When Doctors Get Traumatized Practicing Medicine (Part 2) – Dr. Rola Hallam – HPP 134
Trauma doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can be impacted by trauma at any time, including us providers. So what happens when the healer needs healing? That’s what we’ll discuss in today’s episode.
Join us for part two of this series as we continue our conversation with Dr. Rola Hallam. Not only will we discuss the revolutionary treatment options that now exist for helping others overcome trauma, but we’ll also talk about how we, as providers, can work to heal our trauma.
The Fracturing of the Spirit – 3:57
We mustn’t swap the medications that never worked for a medication that does work, and forget that actually, we need to heal emotional wounds, actually, that at the heart of trauma is a fracturing of the Spirit. And it is that illusion of separateness that keeps us just in perpetual suffering. And so we need to be talking about it at the spiritual level, the emotional level, the mental level and, and healing in community.
Spiritual Healing Tools – 6:09
A lot of these traditional societies know that, my ancestors knew that. People used to come to my grandfather and my great grandfather for them to pray for them, right? And read the Quran for them so they recognize that there were illnesses, as well as methodologies that were beyond what the physician was able to offer. And that needs to be incorporated into that wholeness.
A Powerless Savior – 10:30
Right. If I’m the savior, that means you’re the saved, and I am the powerful and new the powerless. And how can I possibly ask for help and say, I’m struggling and admit vulnerability if I am the savior with a cape around my neck, right, and so it kind of not only disempowers others, but it eventually completely exhausts us in what is essentially an utterly unachievable thing.
A Healing Presence – 15:35
Your job is to be a healing presence and so that’s like, at a physiological level, for us, it’s about having our nervous system while regulated, right? So that we can be that co-regulating presence, and to be constantly doing the work that clear out the letting go that we need to do so that we can be as compassionate and present as possible. So I absolutely believe that our presence can be a contributing or deterrent factor. And that holding that space is such an important thing.
A Renewed Mission – 17:20
And so I work with these incredible front liners to help them do the recovery from burnout and trauma that they need to do and to do that inner change that they need to do so that they can be that healing presence and that catalyst that they want and that our world needs.
3 Ways of Starting A Meaningful Cause – 20:48
So, you know, I discovered by accident that I was a powerful communicator, and that, I know, is one of my weapons of choice now. So what are your gifts? What are your talents? And then, for me, the second thing will be what are the causes that really get to, you know, here and in the heart, you know, because again, when we work on things that are meaningful to us, we find that energy from deep within.
Full Episode Transcript
Dr. Rola Hallam, Dr. Will Van Derveer
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:11
Welcome back, everyone. And thank you for joining us for the hire practice Podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer with Keith Kurlander, and this is the Podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Yeah, it’s quite stark for me the contrast between how I was taught as a child to believe that my family was normal and healthy, and that the presence of trauma was an unusual phenomenon, right? That poor person over there who, you know, experienced a rape or something like that and, you know, coming up through my training and beginning to practice psychiatry, and then finally starting to relate to my own trauma and my own history, suddenly, realizing, wow, it’s not one out of 20, it’s not one out of five, it’s like, we’re all dealing with something. And, you know, it’s, it’s interesting in my thinking about trauma, and how, at the effect of trauma, the world is still everywhere. I want to make sure that the messages that I communicate are not used to make, oh, well, trauma is everywhere. So there’s nothing to do. And it’s just, you know, it becomes a contrite blanket thing, if it’s not, if we don’t appreciate the profundity of how damaged we are, and how damage to the planet is as a result of the traumatic lens. You talk about the traumatized professor in the medical school are the system that’s traumatized, traumatizing the young or the trainees, it’s, I see it also in, in climate, and, you know, in how we relate to food cultivation, and what’s happening with children and technology and obesity. And it’s, it’s, it’s so overwhelming. So yeah.
Dr. Rola Hallam 02:30
But there’s everything to say about it, right? Like, because I, yes, it’s everywhere. But here’s the thing, we can do something about it, especially now with some of these newer tools that we have at our disposal, right? You know, so, yes, I completely agree with you. It’s everywhere. But it is something that we need to therefore recognize and do something about it, it’s within the grasp of our hands, it’s something that we actually can impact in effect.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 02:56
I totally agree. And it’s so exciting that we have new tools coming online. And we’re going to find out a lot in the next 10 years about how we can make these, for example, psychedelic therapy available to as many people as possible and really get the right tool in the right hands. A lot of medical folks who I meet are kind of shifting their careers and moving more in the direction toward trauma resolution, or at least trauma informed care within their own specialty of training. It’s very exciting.
