Objectives To elucidate pathways to healing for people having suffered injury to the integrity of their function as a human being.
Methods A team of physician-analysts conducted thematic analyses of in-depth interviews of 23 patients who experienced healing, as identified by six primary care physicians purposefully selected as exemplary healers.
Results People in the sample experienced healing journeys that spanned a spectrum from overcoming unspeakable trauma and then becoming healers themselves to everyday heroes functioning well despite ongoing serious health challenges.
The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.
In the healing journey, bridges from suffering are developed to healing resources/skills and connections to helpers outside themselves. These bridges often evolve in fits and starts and involve persistence and developing a sense of safety and trust.
From the iteration between suffering and developing resources and connections, a new state emerges that involves hope, self-acceptance and helping others. Over time, this leads to healing that includes a sense of integrity and flourishing in the pursuit of meaningful goals and purpose.
Conclusion Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.
- mental health
- primary care
- social medicine
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Contributors JGS was the interviewer for all the subject interviews. He coordinated and participated in the conference calls for data analysis. He was present for and participated in the 3-day retreat for final data analysis. He wrote the first draft of the paper and contributed to all subsequent drafts including the final one. SLW participated in the data analysis via conference calls and was present at the 3-day retreat for final data analysis. She added her input to multiple drafts of the paper and she prepared the final figure of the healing journey model. PD participated in the data analysis via conference calls and was present at the 3-day retreat for final data analysis. He added his input to multiple drafts of the paper and wrote the initial draft of the introduction section. KCS participated in the data analysis via conference calls and was present at the 3-day retreat for final data analysis. He added his input to multiple drafts of the paper and wrote the initial draft of the abstract. DJ participated in the data analysis via conference calls and was present at the 3-day retreat for final data analysis. He added his input to multiple drafts of the paper and was instrumental in helping to refine the healing journey model. All authors gave final approval of this version and all agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.
Funding As noted, the authors received some funding for meeting expenses from the Institute for Integrative Health, Baltimore, Maryland. DJ also received some meeting support from the Institute for Functional Medicine. KCS also received some support from a Clinical Research Professorship from the American Cancer Society.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement The deidentified interview transcripts are available from the corresponding author upon request.
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