Health Matters

Connecting you to the sources of health.

5 Things You Can Do to Heal Yourself

5 Essential Elements of Healing



1. Hope

Hope is critical in all healing. A book written by Jerome Frank Persuasion and Healing, deals with this topic very effectively. Hopelessness is one of the cardinal features of depression (as is helplessness). Hope and depression are inversely correlated. Hope assists healing and can in and of itself cause healing, but there are many situations (e.g., pernicious anemia leading to panic and depression) which cannot be treated with hope. They require some detective work and targeted treatments. Hope can keep the patient engaged in the process of healing. However, a sufficient degree of hope can keep the patient engaged in the process of healing.

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2. Helplessness

Depression is thought of as a state of learned helplessness, as described by Martin Seligman. Generally speaking, we strive to have control over the experiences which society deems essential to generating self-esteem: love, power, achievement, money, et cetera. When we think that we have lost hope of  attaining these things—i.e., we are helpless in controlling them—most people slide towards depression. 

3. Spirituality/Religion

*I am using the terms ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ based on D.M. Wuff’s (1997) characterization in the Psychology of religion: Classic and contemporary: “Both spirituality and religion focus on the sacred or divine, beliefs about the sacred, the effects of those beliefs on behavior, practices used to attain or enhance a sense of the sacred, and experiences of spiritual or religious states of consciousness.”

In the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, in 'Spirituality and Health: What we know, what we need to know' notes, Linda K. George et al notes that “Although multiple dimensions of religion are related to the onset of illness and disability, the strongest predictor of the prevention of illness onset is attendance at religious services. Religious involvement is also associated with recovery from mental illnesses and substance abuse/dependence.”  Her research is emblematic of other studies which show the value of having an active spiritual and/or religious practice as part of a healing process.

4. Control

The unspoken assumption most of us labor under is that we can/do/should have control over these things, when in reality they are dictated by circumstances and situations outside of our control. If you just think about it: Did you get to where you are in life without parents, friends, or natural endowment? Is your ability to maintain your function not contingent on all the people around you functioning in a reasonably consistent and reliable manner?  

5. Gratitude

We can have control over our attitude and the choices we can make. Gratitude—a great attitude—is essential. With that, one can adapt to nearly anything in life. It is even better than a fat bank account.

Take the time to determine what will help you develop and maintain a great attitude. Here are few people have found helpful:

  • At the end of the day, write down 8 things you are grateful for (anything from having a job, food, housing to being able to hear...)
  • Say or do something kind for someone each day
  • Write down your complaints, then throw them away
  • Pray for others, especially those in need
  • Pause. Before you start your car, sit for a moment and decide to take a grateful attitude to your destination
  • Reflect on how hard times have taught you and made you compassionate
  • Associate with people who are grateful. 

There are many ways to regain and maintain your health. Be proactive. Use as many of these tools as possible and you'll be all the better for it!

Robert J. Hedaya, M.D., D.F.A.P.A., is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Georgetown University Hospital and Founder of the National Center for Whole Psychiatry.

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