Dr. Rola Hallam 03:35
It’s really exciting. That’s certainly where I’m headed and, and I think I love that and I salute that but we have to maintain that at the heart of this, and by this I mean, how do we heal our traumas? Is taking this holistic approach.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 03:56
Dr. Rola Hallam 03:57
We mustn’t swap the medications that never worked for a medication that does work, and forget that actually, we need to heal emotional wounds, actually, that at the heart of trauma is a fracturing of the Spirit. And it is that illusion of separateness that keeps us just in perpetual suffering. And so we need to be talking about it at the spiritual level, the emotional level, the mental level and, and healing in community. Yes, right. Like there is, there’s the individual healing we need to do. But there is such a big piece around the collectiveness of it and sharing in that pain and sharing in that healing. And so I just add that we all who are now doing this work, don’t just swap a tool for a tool, but that we actually overhaul the way that we are doing it back because healing is about wholeness and we need to bring that wholeness into how we do it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 04:59
I 100 percent agree with you and, you know, there’s a danger inside of the wave of psychedelic medicine that’s coming. And I see it all the time as a conventional framework for psychedelic medicine, right? A reductionistic model that’s once again.
Dr. Rola Hallam 05:20
The quick fix.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 05:21
It’s a quick fix. It’s a biological tool. It’s not a spiritual healing tool.
Dr. Rola Hallam 05:26
Dr. Will Van Derveer 05:26
And I love what you said about fractured spirit because, you know, similar to our earlier conversation about burnout, and trauma, I think we also misdiagnosed spiritual illness as depression. And when you think about the fracturing of essential relationships, right, the relationship to the self, relationship to others, relationship to nature, I see these as spiritual illnesses that don’t have a biological result or biological resolution alone, right?
Dr. Rola Hallam 06:09
No, they don’t. And, you know, the indigenous cultures know that, right? A lot of these traditional societies know that, my ancestors knew that. People used to come to my grandfather and my great grandfather for them to pray for them, right? And read the Quran for them so they recognize that there were illnesses, as well as methodologies that were beyond what the physician was able to offer. And that needs to be incorporated into that wholeness. And I think a big part of why and how psychedelics, especially something like mushroom works is nature in that it’s that rewilding and rebirthing that we need to do. And this is something that I do with some of my clients, like, how do we slow down and get back into our bodies and get back into attention? And, you know, and so we do things just like walking with their feet on the ground. And actually, like, with hubs, touching them, and feeling them and almost sort of like, you know, in a sensual way, even like to actually feel what they look like, and smell like and sound like just that idea of just how do we calm our nervous system by using all the tools around us of which nature is such a profound, profound, profound tool.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 07:32
Right and within the restoration of our contact with nature, I really appreciate what you’re saying about the senses, and how we can come into the present through our senses, and the smell of rosemary, you know, or an essential oil that really evokes presence, wakefulness. So, so many tools that we don’t think about in conventional medicine, psychiatry, for sure.
Dr. Rola Hallam 08:05
And they’re kind of laughed about almost and you know, in so many in so many circles, you know, I think it probably took me a few months to gather the courage to start to talk about these more supposedly alternative, you know, things and, you know, I mean, to talk even about spirituality with medicine, I mean, my God, I’ll probably have my medical bloody degree withdrawn. She’s talking about God, great Baja, you know, it’s not so much with you guys in the US. Right. You know, we’ve, we’ve thrown God out with the bathwater.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 08:43
Well, there is definitely a growing community of integrative minds and thinkers in medicine, and we’re doing the best we can over here with our Institute to help people develop these broader layered, you know, interdisciplinary tools for their patients. So it is happening, but there’s also a website here called quack(dot)com that you’ll end up on if you go too far.
Dr. Rola Hallam 09:11
Okay, yeah. Mental note, do not end up in quack(dot)com.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 09:16
I remember reading somewhere that in medicine, in the history of medicine, the innovators, the first thing they do is they excommunicate you, and then they study your thoughts. And then eventually, your thoughts become the standard of care, but it takes 100 years or something like, right.
