Holistic Use of Flower Essences:
The Case Study of Hanna
by Carol Arnold
Carol P. Arnold, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who integrates expressive techniques and flower essences into her work with individuals and families healing from chronic and acute illness and sexual abuse. Carol took the FES Practitioner Intensive class in September, 1998 and is working on her FES Certification. She is available for training seminars, supervision, and consultation. She can be reached at 718-729-6482.
Carol writes: "Flower Essences can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatment modalities. The following case of Hanna is illustrative of how flower essences can be selected and used within a holistic setting..."
Hanna is a very attractive, flirtatious and vibrant 56-year-old woman, born the only child of an alcoholic woman, and raised in the South. She has had two unsuccessful marriages, is currently divorced, and the mother of three grown daughters. She is quite charming in her demeanor, engages in many activities, is an avid opera fan and theatre-goer. Despite her intelligence, she has never completed college, a regret she still holds. Instead, she sought vicarious satisfaction through marriage to a college professor. Hanna currently holds a responsible job as a conference coordinator, a job for which there is little status but one that serves her need for security.
Hanna began drinking heavily and acting out sexually in her mid-teens, and this pattern continued during her first marriage at age 18. She reported that her husband often left her alone. These feelings of abandonment can be traced back to early images of her mother who "was often drunk and not there" for her. Hanna never knew her father and the major father figures in her life were often manipulative or abusive. Hanna recalls memories of her mother's paramour inappropriately touching her around age 5 and, as she approached puberty, one occasion in which her step-father sexually abused her when he was drunk. In contrast, Hanna has positive memories of her maternal grandmother who was supportive and nurturing.
Hanna is involved in an AA women's group and has been sober for over 14 years. She is currently involved with a man who is in recovery, but she feels very ambivalent about this relationship.
Hanna initially reported pain in her shoulders and suffered from bowel problems (constipation and congestion). She tried acupuncture and shiatsu, and was given several herbal and ayurvedic preparations to address her constitutional weaknesses (e.g. "governed by Vata or wind, poor digestion, distended abdomen"), which may in part be linked to early mind/body development and the consequences of her mother's alcoholism while in utero. Although Hanna had been following a healthy diet while in recovery, and had adjusted her diet significantly over a one-year period (eliminating sugar and animal products), her physical complaints remained. She was then recommended for flower essence assessment and possible short-term therapy.
The Healing Process
Hanna was ambivalent about therapy, yet curious about the use of flower essences. When she was asked how she felt, she seemed to focus on physical problems. When she was asked about her feelings, Hanna replied in her sweet and ever so gracious style, stereotypical of Southern charm, "Well, I'm never upset."
I explored. "Never?"
"Yes," she smiled.
"You mean you never get angry?"
Again, with great pride she replied, "Never."
I knew this was the place to begin. I then discussed my work with flower essences and my belief, like so many of us interested in the relationship of mind and body, that the manifestation of physical disease has its root in the mind, that is, in the unresolved, undigested and conflicted experiences of life that inhibit the psyche or soul from free expression. Hanna looked at me and graciously replied, "OK, what do you have in mind?"
Hanna seemed surprised that I suggested we start with Agrimony, a flower remedy first developed by Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936) often suggested for cheerful people who mask worries or feelings in order to keep up image or keep the peace.
Because of Hanna's alcohol sensitivity and her commitment to recovery, the flower essences were prepared in a 1 oz dosage bottle in a glycerin and distilled water base and she took four drops under the tongue three times a day.
Initially Hanna took Agrimony for 6 weeks, and engaged in therapy on a bi-monthly basis. Within a few weeks she reported that she noticed it seemed easier for her to be more "genuine." Hanna shared an example of the subtle effects of this remedy.
She reported that on a recent visit to the dentist she became alarmed when the dentist began to stuff her mouth with cotton and and then told her he would be back in five minutes. Hanna told him, "not to go, please stay here because your absence makes me uncomfortable." The dentist willingly complied. Hanna noted that her ability to assert herself and express her discomfort was not something she historically could do with such ease. She continued with another round of Agrimony for a total of twelve weeks. During this period Hanna began to trust the process a bit more. By the third month, she engaged in weekly therapy.
During this next phase, Hanna began to focus on her feelings of anger toward her mother. Hanna was more genuine and vulnerable, and she spoke of her feelings of abandonment — Hanna remembered her mother as either being drunk or running off in the middle of the day to be with a man. Utilizing pastels, she drew a picture of a little girl standing at the end of a long road, alone and waiting for her mother's return. Hanna also struggled with a sense of inadequacy and ambivalence toward her own children, particularly one daughter who was overweight and was a spendthrift.
Mariposa Lily was then introduced. Hanna continued to take this remedy for eight weeks to support her need to feel nurtured and to develop greater empathy and capacity to nurture. The tension in her shoulders subsided, the relationship with her own children improved, and a parallel process of multi-generational healing began to take form.
Sticky Monkeyflower was added to the Mariposa Lily. During the six weeks Hanna took this combination, she became aware of how her flirtatious behavior often served to give her a sense of power, particularly over men. She began to reclaim her own inherent power, and let go of her feelings of anger and degradation she felt as a result of the sexual abuse she had suffered. Hanna ended her relationship with her boyfriend and felt the need to explore a period of celibacy for a while. This was followed by the desire for more mutually supportive relationships--not relationships based on sexual gratification alone.
Hanna's treatment exemplifies a holistic approach. Her physical/constitutional weaknesses were addressed through healthy diet, herbal, and ayurvedic preparations. The use of flower essences in psychotherapy addressed the defensive structure of the personality and helped heal her childhood emotional pain. In the course of one year, Hanna's physical complaints subsided and she was able to "digest" her early childhood trauma and sense of abandonment, and move toward a greater sense of Self. She became more understanding of her own children's struggle and more forgiving of herself and the legacy she inherited from her mother.
In the final weeks of therapy, Hanna's mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Because of the healing she experienced, Hanna is no longer ambivalent in her feelings for her mother. A spirit of mutual reciprocity has evolved and Hanna's mother acknowledges her past weaknesses and mistakes and has asked for forgiveness.
At the time Hanna ended therapy, she had entered into the study of yoga and meditation and reported a greater sense of physical, mental and spiritual contentment.
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