Too often the connection between mental and physical health goes unrecognised.
Have you ever wondered why you get a throbbing headache when you're stressed? Or why the pain in your lower back always seems to flare up when you're on a tight deadline at work?
It may seem like an annoying coincidence, but the reality is mental stress may be giving you physical problems.
From the holistic viewpoint, a person's mental, physical, emotional and spiritual elements are linked inextricably. What affects one area affects another.
Often, this connection goes unrecognised. Too often, people see their problems as isolated ailments rather than as a mind-body-spirit problem. It's a trap that has its foundations in our culture. But we can learn to see ourselves as physical and metaphysical beings using the principles of holistic counselling.
As the name suggests, this form of counselling looks at how the body and mind affect each other and how we can heal ourselves using both physical and mental techniques.
"Most ... counsellors and psychotherapists deal with the mind, whereas holistic counsellors see every part of a person as connected to an issue," says Zen Shiatsu therapist and holistic counsellor Issi Aaron, of Self Healing Australia.
"It may be you're suffering sleepless nights, headaches, anxiety and depression, and that could stem from anything: it could be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.
"Holistic counselling views the client as a whole, not just as a sore neck or a painful back."
As more people seek holistic solutions for help with personal, relationship, career and physical problems, part of the fascination and benefits are the tools used: yoga, meditation, relaxation massage, reiki and shiatsu, as well as face-to-face counselling. The philosophy is to encourage people to make connections with their problems, self-heal and take responsibility for their choices.
Holistic counsellor and massage therapist Stephen Wayne-Smith, of Zen Living, uses diverse tools and techniques to help people identify and manage their problems, from colour therapy to Tarot cards. "Sometimes it's difficult for people to know what's wrong with them, or they find it difficult to communicate, so I sometimes use the Tarot as a tool to get people to open up about things."
He asks them to think about work or a relationship or their emotions. "I lay the cards out and ask them which card stands out in relation to what they've been thinking about. If they choose the lightning-struck tower, for example, it may be how they're feeling about their relationship, that plans have gone astray or they feel out of control. It's the symbolism of the Tarot that gets people talking."
Wayne-Smith also works with the energetic fields of the chakras, using colour and music therapy to help people get back on track.
According to Chinese medicine and philosophy, a person's areas of imbalance can be identified and treated by recognising the physical problems associated with each chakra.
"There are seven main energy centres, or chakras, in the body and each chakra relates to different organs and emotions."
If a chakra is out of balance, he says, you can use holistic counselling to trace the root of the problem and then get someone to acknowledge where their fear or insecurities come from.
"Then you can work with the person on overcoming the problem using exercise, massage or different types of music or colour therapy, as each chakra has a colour and resonates to a particular note," he says.
In assessing the chakras and looking at a person's health, a trained therapist can diagnose problems. A thyroid imbalance, Wayne-Smith says, "relates to their throat chakra, and that's to do with communication in their life, so they probably feel they're not being heard or understood and not being listened to ... That then manifests in physical problems with the throat. So, using holistic counselling, you need to find out why those areas are imbalanced, then treat the emotional and the physical accordingly."
Everyone manifests stress or problems in different ways: some people feel tension in their shoulders, others have sleepless nights, some lose their sex drive, others snap at their kids or partners, feel directionless or out of control. But if we look more closely at our symptoms, the cause of our problems, surprisingly, may be revealed.
"One way of looking at neck problems is as a metaphor - who's giving you a pain in the neck?" says Issi Aaron. "If it's on the right side, it might be a guy, if it's on the left, it might be your mother!"
Unlike conventional counselling, holistic counselling is not ongoing. After an initial session, where the main issues are touched upon, most people only need three or four follow-up sessions to sort themselves out as long as they're prepared to do the work.
"A person might come in and say, 'I'm feeling anxious and depressed and unhappy'," Aaron says, "and I ask them where the stress is manifesting. Or I'll ask questions, like what are they totally not negotiable about? What won't they budge on? If people are fairly inflexible, that would relate to rigidity in the body. So, while I'm talking about how to become a little more flexible and giving and trusting of people, I might get them to also do a few little exercises with their neck."
Holistic counselling provides physical and emotional tools to get people thinking about what's gone on in the preceding 12 or 24 hours to trigger the problem, or to look at issues that continually lurk under the surface rather than focusing solely on the pain or problem.
MIND AND BODY
Got aches and pains but don't know why? Perhaps your chakras, or energy centres, are out of balance. Emotional or spiritual problems could be giving you a pain in the neck.
Chakra location: Crown - Top of the head
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Lack of purpose, direction, spiritual emptiness, confusion, feelings of alienation, lack of inspiration.
Body pain: Headaches, central nervous system disorders, pineal gland disorders, brain malfunctions.
Chakra location: Brow or Third Eye - Between the eyebrows
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Cynicism, lack of spiritual direction, restlessness, out of touch with your intuition, bad dreams, feeling detached from the world, lack of imagination or perception.
Body pain: Nasal problems, aural problems, headaches, eye disorders, tension, concentration problems, pituitary problems.
Chakra location: Throat - Throat area
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Depression, communication and speech problems, disloyalty, dishonesty, cruelty, lack of discernment, unreliability.
Body pain: Thyroid problems, digestive problems, throat infections, mouth infections, problems with the upper lungs.
Chakra location: Heart - Centre of chest
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Unable to forgive, lacking in compassion, unable to give or receive love, emotional instability, inner conflict.
Body pain: Heart problems, circulation problems particularly to the arms, hands and lungs.
Chakra location: Solar Plexus - Above the navel but below the chest
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Power-hungry, fearful, angry, hateful, no self-control, humourless, unable to feel emotions, unable to empathise with others.
Body pain: Digestive problems, nervous-system problems, liver or gall-bladder problems, metabolism problems, lack of energy.
Chakra location: Navel - Lower abdomen/navel area
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Low self-esteem, jealousy, envy, confusion, lack of purpose, a dislike of change.
Body pain: Kidney pain, leg pain, hormonal or reproductive problems, obesity, low sex drive or impotence, bladder problems.
Chakra location: Base Chakra - Bottom of the spine
Emotional or metaphysical problem: Self-centred, insecure and craving security, violent, angry, impatient. Not feeling grounded or stable.
Body pain: Lower-back pain, spinal tension, genital irritations, constipation.
Table from Stephen Wayne-Smith, of Zen Living.