After discerning God’s will to integrate prayer and spirituality into healthcare, I left my mainstream physical therapy job in 2017. I was amazed at how much better my patients improved with an hour of one-on-one care, more time to listen and encourage them, and especially prayer for healing.
I was one year into developing my own physical therapy practice when a patient came to me with a question regarding one of my techniques. “Can you explain to me how the manual therapies you practice actually work?” She was asking in essence, “Do you do anything considered New Age?”
The term “New Age” takes its name from the imminent astrological Age of Aquarius. According to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, astrologers believe that the Age of Pisces – known to them as the Christian age – is drawing to a close. The definition of New Age is “a broad movement characterized by alternative approaches to traditional Western culture, with an interest in spirituality, mysticism, holism, and environmentalism.” It is associated with many alternative health practices in use today including Reiki, energy work, yoga, and muscle testing/applied kinesiology. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the basis for New Age practice is in stark contrast to our foundational beliefs as Christians including belief in one God (monotheism) and Christian prayer (dialogue and intercession).
I was caught off guard. I was happy to explain how and why my techniques would help my patient as I had explained many times before. But with a doctoral degree in physical therapy I had studied nothing other than evidenced-based practice, sound biomechanics, and even cadaver anatomy and physiology from one of the top medical research universities in the country: Ohio State. I wondered, How could anything in the foundation of my education be outside of known science? Did I miss something?
As my patient explained New Age techniques to me I couldn’t believe I had never heard about it before. My patient courageously shared her experience about stumbling into New Age health techniques in the past. She told me she was very vulnerable during a difficult time in her life. She trusted the practitioner because she was Catholic and so were many of the other “students” there. She told me that Christian prayer was even included to “pave the way”. She said that it was a slippery slope and that she didn’t recognize the dangers until her symptoms were becoming increasingly worse.
She shared that it was only through the grace of God that she prayed to the Holy Spirit to show her the truth and He did. She described just a glimpse of the serious Spiritual battle she went through. She said the attacks were so profound that at times they were almost unbelievable but they were real. She told me the sad thing was that most everyone else didn’t bat an eye; they just kept going and kept being mentored.
I was shocked. I had never heard anything like the New Age treatments she explained. Although the wonder and beauty of integrating faith and healthcare was growing in my own practice, the claims seemed outlandish and not well grounded. I thanked her for her insight and willingness to share. I promised to dive deeper into the physiology behind my techniques. I certainly didn’t want to do anything outside of Church teaching, let alone open anyone up to the terrible experience my patient went through. You can read a more detailed story like hers here.
I spent the next few months reviewing my techniques. It turns out it wasn’t the foundation of my education that was broken. It was a recent continuing education technique I had learned that was gaining popularity. The technique was actually very grounded in neuroscience and sound physiology. That is, until I ventured into Level II of the training. The Women of Grace® blog was practically pinned on my web browser as I kept running into all sorts of terms and techniques I didn’t know about including acupressure points, energy work, magnetic fields, and meridians. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for my patient opening my eyes to these terms.
I had to email the author of the technique. I asked, “Everything from Level I is so rooted in sound science and physiology. Why veer off into energy work and acupressure points?”
The author, in essence, told me it didn’t matter how it was “labeled”. He said, “There is nothing about taking action to become a better version of oneself that should be in conflict with religious convictions.”
Wow, he even used a popular phrase from the Catholic author Matthew Kelly. What a way to confuse my understanding and undermine the importance of the issue! This is often how various New Age techniques widdle their way into our lives. They seem plausible. They certainly seem to work. Some clinicians even use prayer with the techniques. Why can’t we use them?
We can’t use New Age techniques because it does matter HOW and WHY the therapies we employ are actually working. In my upcoming series of articles and podcasts I aim to explain not only why Christians cannot use New Age techniques from a physiological and theological perspective, but the good news about the latest scientific research. I am convinced that we are uncovering healing the body in a way that naturally follows both Christian thought and the amazing scientific understanding in which God has gifted us. You can subscribe to and follow The Victress Podcast here.
While I’m still so grateful for the faith, courage, and steadfastness of my patient, it certainly has led me down a path I’d rather not go. This is a very challenging topic as many of the patients I meet have grown up with New Age practices and are very well-meaning Catholics and wonderful people that are simply trying to avoid medication, surgery, and injections.
But, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “While sometimes people fall into superstition through ignorance, it is the responsibility of all who teach in the name of the Church to eliminate such ignorance as much as possible.”
Thus, as a healthcare professional, once ignorant myself, I will continue to bring you the vital importance of sound science AND theology when discerning your healthcare and treatment. What is more important than to be obedient to Christ- our Savior, our Healer, and our Redeemer?
I’m praying for you!
P.s. What should you do if you think you might be using a New Age technique? After praying to the Holy Spirit for an open heart and mind, start by researching the technique(s) in the Women of Grace® blog. These women will safely lead you through Church teaching, scientific understanding, and careful discernment. After learning and discerning, it is best to make a good Confession regarding your involvement, whether out of ignorance or not. It may not be easy, but it is certainly worth it.