I am proud to welcome Sara Firman, BSc. MPhil. LMT, to The Psychology of Wellbeing. She is an independent spa therapist, consultant and writer who shares a her wonderful perspective on spa culture on her Vision Spa Retreat blog. Her unique perspective comes from working in clinical, spa and private settings as both a therapist and a manager in the U.K., Israel and the U.S. When I was writing my blog post on “The Science and Spirituality of Spas” I stumbled onto her blog, which was filled with ideas that totally resonated with mine. How wonderful to find someone who shares my ideas but is able to express them even more eloquently than I can. This article was adapted from one that she previously wrote on her blog. I hope it resonates with you as much as it did me. –Jeremy
If spas unreservedly ally with evidence-based healthcare, they will lose a great deal of their heart and soul, and their potential as places of holistic healing. Alternatively, they could lead the way in the art and science of the healing arts by seeking new models for our understanding of the highly creative and innovative healing practices that have found a last bastion of support in spa.
Science depends on quantifiable measurement, yet so much that is important in healing or therapy cannot easily be measured or quantified. Perhaps it never will be. The current focus on evidence-based therapy is a concession by science to the subjective nature of the therapeutic experience. But it is incomplete without taking into account the context of an individual’s own process – which may or may not conform to the scientific norm.
Healing is a highly subjective process and one-size does not fit all. Just because a given technique or procedure works for a majority of clients does not mean it will work in any given individual case. Conversely, what does work in a given individual case will often not be scientifically valid for a majority of people.
Alternative healing practices, many of which have been adopted or adapted by spas, provide effective intervention through clarity of intent, close attention to subjective context, increased awareness of the impact of the therapist’s mindset on the client, and intuitive flexibility in applying a broad range of skills. None of these fits conventional scientific research models.
In fact, evidence-based therapy is based upon a model that seeks, as much as possible, to negate the effect of the individual practitioner, including his or her capacity for imaginative and intuitive responses to the individual client. Evidence-based therapy seeks to develop standardized protocols, applicable in situations where a given client fits a given profile. This model attempts to minimize risk to clients and liability for practitioners, but it may also stifle the particular healing capacity and therapeutic creativity of the individual healer-practitioner.
It is arguable that the most effective healer-practitioners are not those who adhere most dogmatically to protocols, but those who are able to bring the entirety of their training, and experience to bear spontaneously and instinctually in the moment, with regard to a unique therapeutic challenge.
A strictly evidence-based approach to the use of spa therapies may seriously limit the potential therapeutic value of this work. If spa therapists are going to make a difference in the lives of their clients, they must feel encouraged to bring the whole of their individuality to their interaction with each client.
Prevalent medical care tends to be prescriptive and global, while alternative approaches are often more exploratory and individual. Part of the human condition may be to discover how to live with the unknowable aspects of life: idiosyncratic, individual, changing, chaotic but with some pattern to them nonetheless. It’s these kinds of patterns that conventional science is not comfortable with.
Inclusion of the more individual, anecdotal, and idiosyncratic dimensions of research could well be relevant to more effective therapy. These are often the types of information that alternative practitioners are interested in, and routinely use in their practices, but relatively rarely document or report upon. (Spa practitioners document even less, which is a great pity.)
These are also often the types of information that clinical practitioners would like to incorporate into their practice, but can’t because of the strictures of an evidence-based approach that prohibits their consideration. Yet it is this type of subjective, anecdotal information that makes the experienced healer (whether clinical or not) effective, and exceptional, at what he or she does.
There are some who find credible ways to gather and make use of this type of information, in particular regarding explorations of human consciousness, subtle energy work, spirituality, and emotional intelligence, all of which may be applicable to some of the healing modalities offered at spas.
For example: The Institute of Noetic Sciences, The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM), The Fetzer Institute, The Institute of HeartMath, and The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) all reference science though they are working at the cutting-edge of a science that convention has yet to recognize widely.
It is possible that there is a future for healing practices that don’t fit the conventional scientific model – including many that are offered in spas and other wellness centers– if we are able to identify appropriate areas of interest, appropriate recording formats and appropriate research methods.
I’d like to see spas and spa organizations promoting and contributing to these ideas before they adopt, wholesale (and without careful consideration of its implications,) the predominant methodology of science. It will be a great loss if research based on existing models in medical science is used to regulate and standardize away the healing arts that spas have helped to resurrect and revive interest in.