Posted: August 7, 2019 in: Faith


Years ago, I treated an elderly woman who was sent to me because her feet burned relentlessly, from her ankles to the tips of her toes. She could hardly walk. She wept from the pain.

I wrote about this woman, previously [], but my latest work, as a spiritual counselor and life coach, has made me aware of how God was operating in her life and in our work together.

Internists and neurologists and an endocrinologist had examined this woman repeatedly and had ruled out the usual suspects: an autoimmune disorder, shingles, neuropathy from diabetes. So, they sent her to me because they suspected her problems had to be “in her head.”

Near the end of our first session, she stopped telling me the history of the severe and unusual pain in her feet and looked me directly in the eyes. “You know,” she said, “You remind me of my grandson.”

I was trained not to dismiss such comments as pleasantries or mere coincidence. Everything in the context of a session might have meaning. “Tell me about him,” I said.

“We’re very close,” she said. “He’s always been there for me. Even now, when he’s away, he writes to me every week.”

“I’m glad you have him in your life,” I said. “Has he moved far away?”

“No, no,” she said. “He hasn’t moved. He’s in the army. He’s serving in the Middle East now.”

“I understand.” I wondered whether his absence was involved in this woman’s pain—if only emotionally. “Is he in great danger?” I asked her. “What does he write to you about?”

“He says he’s safe,” she told me. “He says he’ll be OK. The thing that bothers him the most is the heat. It’s so hot there. The sand is the biggest thing. It gets hot like fire. Even with his boots, it burns his . . .”

I glanced down at her feet.

She glanced down at her feet.

“No,” she said, “That can’t be it.”

“He tells you the sand burns his feet,” I said.

She shook her head and squinted down at her feet, again. “Yes, he does, but . . .”

I sat with this woman for about four meetings over the course of a month or so, and listened to

her tell me just how much I reminded her of her grandson, just how much she really did miss him, how worried she was that he would be killed, how it reminded her of losing her son decades earlier. And, gradually, the pain in her feet went away.

Was that a miracle? Well, it was if you consider the workings of human empathy to be a miracle, which I happen to. I believe that God (or the Universe, if you prefer) is really the healer, and I am helping my clients access that healing energy. I believe it is, indeed, miraculous that a grandmother’s feet can burn because she resonates so completely with the suffering of the grandson she loves. I believe it is miraculous that she could communicate this to a complete stranger (me) with the cautious opening line, “You remind me of my grandson.” I believe it is a miracle that listening to her in a nonjudgmental, “loving” way would help to heal her pain.

The human mind and human body are connected at levels we know precious little about. That’s why this woman’s doctors had sent her to me, even if it was with a dismissive tone, even a bit of contempt that her problems were “in her head.” They knew that mysteries of the soul are behind many mysteries of mind and body.

If a grandmother’s feet can burn like fire because she loves her grandson, and his life is at risk, then certainly we should understand that migraines and stomach pains and back pain and muscle weakness and a host of other physical conditions can have their roots in emotional disturbances. That’s one of the reasons I started

Sometimes, the mind—or spirit or soul—makes itself known through the body. And, then, healing has to take place at the level of mind and soul, as well.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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  1. Douglas Geenens, D.O. says:

    Great psychanalytic approach! Very typical of the historical cases of Freud healing Conversion Disorder. Thank you for sharing and thank you for having the sense and sensitivity to help this woman.