Intentional Healing: A True Story of an Extraordinary Recovery with Jeanne Achterberg, PhD

Most “serious” researchers dismiss miracle recoveries as anecdotal, but Dr. Jeanne Achterberg—acclaimed transpersonal psychologist and researcher, and author of Imagery in Healing —believes these events point the way toward the most important revolution in healthcare. For more than 30 years, Dr. Achterberg has worked with cancer patients, and devoted her research to understanding why some heal and others do not. Her findings: whether we get sick, die, or live depends upon one thing—intention. Now, on her new six-hour program Intentional Healing, she offers all the supporting evidence and the most effective exercises for using the power of intention to heal. In this excerpt, she shares an intriguing story of one woman's remarkable journey to healing.

My patients are always my teachers. If I'm quiet and if I listen, I learn things from them that I could never have learned from books or from research. So rather than give the litany of research about the power of intentional healing, I'm going to give you a case study of a woman that I will call “Miriam.” She was one of the most fascinating teachers that I've ever had and I'm telling you her story because she enjoyed a long-term remission from a very serious form of cancer.

Miriam called me one summer morning and told me that she had lung cancer. Her psychiatrist had told her of the work that I did with people with serious diseases and referred her to me. Miriam was a marvelous 60-year-old Jewish New Yorker. She was fearless. From the beginning, Miriam was always clear what her needs were in terms of our interactions—a trait that should be applauded loudly and frequently.

We began using a practice that I call Imagery 101, which helps people to relax and learn to communicate with their body about the healing process. You'll learn how to use this exercise later on in the program. We then combined this image therapy with a shamanic healing resource called the “power animal” or “spirit ally.” Like prayer, T'ai Chi, Reiki, and other healing modalities, shamanic practices are one way to traverse the terrain of the spirit. This blend of shamanism and imagery is a natural marriage. It was one that I retreated to after my great frustration with modern medicine and psychology, and something I used with many patients who were sent to me because others considered them “lost causes.” The health experts thought Miriam was such a case, but she certainly didn't and nor did I.

During some of our first sessions, two powerful visions emerged for Miriam: a candle flame that represented her spirit, and a spotted leopard that had invoked fear in her childhood and adolescent dreams. Through our work, she came to understand that the leopard could actually be a powerful protector of her flame. As Miriam continued her chemotherapy she began to create and use her own imagery to help the radiation process. For example, she imagined her candle wax protecting her healthy cells. When her doctors told her that the treatment could also kill good cells, she imagined green markers on her cancerous cells so that the radiation knew what to kill.

Miriam came through her months of radiation and chemotherapy, with nothing more than a little fatigue. Her life went on for many years after that and she later passed on when she was ready. The leopard became a stable companion to her in her imagery and meditation during her nearly seven years of remission.

Miriam reminded me of what the medical field calls the “exception cancer patients” who live both well and significantly beyond their life expectancy—the type of patients that I studied with Drs. Carl and Stephanie Simonton in 1976. These patients were strong willed with intact egos; they believed in the possibility that they could be in control of their health, and they acted the part. They were not always easy to get along with—they made their demands on the health system and on us as their therapists. All of these unusual characteristics in cancer patients, who are often made weary and ill by their treatments, are indeed something to behold and pay attention to.

Miriam is one of many inspirational teachers that I learned from in my career. Her story clearly demonstrates that when we get back on the healing path of “the code of our soul,” with purpose, will, and optimism, we see positive outcomes. That's the power of intention.

Jeanne Achterberg

Jeanne Achterberg Return to top of page

Jeanne Achterberg, PhD (1942–2012) Dr. Achterberg was a scientist who received international recognition for her pioneering research in medicine and psychology. A faculty member for 11 years at Sout...

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