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Healing Crisis: Healing Through Discomfort

by Chelsey Gilbert LMT on June 2, 2024

As a Licensed Massage Therapist that has been practicing since 2017, I have learned so much enlightening information on my journey as a bodyworker. One thing that has always amazed me is just how impactful receiving regular self-care therapies can be for those of us exploring true healing. A huge reason I got into massage was the realization that I can help to affect positive change in a body by just using my hands. Along the way I have also realized that there are so many ways and modalities to create real change for people. Using blogging as a platform for sharing, I can go a little more in depth with sharing the things I have learned and the experiences I have had. I hope the following will help to educate, inspire and empower you.

"Transformation is a process, and as life happens there are tons of ups and downs. It's a journey of discovery - there are moments on mountaintops and moments in deep valleys of despair."

There comes a point in most healing journey’s where real change is being created from the inside out.  This could be achieved through corrective bodywork, mental health counseling, meditation, or any number of other therapies and practices.  Once one begins to reach the point of change, physically, mentally, emotionally or energetically, resistance may show itself in many forms.  The mind will cling to familiar territory, even if the territory is not contributing to its growth and development. This is the principle that I initially learned in the John F. Barnes seminars, as a “healing crisis”.  As I have continued in this career and continued my education in related topics and have progressed in my own healing journey, I have noticed how tangible and profound this period of healing is.  

What is a “Healing Crisis”?

As the body adjusts to the new and healthy patterns that are being cultivated (by being consistent with self-care and wellness practices) there may be an experienced moment of chaos in the midst of change.  This can look different for everyone.  The following are some of the more common experiences. 

  1. Increased Pain, or Increase of Initial Symptoms

This does not necessarily mean things are getting worse.  It is more of an indication that the mind and body are thawing out and the nervous system is able to actually perceive the discomfort that has been numbed out for so long.  Always pay attention to how you feel.  If things get increasingly worse, or the pain or discomfort does not start to ebb after a few days, take note and act accordingly.

  1. Resurfacing Memories or Emotions

Similar to the increased feeling of pain or physical discomfort, this is the mental/emotional side of this.  This may come in the form of more vivid and emotional dreams, memories surfacing during waking hours, or increased emotional sensitivity. Again, this is temporary and should subside after a few days.

  1. Headaches and Soreness

Leaning into the idea that there is a detox component to the healing crisis, it is not surprising that feeling headaches, soreness, and even flu-like body aches may make a short appearance.  

  1. Fatigue and Excessive Tiredness

When the body comes out of fight or flight and into a parasympathetic state, intense tiredness may creep in.  It takes so much energy to maintain the hypervigilance and hyperarousal that when it goes away there is the realization of how much the body truly needs real rest.

  1. Resistance to Continuing Treatments

Again, the mind can put up a fight when it comes to change, even if the change is healthy.  There is a difference between feeling resistance and feeling completion when it comes to continuing wellness practices and therapies.  Paying attention to the “why” of what you are feeling can give clues to what is really going on.

These symptoms are transient and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Some theories that may explain these phenomena include physical detoxing, changing subconscious patterns or spiritual purging.  There is not a substantial amount of research around this currently, however, the reports of similar experiences from people in the midst of holistic therapies leads to little doubt of the existence of this profound and necessary part of healing.

Navigating the Healing Crisis

Honoring the time in between active processing and calm can be a helpful and supportive route to take.  Tapping into what body awareness is present and exploring what the body is communicating can be paramount to navigating smoothly through this phase.  Some helpful suggestions to move through to the other side include the following.

  1. Taking Time for You

Resting and recharging are so important to help move the process of change along.  Inability to take time can draw the process out, so understanding that sometimes making time is the best bet in the long run.

  1. Pay Attention to your Body

As one progresses through different therapies, awareness of the body, thoughts and emotions will most likely increase.  Taking this newfound awareness and utilizing it to guide on what is best needed in the moment can truly be a saving grace.

  1. Talk to Someone

One of the components of healing is allowing your emotions and pain to be witnessed.  Having a trusted friend or a mental health professional listen and hold space as verbal processing takes place will make a huge difference in how you feel about what is being experienced.

  1. Connect with Nature and Grounding

Finding a grounding practice can help to channel the energy and emotions that may be experienced during any transitional period. Connecting with nature, walking barefoot outside and breathwork practices are all effective ways to ground yourself.

  1. Pay Attention to Nutrition and Hydration

Awareness around what is being consumed during this time is just as important as what is being felt.  Researching supportive foods, supplements and drinking plenty of water can be something that is beneficial.  It could be comparative to how you would treat the body during a cold, flu or injury.

  1. Rest and Gentle Movement

Finding a balance between rest and movement is important to make sure that the body does not get stuck in one or the other. During a healing crisis, it is critical to make sure that rest is taken when needed, but also gentle movement like yoga or walking is incorporated to support the restructuring of the body and subconscious patterns.

  1. Journal

Sometimes talking about the experiences we are having to another human may feel a bit daunting.  Taking advantage of journaling to focus and help move these experiences out of your head may ease some of the intensity.  

There is no right way to walk through your own healing crisis.  An important key is to really listen to what your body is saying to be able to tap into what you need at this pivotal time.  The body is an amazing machine that can self-correct when given the right environment and circumstances. Leaning into the healing crisis is trusting in the innate wisdom of the body. 

Other Reading and Resources

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