Since I work with the psyche now, and can't
turn to medicines or surgery to heal people any longer, it's in our
relationship that healing occurs.
Healing is not the same as curing. You can be
cured and not healed, and healed but not cured. George Best, the
footballer, was an alcoholic, and he was given a liver transplant.
It worked well, but he went back to alcohol, and died. He was given
a cure, but the healing hadn't taken place.
I worked for 27 years in palliative medicine;
then I felt I'd gone as far as I could along that avenue.
Symptom-control is very, very important, but I wanted to go into
the depths of what people experience. So I trained as a counsellor
and Somatic Experiencing [SE]practitioner.
I'm interested in working with the psychological effects
of illness on people, and with traumatic stress. I'm also
interested in the split in Western medicine between the
biomechanical model and what I might call a soulful approach to
Traditional societies have something to teach us in
their view of illness as soul loss. When I work with
someone with post-traumatic stress disorder who's buried their soul
in a hidden place - think Dark Night of the Soul - to protect it
from further injury, I see our task as finding a way to bring this
I work with the bereaved in the hospice where I used to
be a consultant, and also work privately, with the diverse
psychological troubles that clients bring. It tends to be people
who have experienced some kind of a trauma. And people don't
usually come for counselling till after the age of 35. You do get
people who have low incomes, as well as people who can afford it
I work in different modalities, but often SE
seems the right approach, and they can try it and see what it's
Somatic Experiencing is a psychological
therapy, that works at the level of the body and its
sensations. The body reacts to threat by fight-or-flight, but if
this doesn't avail, it goes into freeze, shuts down. Trauma happens
when a person is stuck in this freeze mode.
SE works by reconnecting sufferers to their sensory
self. It can be slow, a gradual, safe titrated process,
little by little, rather than an overwhelming re-experiencing of
the trauma, which may make things worse.
Some therapies work at the thinking level,
top-down; but SE is a bottom-up approach. I ask people
what they are experiencing in their bodies when they are
remembering what it is that's troubling them, so they can begin to
reconnect with their felt sense. People can describe this as energy
beginning to flow again. We've all had these somatic experiences: a
chill down the spine, tingling, feeling uplifted. This is helping
people get back in contact with what they have lost touch with -
the life within them - at a pace that does not plunge them back
I see body, mind, soul, and spirit as
interconnected. Change one, and it affects the others. In
practice, I've observed how, time after time, life-threatening
physical illness has caused people to change their life, their
attitudes, even to say they have never felt so alive.
The world of soul and spirit infuses us. To me
this relationship is mysterious. And we're so often unaware of it
until some crisis happens. If we listen to our bodies, we may gain
insight into our soul journey.
After his resurrection, Christ walked through
doors, appeared as flesh and blood to his followers, changed his
appearance, and disappeared. He was in a state of being beyond our
understanding, one that was both spiritual and physical. Perhaps
the concept of the resurrection of the body could be informed by
There are chaplains who are brilliant in supporting the
dying, and others who lack the necessary empathy. The
compassion of, say, Mother Teresa or Cicely Saunders for the dying
is the best teaching of all, and has had a profound effect on how
we care for the dying.
There are thousands of accounts in Christian literature
of people who have had spiritual experiences, near-death
experiences, visions of heaven, healing of terminal illnesses. By
and large, I would say they are simply telling the truth. In
spiritual terms, this is experimental evidence, and, I think, is
deeply comforting to many facing death, and others who
The body and life are part of the arc of our
existence, which does not end with death.
The Case of the Disappearing Cancer is a book
of stories, reflecting on patients and clients I've looked
after, and stories that have happened in everyday life. One story
is about a lady with advanced cancer, including lung metastases.
She had had no treatment, but her cancer disappeared: a spontaneous
remission. Biopsies confirmed the cancer diagnosis, and its later
absence. She was healed, but how? What was happening with her
during her close encounter with death?
I was born in Leeds, and grew up in Exeter. I
loved the Devon countryside. My father was an Australian surgeon
and met my mother during the war. She came from Belgium. Now I live
in north London with Joan, my wife, and we have three adult
I like talking to my wife and children, playing
with my granddaughter, gardening, bird-watching, travelling,
writing, reading, art galleries. I'd love to paint and play the
Like all babies, whether in the womb or after,
I was surrounded by the presence of God. I somehow know it was a
blissful experience, though, like most people, I can't remember it,
save for familiar, fleeting moments of joy or beauty.
My first conscious memory of experiencing God
was of reflecting as a child on the vastness of the universe. I
wondered where it ended. Was there perhaps a wall? But then, what
was beyond the wall? It was an experience of infinity.
The more I have experienced life, the more I
have found the presence of God appearing in new ways - through
people I meet, nature, art, or music, for example.
As to travel, it's often islands I love to
visit, for some reason, but also tropical places, like Hawaii,
Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji, California, Australia, India, and
My favourite sound? It's a toss- up between
heartbeats, humpback whales singing, or Hawaiian slack-key
A TV documentary made me angry last. It was
about the plight of women with illegitimate children in Ireland who
were banished to homes run by nuns and whose babies were taken from
I'm happiest when I am in the moment, whatever
My parents, my wife, and my children have
influenced me most in life. Also, when I worked at St Christopher's
Hospice, the remarkable doctors there: Dame Cicely Saunders, Dr Tom
West, Dr Mary Baines, and Dr Thérèse Vanier.
Books? The Bible, of course. In childhood, the
Dr Dolittle and Narnia stories. Later, the Lord of the
Rings trilogy, The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham,
Balancing Heaven and Earth by Robert Johnson, and
Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine.
What do I pray for most? Help whenever I get
into trouble, which is often. Also healing in all its forms: the
world ails so much.
Someone to be locked in a church with? My wife.
Having said that, I wouldn't mind just sitting quietly, knowing I
am in the silent, ineffable presence of God and his angel throng. I
think my wife would like that, too.
Dr Louis Heyse-Moore was talking to Terence Handley
The Case of the Disappearing Cancer and other stories of illness
and healing, life and death is published on 31 October by