Dr. Rola Hallam 09:37
Exactly. You’re like chanting in your grave by Yeah, yeah. Well, one of the profound shifts that I am so grateful to God for is going from seeing myself as a savior to being a servant. I think one of the things that burns us out is that huge burden of responsibility that we put on ourselves to save, to save, save the planet, save each other. And we inadvertently, altruistic as it seems much as it has driven so much of my impact. It helped me to build seven hospitals and impact 4 million people. I’m grateful for that. But at the same time, not only did it overburden me, but when you are a savior, it creates a relationship of hierarchy. Right? Right. If I’m the savior, that means you’re the saved, and I am the powerful and new the powerless. And how can I possibly ask for help and say, I’m struggling and admit vulnerability if I am the savior with a cape around my neck, right, and so it kind of not only disempowers others, but it eventually completely exhausts us in what is essentially an utterly unachievable thing. You can never take away all of that suffering, what one thing that you can do, and I fundamentally believe that is if we all start to deal with our own traumas, if we all start to heal our own traumas, then we will start to break that cycle of violence of trauma of war, we will stop traumatizing each other, and our worlds and there lies our you know, salvation as it were, but this idea of being a savior that so many of us in the medical profession have, is actually so damaging to ourselves, and to the profession, and to our patients, who we are inadvertently disempowering, rather than saying to them, you know, like, I tell them now, like, Don’t come to me for healing, like, you are not broken, you don’t need to be fixed, I will hold a space, I now know how your suffering can not overwhelm me. I will hold a space and I will remind you of your own innate ability to heal, of God’s ability to help heal you, I will provide you with all my wisdom, my knowledge, my tools, but know that this is going to be your work, and you can do it. And I’m here to remind you of how effing amazing you are and you can do it right. But it really is no longer for me this idea of yours, I’m here to save you. And that’s been a big shift for me.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 10:00
Huge, huge. It reminds me of when I got involved in MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD in a clinical trial about 10 years ago, in the beginning of my training, it was explained to me that the therapeutic approach involves the concept called the inner healing intelligence or the inner healer. And I was coming from an open minded but not decidedly not as psychedelic perspective as I entered my training, and I thought, okay, so the inner healer in the client is going to heal the client. And to be honest, and this is a little embarrassing to say, but it goes to my training. Well, where do I get to say something really smart that helps the person?
Dr. Rola Hallam 13:20
Yeah, exactly. How am I gonna seem so good?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 13:24
What about me?
Dr. Rola Hallam 13:28
This is not why I did this profession.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 13:30
Yeah, exactly. And I remember Michael Mithoefer saying, well, you’ll just, you know, you’ll see how it goes and you’ll learn that this actually works. And it was quite incredible as I learned the the approach and, and we supported people with MDMA in their therapy sessions, severe PTSD, chronic PTSD, people with on average, about 29 years of trauma in their history, who went through this trial, and two thirds of them came out no longer meeting criteria for PTSD after three MDMA sessions. But what happened in the sessions was something about the holding environment, and the relationship and the support of the medicine brought forward this intelligence, this inner divinity, I would say, and it blew my mind to watch people healing themselves. And it completely turned my understanding of what psychiatry was and what therapy was on its head. It was so amazing to be relieved of the burden of being the savior, and to watch the healing unfold in a way that was way more profound than it ever could be. If it was, so to speak, coming from the guide or the healer, rather than coming from inside the person. So yeah, yeah.
Dr. Rola Hallam 14:48
Well, it’s a co creation, right? Every time I wanted to try and hasten my recovery, I would remind myself that my only job now is to become a healing presence and that means doing the work that I needed in order to become that. And so being it and becoming it, that is the work. And time and time again, when I sit down to meditate and in our Sufi meditations, we meditate on the 99 names of the Divine and the message, that’s the same message every single time, your job is to be a healing presence. The healing itself will be done by the person and by the Divine. Your job is to be a healing presence and so that’s like, at a physiological level, for us, it’s about having our nervous system while regulated, right? So that we can be that co-regulating presence, and to be constantly doing the work that clear out the letting go that we need to do so that we can be as compassionate and present as possible. So I absolutely believe that our presence can be a contributing or deterrent factor. And that holding that space is such an important thing. But it’s to be a catalyst.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 16:08
Exactly. I agree. 100%. It’s not a passive role. It’s a co-created role, even if it is a lot more subtle than interpreting someone else’s experience.
Dr. Rola Hallam 16:21
Dr. Will Van Derveer 16:23
I’m wondering about what you’re up to now, with all of this transformation in your life and your point of view and your career? What’s your daily, weekly, monthly, life look like these days?
