In a new book, Medicine, Mind and Meaning: A Psychiatrist's Guide to Treating the Body, Mind and Spirit, Wood shares a number of remarkable stories drawn from her nearly 20 years as a therapist.
We meet Gillie, a longtime patient of Wood's. Gillie, suffering from multiple personality disorder, was repeatedly abused by her father as a child. She spent most of her life in therapy, but by her early 40s--when she started seeing Wood--she remained a seriously fragmented individual, isolated and suicidal. However, after a number of years under Wood's care, Gillie's diverse selves merged into one well-integrated personality. She acquired a multitude of friends, and her life took on a deep sense of meaning.
We're also introduced to Chris, in his early 50s, who, like Gillie, was in counseling for most of his adult life. Chris was poly-addicted, had never been in an intimate relationship and had an acerbic personality that managed to alienate just about everyone he came in contact with. His therapist had given up on him. After several years working with Wood, though, Chris' personality softened. His social life bloomed; he fell in love and got married.
These stories, along with Wood's unflagging faith in human potential, form the heart of an uncommonly uplifting book, essential reading for anyone who wants to go from here to what may seem like an impossible-to-reach there.
Getting there, Wood contends, is an intuitive process that draws on healing energies inherent in the universe. While trained in the West, she is, not surprisingly, at odds with certain aspects of the Western therapeutic paradigm.
"My training prepared me to be a good doctor and therapist," Wood writes, "but it did not teach me how to help people heal."
Wood believes that for maximum healing to occur, psychotherapy must broaden its approach, incorporating all aspects of the patient--physical, mental and spiritual--into its treatment ideology. Wood, clinical associate professor of medicine at the UA Program in Integrative Medicine, contends that while this modality has been around for quite some time, especially among practitioners of Eastern therapies, Western medicine has been slow to grasp its importance, usually relegating physical illness to physicians, mental complaints to psychotherapists and spiritual concerns to hospital chaplains.
Wood's therapeutic goal is to evoke a spiritual awakening in her patients by helping them to find and accept their core feelings. She writes that our true feelings--"windows into the soul"--are often veiled by body-based illnesses such as depression that must be diagnosed and treated, and by distorted ways of thinking that often require extensive therapy to dismantle. But once unearthed, Wood writes, our feelings will invariably lead us to a realm of expanded meaning and purpose, where our gifts and callings can be discerned and we experience a deeper connection to others and the world.
These ideas, well developed and attractive, are, of course, staples of the alternative-healing genre. But it is Wood's passionate belief in the human capacity to self-actualize--a belief that emerges from almost every page with what may seem like a living force--that give these concepts heightened credibility.
"I believe," she declares, "there is a piece of the divine within all of us and that we are meant to experience fulfillment. I share my sense of hope in order to show my patients that they can, will, and are meant to recover."
The many stories of success--some narrated by Wood, others in the patients' own words--contain myriad insights into the transformational process as well as ample testimony to its rewards.
After reading such inspirational material, some readers may be prompted to search out Wood for therapy. (It crossed my mind.) She has recently curtailed her practice, though, to devote more time to teaching and writing.
Wood believes, however, that in or out of therapy, each of us is master of our own journey.
"It is my belief," she asserts, "that you can become the best steward of your own healing path if you are given the proper tools and guidance."
To this end, she supplies a number of straightforward practices to facilitate psychological and spiritual growth, and a lengthy set of appendices detailing the symptoms and treatment for many psychological disorders.
This book is certainly a blessing. Reminiscent of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled in its empathy, hopefulness and love, it encourages readers to live out their own beautiful stories by "embracing the wonder of yourself and the mystery of the universe."