Quinn Quinn
AIDS, Hope, and Healing


Janet Quinn, Ph.D., R.N.

Dr. Janet Quinn is Associate Professor and Senior Scholar at the Center for Human Caring at the University of Colorado School of Nursing. She is a recognized leader in the mind/body field and was Holistic Nurse of the Year (1990) for the American Holistic Nurses Association.

Because this is the Christmas/Chanukah issue of Atlantis, let's start with a spiritual exercise...an exercise in conscious surrender. May God, a Higher Power, a Universal Energy or however one may conceive of the higher aspects of humanity and divinity...may that force work through us. May we be His instruments, may He or She...or He and She speak through us, think through us, feel through us and may this interview serve to help patients and healers.

Yes. Yes. And I would add for myself to invoke Mother God, Father God and an acknowledgment of the almost impossibility of my ego to do what I am asking for and to trust that God uses any old instrument. May we be decent instruments.

My first question for you is, "What is illness?"

It's one of an infinite number of manifestations of the unfolding mystery. It is of equal value as health. It's just a different manifestation. I think that its most fundamental quality is mystery. I've given up almost completely my attempts to understand illness from a causation perspective. I don't know what causes illness and I don't know what causes the release of illness. I don't know anything about it.

Thank you Janet (laughing)!

Goodbye now (laughing)!

That was really great but from a practical standpoint, someone reads this and thinks, "Oh this is great. She doesn't know anything." So practically speaking, how do you implement this world view in the service of patients? Aids

I begin by asking if people accept the model that they are body, mind, and spirit. If the answer to that question is "yes," then immediately you are confronted with the fact that we are fundamentally mysterious. And if we want to say we are a body and a mind...and I believe that mind can influence and control body, you can get into the whole notion of creating your whole reality. But I think that's too limited. We can consciously acknowledge that we participate in creating our reality and influencing our state of well-being.

But if we're really about body, mind and spirit, spirit is always about mystery unfolding; it is always fundamentally the unknown emerging. So, while we can participate in that, it is never something that we can control. Control and surrender are the spectrum we're dealing with here.

How do people react when you deal with the issue of control?

I think that none of us initially likes the idea that we can't control the outcome of our process. I think it's part of the human condition to seek control. If we can sit with that issue together, over time, there is an incredible relief in that. I think that a lot of people have become burdened and battered by the idea of creating your own reality syndrome. When we remind ourselves that there is something else beside what we're doing that is fundamentally mysterious, there can be relief in that. People can say, "Oh, you mean I'm not a failure because I'm having a recurrence?" That model of you can create your own reality works really well for people when we're healthy. You can create your own reality translates into: "I'm in control. I can do this. I can change this. I can create a different reality...if do it right...I can change this...if I follow a magic formula...if I just get my thoughts lined up correctly...if I get my conscious to match my unconscious." ThatŐs all great when itŐs working, but as soon as there's a recurrence of illness, this philosophy reduces the person to a failure. And I don't accept that.

It seems to me there's a paradox here. In order for patients to really gain more control over their health, they need to relinquish control.

The word "control" has to go. Let's see if there is a better way of saying "gain more control over their health."


More conscious participation. It is absolutely paradoxical. The more I surrender, the less out of control I feel. The more I surrender the safer I feel and I begin to realize that my safety and my peace donŐt depend on my ability to absolutely control everything.

What a wonderful attitude to have ...when one can have it.


Tell me about your work with AIDS patients and how you apply these principles.

I start with the basic idea that there is absolutely no way either one of us can predict what the outcome will be. If we can both agree that that's true, then we can let go of trying to do that...and then we can let go of trying to get prescriptive about what needs to happen as if we know what the goal is.

Again, that can be a difficult place. If the attitude is "I know what the goal is. The goal is that I'm going to cure myself of AIDS," then we've got to sit with that for awhile. But if we can both acknowledge that the reality of what we're dealing with is an uncertain one, and that nothing we can do will change the fact that it's uncertain, then the question becomes, "How do we choose to live?" How do you want to live your life right now given that the outcome is totally unpredictable? And, by the way, you're in no different situation than me. We're both in situations where there is no way to predict what happens tomorrow.

