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Imagery, Inner Knowing and Miracles:

An Interview with Bernie Siegel, MD
by Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT

 

 


Editor's Note from Karen Adler: Cathy Malchiodi is an internationally recognised art therapist, writer and speaker. She has written several books on art therapy that are viewed as standard texts for art therapy practice. Cathy has just finished editing a new book, due out in October, 'Art Therapy and Health Care' with Guilford Publications.

Cathy Malchiodi: Open your mind to all possibilities.

When I first started to work as an art therapist with individuals diagnosed with cancer, I came upon the classic, Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie Siegel. For those of you who are not familiar with his early work with cancer patients, Siegel initiated a specialized form of therapy based on creating an atmosphere of “carefrontation” that emphasized safety, courage, self-efficacy, compassion and love as key factors in health and well being. Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECaP) emerged from this vision, shifting the perceived power of medicine from doctor to patient to empower those faced with life-threatening illness to participate in their own healing journeys.

I also became intrigued with Bernie’s use of drawing with patients as a form of communication and as a way to understand how his patients perceived medical intervention and illness. He reminded me that in order to establish an authentic relationship with patients, it is necessary to get beyond the verbal level to make sure we know what our patients really feel. Siegel continues to believe that one of the surest ways to do this is by using the power of imagery—dreams, symbols and drawings—to tap the unconscious mind. To me, this is the uncanny ability of images and art expression to help patients express the “unspoken” aspects of their illnesses that may not necessarily be communicated in a verbal exchange. Bernie’s wisdom opened a pathway for my work as an art therapist that informed how the mind and body express an “inner knowing” about illness and why somatic experiences are deeply connected to psyche.

Bernie Siegel’s newest book is called A Book of Miracles; here is what Bernie has to say about it, including some reflections about the relationship between imagery, inner knowing and miracles in patients’ lives and in his life's work as a physician:

What inspired you to write A Book of Miracles and what is the most important message in it?

Bernie Siegel: I was inspired to share the stories of people who have created so called miraculous events by utilizing their unconscious wisdom and who chose not personal good but universal life enhancing behavior and the results are not a coincidence. Life is a miracle and we need to not fear trying to achieve our potential and reveal the remarkable creation we and all living things are and that our Creator has built into us the ability to induce self-healing.

Cathy Malchiodi: I first encountered your work with imagery and image-making in your book, Love, Medicine and Miracles. How did you first become interested in patients’ drawings and imagery in healing?

Bernie Siegel: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross asked me to draw a picture for her and I drew an outdoor scene from my meditation imagery. Elisabeth started asking me questions about my life due to the content of my drawing and I couldn't believe all these symbols and numbers meant anything but they all did. From snow on a mountain with a white crayon representing a cover up as the page was already white or eleven trees relating to my doing support groups for cancer patients for 11 months and my inner guide George later being seen by people standing in front of me while I lectured.

Cathy Malchiodi: What inspired you to ask your patients to draw? Did you give them any particular prompts or directions about what to draw?

Bernie Siegel: I realized that I needed to know what was within my patients to help guide and heal them. The psyche and soma speak in dreams and drawings through symbols. I began to read and seek help from Jungian therapists who had been doing this work as the medical profession is totally uninformed about what psychotherapists are aware of. I read books and worked with Susan Bach, who knew Jung and Gregg Furth, who Elisabeth worked with and both have written books. I gave patients access to all colors as they each have meaning and gave them directions depending on their needs and desires from making therapy choices, to diagnosing illnesses or deciding where to go to college.

Cathy Malchiodi: How has Carl Jung influenced your work and philosophy?

Bernie Siegel: Jung diagnosed a brain tumor from a dream and no medical student is ever told that while in school. He also knew anatomy and could see the somatic aspects of drawings as I did. He also understood the unconscious and that it created our future and was revealed in drawings. He is an amazing man with incredible wisdom. Today, I also learn from Joseph Campbell and others.

Cathy Malchiodi: What do you think about the work and research by Susan Bach on art expressions by children and adults?

Bernie Siegel: Her work with children was incredibly revealing. Children don't worry about whether they are artists or not and so draw pictures freely when asked with little guilt about the quality of it. She saw from the drawings of children with cancer how they knew about the benefits of their treatment choices, impending death and what the future held for them.

Cathy Malchiodi: As a physician, do you think medicine accepts the value of imagery in healing? What is the value of imagery in healing? [Healing defined as feeling at peace with one's illness, disability or challenges rather than being “cured”]

Bernie Siegel: I think medicine is terribly deficient in seeing this. After being exposed to my work, the operating rooms made up coloring books for the children because of the information it provided us with related to their health and risks and more. Medicine is so specialized that my articles were returned from medical journals as interesting, but inappropriate. When I sent them to psychotherapy journals they were returned again with a note saying; it is appropriate, but not interesting. That made me angry and discouraged. I am putting a book together now which will have many drawings and should impress the medical profession about how to make the invisible visible. I used the drawings to decide diagnoses and whether people needed surgery or not.

Cathy Malchiodi: What is the most important lesson you have learned from your patients over the course of your work?

Bernie Siegel: There is survival behavior and doctors need to learn from patients who do not die when they are supposed to instead of saying, "You're doing very well so keep doing whatever you are doing." They should be asking what their patient is doing and pass the information to other patients. Loving your life and body makes a difference just as Monday morning has the highest mortality rate of any day of the week. People need to be loved by their parents and love their lives and bodies; amazing things happen. We have a great potential just as bacteria, viruses and plants do as they resist diseases, antibiotics and vaccines by altering their genes intelligently. I am known around the world now because of this work and that should tell health professionals something.

Published on July 6, 2012 by Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT in The Healing Arts
© 2012 Cathy Malchiodi

For more information, please visit Bernie Siegel’s website at
http://www.berniesiegelmd.com/

 

 

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About the Author


Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT, is an art therapist, visual artist, research psychologist and author in the fields of art therapy and art in healthcare.
 
Cathy is a leading international expert in the "healing arts" fields of art therapy, art in healthcare, and expressive therapies and has 25 years experience in trauma intervention. She has published numerous books, including: The Art Therapy Sourcebook, Handbook of Art Therapy, Expressive Therapies, Understanding Children's Drawings and Creative Interventions with Traumatized Children - all of which have become standard texts; she has also published more than 50 invited book chapters and referred articles and reviews various mental health journals. A popular speaker, Cathy has given over 300 invited keynotes, workshops and courses throughout the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe. She has been an Adjunct Professor at Lesley University's Expressive Therapies Department for over 20 years and has been a visiting professor and lecturer at numerous universities throughout the US.

She is a research psychologist, a Board Certified and Licensed Professional Art Therapist, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Certified Trauma Specialist, Supervisor and Consultant and a Certified Trainer for the National Institute for Trauma and Loss (TLC) and holds Accreditation Status with their organization. Visit her at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-healing-arts/ or www.cathymalchiodi.com.

Also, for more information on Art Therapy visit the website for Art Therapy Without Borders. They are a non-profit incorporation organized exclusively for charitable, educational and networking purposes to promote, develop and support international art therapy initiatives and the work of art therapists worldwide.

www.cathymalchiodi.com
www.trauma-informedpractice.org
http://www.facebook.com/cathy.malchiodi
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-healing-arts

 

 

 

 

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