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Does intuition play a role in modern herbal practice?

Does intuition play a role in modern herbal practice?  photo

Here we discuss the value of intuition and how it relates to modern herbal practice. We delve into the concept of herbal medicine being a form of holistic therapy and, therefore, needing to encompass a wide range of diagnostic factors.

Written by Katie Pande

Intuition as a concept is difficult to define in words. There are numerous definitions of the term ‘intuition’ but the vast majority of them refer to it as a form of knowing and behaving that is not based on rational reasoning; intuition is knowing without knowing how one knows. The inability to provide a rationale for an action or decision made can make the role of intuition in a clinical setting challenging to accept. In conventional medicine the majority of decisions are based upon the outcomes of clinical trials, laboratory and scientific testing. When this is compared with intuition which is an instant understanding of knowledge without evidence it is not difficult to see why, in some medical professions, the credibility of intuition is somewhat reduced or seen as unequal in comparison to ‘factual’ knowledge. However, this does not necessarily dispute the concept that intuition can play a role in a modern herbal practice. Whether or not intuition is in fact a valuable source of knowledge, how it manifests within the practitioner and to what degree the effectiveness of intuitive ability is affected by variables such as experience and confidence levels will be analysed in order to conclude about the role that intuition plays in a modern herbal practice.

In order to analyse the role of intuition it is first necessary to try and understand it as a concept. Physical awareness, emotional awareness and making connections are representative of the three sources of knowledge or ‘knowing’ involved in intuitive thought processes. Physical awareness represents knowledge interpreted through the body’s sensory organs. Emotional awareness represents knowledge achieved through emotional feelings and empathy. Making connections is symbolic of linking these physical and emotional sources of knowledge together to form a sense of intuition. In the current educational climate a great degree of emphasis is placed upon the acquisition of ‘knowledge’. However, the type of knowledge desired is not often the intuitive, somewhat unconscious, form.

Intuition is rarely recognised as a conscious thought process; therefore there has to be some questioning as to how an individual would be able to identify the physical and emotional aspects of intuitive thought processing. Intuitive information is believed to be received by two organs; the heart and the brain but it is the heart that receives the information first. It is suggested that chills down the spine, headaches, restlessness, increased heart rate and muscle tightness particularly in the stomach can be a result of intuitive processes occurring. The circulatory system in the abdomen (or ‘belly brain’) contains similar cell types and neurotransmitters to the brain and that despite being unable to think with this system, feelings and experiences can be remembered and recalled. Therefore our ‘belly brain’ has the ability to recognise new situations based on past experiences and so an individual’s 'gut reaction’ is considered as a non-cognitive form of knowledge. Experiments into this concept were undertaken that came to the conclusion that the ‘belly brain’ is more perceptive than previously suspected and that intuition may, as a consequence, have a basis in fact. With the assumption, therefore, that intuition is a form of knowledge; it has to be argued as to whether to restrict the depth and breadth of knowledge that could potentially be used within a clinical environment by not incorporating intuition into it would affect patient care and satisfaction. It is thought that, to accomplish effective and humane patient care, all ways of ‘knowing’ should be utilised.

A modern herbal practitioner, as discussed, could be argued as benefitting from utilising all sources of knowledge available to them; however it could also be argued that knowing which sources of knowledge to draw on to achieve the best result is also key to a successful modern herbal practice. Perhaps decisions about simple issues are better made using the processes of conscious thought and that decisions made about more complex matters are better approached using the processes of unconscious thought. The decisions that are made in a clinical environment are rarely simple and often have to take into consideration the health and wellbeing of a patient which involves drawing on information from a wide range of sources. Therefore, if intuition is taken as being a process of unconscious thought then its role in a modern herbal practice could be considered as being somewhat essential. Interestingly, as one becomes more knowledgeable about intuition and the power of consciousness we ultimately become aware that there is more to ‘knowing’ than that obtained through rational and analytical methods. Having a greater level of knowledge and awareness could surely only benefit the modern herbal practice and practitioner.

