How can I find a good healer

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The fact that a doctor sends a patient to a spiritual healer to accelerate his or her recovery still occurs in some Swiss regions today. Centuries-old spiritual healing is widespread, but experts warn against abuse.

This content was published on December 11, 2012 - 11:00 am

Veronica is a Swiss-American journalist who mainly covers education, migration and youth issues - and occasionally cheese, given her roots in Switzerland and Wisconsin. She also produces podcasts and works on the social media team.

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At the age of 18, Olivier Pochon, now 42, from Dompierre in the canton of Friborg suffered second-degree burns in an accident on his leg, which he had treated in a hospital in Valais.

A nurse at the hospital gave his father the phone number of a spiritual healer who could relieve the pain through a practice called "the secret".

Today, Pochon cannot say with certainty whether the technique had a positive influence on the healing process at the time, but it certainly didn't do any harm. The pain disappeared over time and the burn healed.

Pochon does not know anything about the mysterious practice. "The healer didn't ask many questions and just wanted to know where it hurts. In the end he said, 'I'll do what is necessary'", says Olivier Pochon.

"It sounds like a prayer, pretty weird. You use the secret of pain to 'get the fire out,' as they say."

Olivier Pochon's father later had contact with a spiritual healer himself, who passed on "the secret" to him so that he could now heal others himself.

The "secret" practice is widespread in French-speaking Switzerland, especially in the cantons of Friborg, Jura and Valais.

The "Hôpital du Valais" in Sion offers a wide range of modern medical services, but also "spiritual healing" if a patient so wishes. Florence Renggli, media officer at the Valais hospital in Sion, told swissinfo.ch that the staff has phone numbers for several spiritual healers from the region, which they pass on to patients in certain situations.

"Spiritual healing is very common in this area and some people have this power. For example, in the case of severe burns, we give the patient their name," she says.

Bernhard Zürcher is an artist and active spiritual healer in the canton of Vaud, who also practices the "secret". He said he had to prove his skills before he was given the practice 20 years ago.

"I learned it from a healer who was well known in the Jura and has since passed away," says Zürcher. "I asked her to teach me, but she took her time. She took me to three-week courses several times. But one day she agreed to explain to me how" the secret "works.

According to Zürcher, every healer has his specialty. Zürcher's specialties are burns, asthma attacks and gout. Each healer also has his own technique in using the "secret".

He himself uses analyzes of the handwriting. If the case is not too urgent, he asks the patient to write down his concern on a piece of paper and send it to him. Based on this pattern, Zürcher applies his healing practice without ever seeing the patient. The details of the technology are - as the name suggests - kept secret.

Historical prayers

Spiritual healers are also active in eastern Switzerland, especially in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden. According to Roland Inauen, director of the cantonal office for culture, they have been a tradition in the region and across national borders for several centuries.

Many of the prayers that Appenzell spiritual healers use today can be found in varying forms from Sicily to Northern Germany as well as in texts from around AD 1000. These prayers were passed on to new generations of healers, because every healer is for it himself responsible for giving someone their work.

Usually, the person seeking healing or their loved one calls the healer and describes the complaint. Then the healer begins praying for relief. It is not uncommon for healers to be called in to treat animals. Such practices are deeply rooted on Swiss farms.

Whoever plays the role of a spiritual healer takes on a responsibility that is not paid for with money. Traditionally, healers are not allowed to be paid for their practices. Nevertheless, the tradition in Appenzell is far from dying out today.

"We know that at least 20 people in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden are very active today as spiritual healers. It is amazing how the young generation is enthusiastic about it. They regard it as part of our culture and our health system, even a large part of it", reports Inauen.

Thin line

The line between traditional and sinister practices is thin, says Dieter Sträuli, president of the non-commercial advice center Infosekta and a former scientist in psychology at the University of Zurich.

Infosekta tries to enlighten sect or cult victims and to help them to free themselves from their influence. His team sometimes encounters groups in which a dangerous dynamic is developing from the spiritual healing practices, says Sträuli, who recognizes the values ​​of the traditional spiritual healing culture and believes that these patients can help.

"We are increasingly dealing with spiritual healers or gurus who are active in small villages and suddenly attract a large following," says Sträuli. "At first everything is fine. They hold seminars and meditations. But suddenly people become more dependent and the gurus are taking more and more freedom from their followers."

Sträuli mentions the case of a self-appointed healer who humiliated her followers and abused them for her own household chores until someone inquired at Infosekta and reported on the case. Some of these followers would have needed psychological support afterwards, says Sträuli.

Connections to modern medicine

Although orthodox doctors in his canton tended to ridicule spiritual healing as an ineffective treatment method, many would use it as a supplement to their own medical recommendations, says Appenzell cultural director Roland Inauen. They can have "wonderful complementary effects" to conventional medicine.

"There are ailments, like warts, that orthodox doctors treat with spiritual healing. They recommend that their patients go to the spiritual healer first before they operate or do anything else. This is done more often than it used to be," he says. It can be proven that spiritual healing is very effective in treating warts.

Infosekta President Dieter Sträuli, on the other hand, warns that spiritual healing can be dangerous or even illegal if healers undertake interventions and do not advise their patients to see a school doctor.

"Modern medicine is too far removed from communication - it's all about the body, metabolism, anatomy, corpses, dissection, chemistry. The idea of ​​changing something by talking is adopted in psychoanalysis, for example. The meaning of communication is much more important than we think. "

"This is where spiritual healers come in. A large part of their success, or supposed success, can be explained by the placebo effect or suggestion. Sometimes that helps."

Doctors and healers

The umbrella association of Swiss patient centers (DVSP) points out that spiritual healers should respect conventional medicine and work with it.

"It is important that spiritual healers know their limits and that diseases and injuries are also treated with conventional medicine," a DVSP spokesman told swissinfo.ch.

"Reputable spiritual healers should encourage their patients to seek medical advice."

The Federal Office of Public Health does not take an official position vis-à-vis spiritual healers.

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