I've Tried Over 200 Alternative Therapies — Here's My Advice For Anyone Looking To Heal
I was indoctrinated into the world of self-help and spirituality at a particularly young age—the way some children are baptized or take first communion.
At birth I was assigned a Christian Science practitioner. At the age of 7, I asked Santa for my first mantra. By 12, I was taking weekend workshops on personal growth. When my sister and I got colds, my mother took us to the chiropractor, not the medicine cabinet. And in lieu of picnics, our family hosted psychic past-life reading events for our relatives. And my heart-of-the-family-grandmother Deany frequently told me stories about her guardian angel Kesela over reflexology appointments, not manicures. By my 20s, I had embarked on a lil' 10-year class on the art of self-government. Soon after, I decided to become an acupuncturist.
While the healers and practitioners I've met over the years have changed, the unspoken goal of visiting them has always been to emerge a more loving, more awake, more durable version of myself.
Then, one day, my life got Blown Sideways. (I sometimes call it Plan B.S.). The family I had chosen, the one I created, exploded. And, as we so often do in crisis, I grabbed what I thought would get me out of the most pain: psychics, therapists, diets, bodyworkers, ancient arts. You name it, I went after it like a machete-wielding explorer in the hopes of hacking my way out of miles of thorny thicket—back to normal, whatever normal was.
After four decades, 200 or so remedies, six continents, and 15,000 hours of spiritual study, I've emerged with some ideas on the type of healers who can really help when your life is either A. Blown Sideways, or B. You are just itching for change:
1. If anybody calls themselves a "healer," they likely aren't a very good one.
I am wary of the spiritual expert. You know the ones, who within two seconds of talking to you, or worse still, talking at you, seem to think they know exactly what it is you need. I've found the best "healers" are actually the most modest.
2. It's OK (and frankly deeply advisable) to ask what a practitioner/ therapist/ counselor/ bodyworker's actual training is.
And if they've taken a sharp turn on what they are licensed in and instead prefer now to take a little of this and put it with a little of that, I'd recommend also being on guard. From my perspective, it takes decades to become a master where you are free to create your own modality. If you want to think about mastery, think lifetimes, not weekends.
3. Come prepped with a few questions.
Ask a therapist or practitioner these sorts of questions: What is your bias? What thinkers and trainings most inform your work? What is your goal when you work with a client? How do you assess when a professional relationship is complete? What does maintenance look like?
4. When selecting one of anything, interview more than one.
You can often get an intro chat with any sort of healer or energy worker for free. And if you can't, ditch them. Take the time to talk to a few people, even if you are in crisis. I know it's hard. Shopping for help mid-crisis is a bit like being asked to calmly search for a life raft while drowning.
5. Be discerning and listen to your intuition.
How do you feel when you speak to this person? I mean, really, how do you feel? Relaxed, edgy, bored, talked down to, overly gushed at? Don't quickly disregard what you think or tell yourself they know better than you. You will always know you better than anyone. Even when you are a hot mess. Go slow, and listen to what your gut tells you.
6. Recruit a friend.
If you truly don't have your wits about you, bring your smartest, most stable, and kindest friend to help listen to any prospective helper and what they are offering. Two sets of ears can do wonders.
7. Don't assume what works for someone else will automatically be best for you.
People will ask me what my favorite treatments or traditions are, as if I might recommend what I've done, exactly as I've done it. And that's not my way of thinking at all. I prefer to get to know a person a bit, hear about what they tend to like, and come up with suggestions from there.
8. Don't fall for the quick, flashy promises of transformation.
In my experience, the best kind of change is the slow kind, with exciting spikes in learning that keep it jazzy.
Please just remember, you are your own captain, and you are the best authority to sense what kind of waters and conditions your ship sails best in.
As for my personal favorite and long-lasting healing modalities? I go through them at length in my new book, The Book of Help: A Memoir In Remedies, but here's a peek into my personal cocktail: Hakomi therapy (an Eastern philosophy–based somatic psychotherapy) mixed with a dose of Classical Five Element acupuncture; throw in Tracy Anderson Method workouts; ultra-hiking in the Wind River Range with my Wyoming girl posse every summer, and I'm feeling pretty darn good.
With degrees from Barnard, Yale, and the Institute of Taoist education and acupuncture, Megan Griswold has trained and received certifications as a doula, shiatsu practitioner, yoga instructor, personal trainer, and in wilderness medicine, among others. She has worked as a mountain instructor, a Classical Five Element acupuncturist, a freelance reporter, an NPR All Things Considered commentator, a spokesperson for egg freezing, an off-the grid interior designer, and the creator of the backcountry-meets-high-style online store Little Moving Spaces. She resides (mostly) in a yurt in Kelly, Wyoming.