Language and Symbolism

Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces. - Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Language elucidates shared meaning. It is tool that helps us communicate our internal experiences with others. We admonish our pets when they’ve taken a risk, or whisper lullabies to the howling winds, but words never do quite suffice in capturing the essence of what we mean. Similar to Plato’s musings on forms, Virginia Wolf hints that words are not as True as the ideas or feelings that they intend to represent.

Communication is at the core of my role as a consulting doctor. Every encounter includes history taking, review of the current condition, and a discussion of values and goals. The foundation of my template is derived from the patient encounter that I learned in medical school but I open the conversation to a much wider scope than is customary in medicine.

For example, it is common for me to ask questions about soul purpose, symbolic meaning, and life lessons. If someone is working through a common cold I might ask about personal boundaries, empathy, or energetic sensitivities. Perhaps they are susceptible to an infection because they are not maintaining a healthy sense of individuality, or they might empathize to their detriment and take on others’ illnesses. There are infinite possibilities so symbolic processing generally helps people to connect their physical condition to bigger trends in their life.

In this sense, symbolism can help decenter the linguistic baggage that come with medical diagnoses. There is healing that comes with being able to understand pain or illness in a language that is one’s own.

Emily McDonald, MD

Hello! I'm Emily, in addition to many other things, I am an allopathic doctor that left the health care system to find a better way to care for people and our planet. I no longer practice the kind of medicine we are used to seeing and using in America today - I am cultivating a practice community based herbalism for social justice and environmental harmony.