Let’s perform a thought experiment.
You are a marriage counselor. Deb and Brian come to your clinic, seeking help for their recently troubled relationship.
Sure, you say, tell me your story. Well, they say, they’ve been happily together for almost ten years. Then, in a conversation to decide where to celebrate their tenth anniversary, Brian said some passive comment about how Deb always wants to go to the beach and just sit around. Deb got defensive, and said something about how Brian can’t just relax sometimes. This escalated into a full-blown shouting match, and several have followed since.
What do you, as the therapist, focus on? Probably not the “anniversary vacation” conversation itself, right? We’d be foolhardy to think Deb and Brian’s relationship troubles started with that conversation, or that they’ll go away if we created rules that they can never talk about tenth anniversaries, or maybe anniversaries in general if we wanted to be a little more holistic about it.
As in: the problem isn’t the content, or the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The problem, in this case, is something underlying that might show up as an argument about a vacation, or just as easily as one of infinite issues couples can argue about. It probably won’t resolve until we get more fundamental … unless you as a counselor want to keep putting out small fires, which is a great way to stay employed.
You probably see where I’m going with this.
Is it so different to see the internal relationships of the body in a similar light? A system under physiological stress can adapt and cope and deal … until it can’t, not as well at least.
Interestingly, though understandably I suppose, seeing our health in this way is not really the norm in medicine. There is a certain logic that this one thing is the problem so it’s this one thing that needs to be fixed, because it’s only this one thing that hurts and is grabbing all of our attention.
It’s a classic and oft-told story: “I bent over to pick up whatever, when wham, my back went out.” So we go into someone to work on the back, concluding that we must’ve just really picked up that box in a weird way (which may well be true). We mend the damage done, analogously, by the anniversary vacation argument.
But what then?
Please don’t take this to suggest we should all be paranoid that imbalances in the body will eventually lead to pain and disease (an interesting article on this here), or that finding the deeper source of pain is hopelessly holistic and therefore vague and untrackable. That’s not particularly helpful, either.
This is an invitation to look at your own experience with your own health.
Is it really that crazy to say neck pain is a whole-system issue? Or that the causes of plantar fasciitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome, are not isolated to the tissues displaying the symptoms?
Are you interested in putting out small fires, or in finding out what’s with everything being so combustible?