the rest of you? Please share your stories. Have you been healed?

Erin's picture

What a blessing you are to

What a blessing you are to the world of western medicine, Lissa. I wish there were more doctors like you!

I learned the difference between healing and curing during my twenties. I fought a long and difficult battle with Crohn's Disease. I lost 18 inches of my small intestine and almost my life. In a lot of ways, it DID rob me of my life - for years I couldn't do many of the things I wanted to do and I spent entirely too much of my time living in fear of my own body. That is so unreal to me now, being afraid of my own body!

Anyway, I'm here today because I found someone to help me heal on an energetic level. When old, toxic patterns were released (patterns involving my family, my hometown, my childhood), I got better. November is my anniversary month. Three years off of all meds! And my intestines are fine and dandy.

But I will never EVER forget the kind and compassionate health care professionals I met over the years. I remember their names and faces and I send love out to them every now and then, even though they most likely wouldn't remember me. They touched my life in a profound way by caring for me as a person instead of a patient. And that is clearly the kind of doctor you are. I have no doubt that your patients feel the same way about you.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you Caroline. Just to

Thank you Caroline. Just to clarify, NOW- the "worst cases" do make me more engaged. But when I was in an insurance based practice, scheduled to see 40 patients/day (7 1/2 min per patient), you feel yourself cringe when you see those worst cases. It brings out all our own inadequacies as docs- we know we can't "cure" someone in 7 1/2 minutes when they have issues like these. So we feel like failures. It's horrible- I know. But it's really how many of us feel. The patient suffers. We suffer. It's SO BROKEN.

Now, it's different. I have an hour with my patients. Sally and I got to spend a great deal of time together, and I'm so inspired to put the healing back into medicine. Now, I say bring it on- send me the "worst cases." For there- there is the greatest chance for truly helping those in need. (Isn't that why we're there?)

Thank you so much for sharing your story, sweetie. With love Lissa

Caroline (SpeakHealth.org)'s picture

Wow, this post has my eyes

Wow, this post has my eyes watering. very profound stuff. Sally's story is hard evidence that your mental state and lifestyle profoundly affects your physical health.

I was sort of surprised to read that, as a doctor, the "worst cases" make you back off instead of being more engaged. While I can understand the reasons, its also a little worrying that many docs might not have assessed their own response and really made the effort with Sally. (sort of reminded me of a video about doctor engagement with difficult pts that i helped make for the site im working on: http://speakhealth.org/a-doctors-dilemma/ )

I think I've been the "Before" Sally: After I was diagnosed with depression 7 years ago, I went to several different docs/therapists, and I am STILL adjusting my meds. I really lost hope of ever feeling normal. But it was when a particular doctor said to me that "no one has to be depressed. no one has to settle for that" that I realised that my condition was something that could change- that i could heal, even if i wasn't "cured". (not being sad is a very hard concept for depressed people to tackle, I understand).

Anyway, I just wanted to share that- your post put me in a very emotional and confessional place! Thanks for reading!


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