August 14, 2011

The reason why most alternative healing doesn’t work: Secondary Gain.

Secondary Gain is a medical term.

If you ask a doctor what it means, they’ll know. If you ask a Reiki practitioner, they probably won’t. That’s because it’s a concept that the world of alternative healing has not fully woken up to yet. I believe it’s also one of the main reasons why most alternative healing doesn’t work, and most personal development methods / spiritual practices are inefficient. *

What is secondary gain, exactly?

Secondary gain** may be defined as ‘a hidden benefit that is derived from the problem’.

The best example I can give is the one that Simon Rose (founder of Reference Point Therapy) gives when teaching RPT. It is a true story:

There was an old lady who had cancer. Despite the fact that she had expert care, and against all expectation, her condition did not improve. When asked the simple (and seemingly ridiculous) question:“What would the worst outcome of the cancer being healed” she finally replied: “I would be lonely again”.

Before the diagnosis of cancer, she had been alone. When they found out that she was ill, her grandchildren began to visit her daily. Faced with the simple choice between cancer and loneliness, she (subconsciously) chose cancer.

Don’t underestimate the power of the subconscious.

The hidden benefit to her problem – the secondary gain – was quite simply that the quality of her life was improved by the cancer because she was no longer lonely.

Other examples include:

If my bad back was fixed, I’d have to go to work”…


If my headaches stopped, I’d have no excuse not to have sex with my husband” (another real-life example!)

Why I feel this is an important issue.

Let’s face it – we all have problems from time to time. Whether physical, emotional, or psychological, challenges are a (big) part of life.

It is many people’s experience that the initial hope and euphoria – so often experienced immediately after a healing session (or therapy, or personal development) – fades, and the symptoms return. Often people believe that ‘this time I’ve really healed it!’ or ‘wow, there’s been a huge shift in my consciousness’, only to feel deeply disappointed a few days later when the symptoms, (or their usual state of mind) gradually return. Do you recognize what I’m talking about? It’s also true of spiritual practice. Many people attain ‘higher states’ of awareness through spiritual practice, only to find that they they quickly return to the original state. It can be very frustrating.

The most common reason for this is secondary gain.

In terms of healing – you may well find the root cause of your problem; you may well effectively heal it. But if the secondary gain is not released you will probably not see any long term change in the symptoms – because subconsciously you are choosing to hold onto them.

Honestly, I have lost count of the number of clients (and personal problems) whose permanent healing has ultimately come down to secondary gain.

Very often you need only heal the secondary gain of a problem in order to watch it just fall away – secondary gain was all that was holding it in place.

I’ll leave you with another example. I’m working with a client at the moment who has liver cancer. She’s 31 years old, has a 3 year old child, and the doctors have told her that there’s nothing they can do – they told her that chemo will just give her 4 months more. (Personally, I believe that there is almost always something we can do; if we know the cause of something, we can undo it).

When I began to explore the concept of secondary gain with her she gave me a list of things that were benefits of the cancer:

  • She makes friends more easily now that she’s sick.
  • Has a great excuse as to why her career is at a standstill.
  • Gets her husband’s undivided attention without having to ask for it.

I worked on the trauma of these secondary gains: making friends (she’s an introvert), having a career at standstill (she wants to work), and being assertive / getting the attention she needs (she had an issue with feeling like an ‘attention seeker’ when expressing needs and desires).

Of course, I’ve done much more than work on secondary gain with her (healing childhood trauma, work on self-esteem, strengthening boundaries, etc) but already there have been some dramatic changes: a chronic shoulder pain (interestingly, directly behind the breast that was the original source of the cancer) has disappeared; and an old breathing difficulty has cleared up.

Edit: since originally writing this, she had a blood test. Whereas in the past her blood was always weak, the doctors told her now that it is ‘perfect’ – for the first time. (This is after some very strong chemotherapy, which would normally weaken the blood further).

I’m confident that this is going to be another case of ‘miraculous’ healing. I’ll let you know.

However, the point of this article is this: every cloud has a silver lining. Even our greatest fears and worst nightmares bring us some kind of benefit, especially when they are old problems that we’ve become accustomed to.

Sometimes, we choose subconsciously to hold on to that benefit, even though consciously we may not want to.

Do you have a problem – physical or emotional – that you can’t seem to solve? Can you think of any benefit to it? If you solved the problem, what would you loose? Please feel free to leave a comment (even anonymously) and I’ll see if I can help.


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Thank you!

Related posts:

How healing / therapy / personal development just became super fast and easy!

The Emptiness, and feeling emtpy (two very different things)

* – I realize this is a controversial, and somewhat incontrovertible point: however, I believe that most alternative healing modalities and practitioners are less effective than a placebo! A great deal of scientific research has shown that placebos are around 30-40% effective. I think that if we’re really honest about our experiences with alternative healing we can say that very few healers or therapists are able to guarantee successful results (by which I simply mean permanent healing) in over 40% of their clients.
** – For the purpose of simplicity I am rolling Primary gain, Secondary gain and Tertiary gain into one.
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