That's a very anxious position to take for most doctors and nurses...because if youŐre the patient, my job is to heal you.

If your definition of healing is the one I hold, it ceases to be an anxious position. My notion is that healing is the emergence of right relationship...of new relationship at one or many levels of the human experience. So if my idea is that healing is something that emerges from you, then itŐs no longer my job to do it to you...or even to do it for you, but to support you and be your partner, your coach and fan as you participate consciously in your process.

But you're right. If our belief is the traditional one-"I'm the expert and you're not. I know and you don't. It's my job to fix you,"-then this position is untenable. You can't be in the old model and have this frame of reference. They're totally incompatible frameworks. But personally, as a provider, my work with people with AIDS feels incredibly optimistic all of the time. If my framework is the medical model that says, "My job is to fix you and cure you and get rid of your AIDS," then how can I function in that framework?

My framework is about healing and facilitating wholeness. My patients come in and they look skinnier. You can see wasting...or an opportunistic infection. There's thrush in the mouth. Is my response to say, "Oh we're failing." No! I say, "Oh, this is what's happening this week." And we continue the journey toward healing in spite of what's going on with the physical disease. So my work is incredibly hopeful and optimistic.

Is your work mainly therapeutic touch?

Therapeutic touch and counseling. I don't like to use the word psychotherapy because that word comes out of a model that says, "I know and you don't and I'm trying to fix you." So instead I call the process a healing dialogue. So those are the tools I primarily useŃhealing dialogue and therapeutic touch.

How do you incorporate imagery into your work with AIDS patients?

Rather than trying to create images, I allow images to emerge. If someone is having a particular experience, rather than ask them to continue describing what's happening out there in the world, I try to get a more present experience. I might say to the person, "What I'd like you to do is get quiet inside and attend to your breathing. Then notice what happens for you when I say the word....." Then I'll say something. I ask them what images and felt-sense images emerge after I say these various words. What happens in your body? For example, a common issue is that it's hard to take in help or nourishment...or to acknowledge that they need help.

So I might say, "I want you to notice what happens when I say 'It's alright to have needs.'" Very often they will experience an image from childhood. There might be a felt-sense image of tightening. And we use imagery as a way of getting information about the system...about what is blocking their ability to take in the nourishment they need. What are the barriers to their healing right now?

What other questions do you ask?

It depends on what's going on with them and what we're trying to explore. It's quite variable.

What do you do with the image once it has arisen?

I might say, "It's OK for you to have needs." If they have an image that they're five years old, all alone in their room crying, I might say, "What's happening in that situation? What happened just before you were in the room crying?" He might say, "I went to my mother and told her I was really sad about my pet hamster dying and she said, 'Don't be silly. Big boys don't cry.'" So I use imagery as a way of uncovering information. And there is the message for this person. "You're not supposed to have needs. It's not OK." So I can say, "Of course you're having a hard time right now. Your basic belief is that it's not OK to have needs."

Tell me about therapeutic touch?

My basic posture in doing therapeutic touch is one of surrender and asking that I be an instrument for healing. I want to be as blank as I can be. What will often happen is that I will get an image symbolizing something about this person. Sometimes I will get an image of this person as a child and sometimes I might get an image of them in motion or dancing...or an image of them at peace. But I get a picture and that incoming information, that image, helps me to project outgoing energy. In other words, if I get an image of them as a child, then in my own consciousness, I embrace that child and direct the energy...as a mother to a child.

Beautiful! What other images come to you other than Mother-Child?

That's a big one. Mother-Child happens a lot. But I might also get an image of the person moving. So I just hold that image of them moving and I energize it. I project the energy toward that vision of them as whole and happy and moving. And my perception is thatŐs the quality that the energy takes on.

Interview concludes in next issue.

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