So, accepting intuition as a valid source of knowledge can be readily argued; but exactly where these intuitive thoughts stem from in the unconscious brain is still not clear. Intuitive information is initially triggered through our imagination and then encompasses other sources of information and/or knowledge to solve a problem. All human creativity begins with intuition which is then supplemented with insight, inspiration and reason; thus making intuition a central concept within creative and learning processes. If this concept is considered in more detail it becomes clear how the intuitive thought processes could benefit a modern herbal practice. The process of formulating a herbal prescription could be strongly argued as involving a certain level of creativity because each prescription is, in most situations, created for just one individual suited to their particular needs and encompassing aspects of their life history. Similarly, a herbalist will learn from each prescription made whilst monitoring patient progress. No one prescription, or intention behind it, is the same. If creativity and learning are essential components behind intuitive processes then the incorporation of intuition within a modern herbal practice could be invaluable. Intuition is a view of the ‘whole’. Herbal practice is partially defined from conventional medical practices because it encompasses a view of the patient as a ‘whole’ rather than the condition that they may present with in a clinical setting. Could it be argued therefore that intuition gives a glimpse of the ultimate truth behind a clinical presentation? Incorporating intuition into modern herbal practice should therefore influence a broader spectrum of knowledge within which a suitable treatment plan can be made and will help incorporate the feeling and/or emotional parts of critical thinking which are important components of expert decision making.

If intuition does play a significant role within a modern herbal practice the next important point to consider is whether or not there are different degrees of intuition; for example do some individuals have better intuition than others. There is some debate as to whether or not decisions made by experts within a particular field have stronger intuitive thought processes as a result of having had more experience. Qualitative studies demonstrate how intuition is used in expert decision making. Experienced nurses as opposed to student nurses, for example, have more intuitive experiences within which to reflect upon; which can be transpired to mean that a more experienced herbalist will have a greater wealth of clinical experiences upon which intuitive processes will work in comparison to student and/or ‘fledgling’ herbalists. For example, a fledgling herbalist when confronted with a complex patient situation may identify the problem as being a knowledge deficit or application dilemma whereas an experienced herbalist would be able to draw upon past experiences and use these and the intuitive thoughts that they influence to come to a conclusion about a suitable treatment plan for the patient. A second important point to consider is whether or not some herbalists are more confident in trusting intuitive thought processes as a result of positive experiences with intuition and/or having worked within an environment that is supportive of intuition. Therefore, acknowledgement and use of intuition may actually be a result of positive past clinical experiences that incorporated the use of intuitive processes. What may be an interesting concept to consider is the difference in the role of intuition in the experienced herbalist in comparison with the student/fledgling herbalist. An interesting point is that intuitive ‘hunches’ are often based upon forgotten expertise. Such ‘forgotten expertise’ may have originally had a basis within modern evidence-based medicine therefore is it a possibility that intuition may have more of a scientific basis than originally thought? Ultimately, expert clinical practice, should include the capacity for pattern acquisition and recognition. Acceptance and incorporation of all sources of experience and knowledge within a specialised area, like herbal medicine for example, should therefore be integral to practice.

Interestingly, perhaps what constitutes as experience should also be considered when basing the level of intuitive ability on the level of expert experience. Experience does not need to be clinical; life experiences can also be a large contributor towards a practitioner’s level of intuition. It is often personal and interpersonal experiences that have a greater influence upon intuitive processes than clinical experiences. Another interesting observation is that experts within their field use intuitive feelings with more skill and effectiveness but that all working within the given field demonstrated some level of intuition. Perhaps in order to understand the concept and uses of intuition there is also a need to encompass experience and understanding from a number of different disciplines rather than just a practitioner’s area of expertise. However, experience can sometimes result in the formation of prejudices and/or conditioning within a certain area of expertise. Understanding how and when to trust in intuition may actually allow an individual to see beyond such narrow confines which could only benefit a modern herbal practice.