Dr. Rola Hallam 16:40
Great question. The truth is, it’s still evolving. What I do know is that my previous way of practicing medicine is no longer where I’m at. I have evolved from that. I am certainly a medicine woman still, but its expression has now changed. And I am now working with what I call frontliners, health workers, aid workers, social entrepreneurs, people who are driven to make the world a better place. First and foremost, remind them of what the poet Rumi says that yesterday, I was clever. So I tried to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I’m changing myself. And so I work with these incredible front liners to help them do the recovery from burnout and trauma that they need to do and to do that inner change that they need to do so that they can be that healing presence and that catalyst that they want and that our world needs. And so I’m kind of integrating a lot of the things that we talked about, you know, here, all the breathwork, psychedelics, spiritual coaching, and meditation into, you know, each one’s bespoke journey. But that, at its heart, is me holding that space. And yeah, I’m excited to see where this year is going to take me. I’m already starting to plan some in person events around the six senses and around slowing down to get back into our bodies. And, and really, how do we use the senses in order to bring greater presence and awareness and attention and looking to hold my first retreat at the end of the year.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 18:20
Congratulations. That’s exciting.
Dr. Rola Hallam 18:22
Thank you. It is exciting, and I also, you know, I call in myself collaborators, like I feel like there, those of us who are doing this kind of work need to, you know, pull our forces together and do that. And so I trust that the people who need my support will come to me and those who I’m due to collaborate with will also come and I’m excited to see what a reimagined medicine could look like. Because medicine is so beautiful, and I still am that physician at the very heart, but we need to revolutionize.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 19:07
Dr. Rola Hallam 19:07
How it’s delivered, and at its core, that is “physician heal thyself”.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 19:13
Dr. Rola Hallam 19:14
We cannot keep holding ourselves into battle deeply wounded, we cannot heal the world when we are deeply wounded. So we must do that work on ourselves, and then as you said so beautifully with the patient, you know, and then watch it all unfold beautifully.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 19:33
Thank you. I am at a loss for words.
Dr. Rola Hallam 19:40
I can do that sometimes.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 19:44
I wonder how would you like to, well, one question I had for you as we get close to wrapping up was around the medical folks who might be listening who are interested not only in doing the work of healing themselves, but also would like to get involved and go further than just the doctor-patient encounter, and maybe expand their impacts to activism or pitching in different ways. Would you have words of advice for someone who’s interested in doing that?
Dr. Rola Hallam 20:24
Great question. I would say, first of all, really gather yourself as to what you really think your gifts and talents are, because when we deploy those, that when not only, you know, do we find that like, VAVA, voom energy coming from God knows where you know, but that’s when you really are that much more impactful. So, you know, I discovered by accident that I was a powerful communicator, and so, that, I know, is one of my weapons of choice now. So what are your gifts? What are your talents? And then, for me, the second thing will be what are the causes that really get to, you know, here and in the heart, you know, because again, when we work on things that are meaningful to us, we find that energy from deep within so, you know, that could be country related, gender related, politics related, you know, whatever it is, but what is that thing that you really care about? And then, the third and final thing I would say is go as local as possible. Local people for local solutions, and you know, it’s the Syrians who are helping the Syrians, it’s the Somalis, who are helping the Somalis. And we do need the global community, everyone around the world needs that global support, but don’t come in as that white woman and white man savior, you know, I’m coming to save you, but come in and say, you know, find out who is here who is doing what, and how can I serve you? You know, so look into what local groups, organizations, activists, grassroots organizations are working on and offer them the support that they need because that, I believe, is how we empower others with dignity to create the change, and how we can be great allies in support of that.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 22:22
Beautiful, thank you.
Dr. Rola Hallam 22:24
Thank you for asking that. One of my dreams is to set up an activist school. So we’ll see. I hope that maybe I can, I’ll come back in a few years time and I’ll be telling you about my school of wise warriors.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 22:39
I look forward to that.
Dr. Rola Hallam 22:42
Maybe you’ll be on the faculty.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 22:44
I would love that.
Dr. Rola Hallam 22:46
Brilliant. Anyone here is listening. make this happen. Calling in the collaborators.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 22:53
Wow, what a pleasure to connect with you, Rola. Thank you for joining us and for sharing your wisdom. Thank you for making the journey and listening to the inner call to wholeness and slowing down and turning around and offering the gifts that you have cultivated to others. It’s very inspiring. Thank you.
Dr. Rola Hallam 23:19
Thank you. I was really honored to have this conversation and I hope it will be of service to whoever needed to hear it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 23:32
We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the higher practice podcast, where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.