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How Does It Work?

by Jane Thurnell-Read

Prospective clients will often ask: “How does it work?” Sometimes this is what they mean to ask, but quite often they are really asking: “Will it work for me?” If this is what they really mean, but you answer the question literally, you will often not gain them as a client – their eyes will glaze over and the conversation will get changed to something more interesting.


I used to find that a quick explanation – about two or three sentences – worked best. Then I would ask the question: “Do you have a particular problem in mind?” I phrase it in this vague way for a reason. It means that the person can talk about a problem without having to admit they suffer from it – it’s a bit like that old chestnut where people tell you that ‘a friend’ has a particular problem. So, for example, the person may say: “Yes, what about migraines.”  Can you see that they are not having to say they suffer from migraines? So when you’ve done your explanation of how your therapy can help migraines, they can just say something like: “Oh, that’s interesting.”  If they’d admitted to having migraines at the beginning, they would now feel pressurised to make an appointment.


Asking “Do you have a particular problem in mind?” really seems to give people the confidence to explore what your therapy has to offer. Try it next time someone asks you “How does it work?”


Of course, sometimes people really do mean: “How does it work?” but if you take the conversation forward in the way I’m suggesting that will become clear as the prospective client gets engaged in what you’re saying.


“How does it work?” is probably the thorniest question in complementary and alternative therapy. My usual answer is “I don’t know,” said with confidence, not apologetically. I particularly say this to those scientific types who are looking for a ‘scientific’ explanation for the world and everything in it. They are often very taken aback by this, because they are expecting me to come up with some theory that they can (with their incisive scientific and rational mind!) tear apart. I then go on to say, again with confidence, that I know it does work.


I sometimes offer this story to them too.  Many years ago when one of my sons was small we were travelling to my parents’ house to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. My son had been entranced by our preparations: the golden presents being wrapped in golden paper. On the journey we stopped at a motorway service station and he picked up a packet of Durex Gold condoms. ‘What are these?’ he asked curiously (obviously wanting to know whether this would be a good additional present for grandma and granddad). ‘Condoms,’ I replied. ‘What are they for?’ was the inevitable next question. ‘They are things that men put on their willies to stop ladies having babies,’ I told him. He gave me a very hard look to make certain that I really meant this bizarre statement and then he shook his head and said: ‘Strange, very strange.’


Of course, to him the idea that men wearing something could stop women having babies was bizarre, because he lacked a vital piece of information that made sense of this statement. The situation with many complementary therapies is bizarre precisely because we lack information that would make sense of it, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.


I sometimes also say: “Perhaps the fact that this stuff works indicates that there’s something not quite right with the existing scientific models, but from the little I know about quantum physics I think that is changing.” If you decide to say something like this, tone and facial expression are vitally important  - you don’t want to be seen to be aggressive. You might also want to give them the article by Drew Leder, ‘Spooky Action At A Distance: Physics, Psi & Distant Healing’.


The important thing is not to dread the question “How does it work?” Don’t be apologetic, or come up with some half-baked theory. Be proud of what you are and what you do, and recognise that no-one has all the answers, and that includes the scientists and the therapists.


Copyright 2007 Jane Thurnell-Read