Expert practitioners often have an air of confidence about them which is distinguishable from that of a novice or student studying within the same field. This confidence can be attributed to experience and knowledge. As already discussed, experience and knowledge incorporate intuitive processes: thus suggestive that a confident practitioner becomes such as a result of the acquisition of knowledge from a range of sources. Patient-practitioner trust and confidence may be boosted as a consequence of the practitioner trusting in their intuitive abilities; which will undoubtedly prove beneficial in practice. Some individuals find that a relationship with a patient is required before the practitioner can be intuitive about them. Similarly it could be argued that having an established relationship with a patient helps but that it is not always essential. Therefore it may be that the use of intuition within a modern herbal practice does not become effective until the practitioner has spent a certain length of time working with each patient. However, this concept has the capacity to be variable because it is dependent upon each individual practitioner.

In order to support the argument that intuition plays an important role in modern herbal practice it is interesting to know whether other health professions also demonstrate it as such. For example, The International Council of Nurses (ICN) published a code of ethics in 2000 which stated that an ethical pattern of knowing requires understanding of the various philosophical perspectives regarding what is good, right and desirable. From what has been previously discussed regarding intuition it is not difficult to understand how intuition would play a significant role within such ethical patterns. Intuition has been explained as being a result of the synergy between knowledge, experience and expertise which is also influenced by personality, environment, and willingness to use intuition and the relationship with the patient. This describes the multidimensional nature of intuition and also how not incorporating this into an herbal practice would actually be incredibly challenging.

Intuition therefore appears to play a valid and important role in modern herbal practice; but the question arises as to how practitioners unaware of this potential would begin to incorporate it into their practice. Intuition could be considered as something that develops with confidence and experience; it is not necessarily something that could be successfully taught therefore. There is suggestion that intuitive ability and confidence can be improved and/or nurtured through practices like physical exercise, meditation, reflective journal keeping and listening to music for example. Reflective work is certainly something that could be encouraged within the early stages of developing a modern herbal practice to encourage the use of intuition before a practitioner has gained a wealth of experience upon which to draw. Reflection is said to be an important component of any practice development and that without reflection translating theory into practice is almost impossible. Active acknowledgement and encouragement of developing intuition could contribute to a more successful modern herbal practice. Perhaps a true assessment of the use of intuition by a practitioner is not being consciously aware of its presence because it has become an integral part of the practitioners being. For example once something is learnt, like typing, it no longer falls within conscious thought or awareness when we use it. Although the evidence within suggests that intuition plays a potentially valuable role within the modern herbal practice it must also be understood that despite intuition having tremendous use within a clinical setting it can sometimes be misguiding; which is where the integration of other sources of knowledge and experience becomes paramount to making good clinical judgements.

Intuition is clearly a difficult concept to try and quantify within traditional scientific methods making it, for some, untrustworthy and poorly understood. Despite this it can be concluded that incorporating all sources of knowledge, conscious and unconscious, drawn from experiences and learning in all aspects of life will undoubtedly benefit the modern herbal practice. It would appear that denying the use of intuition in practice would actually prove to be a difficult task and that the key is recognising when intuitive processes are occurring and supplementing the information it brings with knowledge from other sources in order to make expert clinical decisions and judgements. Although it has been argued that experience in all areas of life is beneficial when it comes to intuitive abilities it also has to be said that more experience within a specialised field will ultimately fine tune intuitive thought processes associated with it. Therefore intuition may play a larger part in more longstanding modern herbal practices with experienced herbalists in comparison to student/fledgling herbalists. Perhaps the first stage of letting intuition play a role within a practice is first acknowledging and trusting in its presence and then developing and nurturing it through reflective practices. The creative nature of intuition makes intuitive judgement what distinguishes expert human judgement from decisions made by a novice or machine for example. Are the characteristics of intuitive practitioners that they; include a willingness to trust in intuitive thought, are skilled clinicians, have good relationships with a patient and are risk-takers. From all the information analysed within it is difficult to not acknowledge that intuition can only play an important role in modern herbal practice and contribute to a level of quality patient care; but the effectiveness of its role may not develop until a level of experience and confidence as a practitioner has been reached. Concluding on a quotation from Einstein, ‘The only real valuable thing is intuition.’.

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