Years ago, I treated an elderly woman who was sent to me because her feet burned relentlessly, from her ankles to the tips of her toes. She could hardly walk. She wept from the pain.

I wrote about this woman, previously [], but my latest work, as a spiritual counselor and life coach, has made me aware of how God was operating in her life and in our work together.

Internists and neurologists and an endocrinologist had examined this woman repeatedly and had ruled out the usual suspects: an autoimmune disorder, shingles, neuropathy from diabetes. So, they sent her to me because they suspected her problems had to be “in her head.”

Near the end of our first session, she stopped telling me the history of the severe and unusual pain in her feet and looked me directly in the eyes. “You know,” she said, “You remind me of my grandson.”

I was trained not to dismiss such comments as pleasantries or mere coincidence. Everything in the context of a session might have meaning. “Tell me about him,” I said.

“We’re very close,” she said. “He’s always been there for me. Even now, when he’s away, he writes to me every week.”

“I’m glad you have him in your life,” I said. “Has he moved far away?”

“No, no,” she said. “He hasn’t moved. He’s in the army. He’s serving in the Middle East now.”

“I understand.” I wondered whether his absence was involved in this woman’s pain—if only emotionally. “Is he in great danger?” I asked her. “What does he write to you about?”

“He says he’s safe,” she told me. “He says he’ll be OK. The thing that bothers him the most is the heat. It’s so hot there. The sand is the biggest thing. It gets hot like fire. Even with his boots, it burns his . . .”

I glanced down at her feet.

She glanced down at her feet.

“No,” she said, “That can’t be it.”

“He tells you the sand burns his feet,” I said.

She shook her head and squinted down at her feet, again. “Yes, he does, but . . .”

I sat with this woman for about four meetings over the course of a month or so, and listened to

her tell me just how much I reminded her of her grandson, just how much she really did miss him, how worried she was that he would be killed, how it reminded her of losing her son decades earlier. And, gradually, the pain in her feet went away.

Was that a miracle? Well, it was if you consider the workings of human empathy to be a miracle, which I happen to. I believe that God (or the Universe, if you prefer) is really the healer, and I am helping my clients access that healing energy. I believe it is, indeed, miraculous that a grandmother’s feet can burn because she resonates so completely with the suffering of the grandson she loves. I believe it is miraculous that she could communicate this to a complete stranger (me) with the cautious opening line, “You remind me of my grandson.” I believe it is a miracle that listening to her in a nonjudgmental, “loving” way would help to heal her pain.

The human mind and human body are connected at levels we know precious little about. That’s why this woman’s doctors had sent her to me, even if it was with a dismissive tone, even a bit of contempt that her problems were “in her head.” They knew that mysteries of the soul are behind many mysteries of mind and body.

If a grandmother’s feet can burn like fire because she loves her grandson, and his life is at risk, then certainly we should understand that migraines and stomach pains and back pain and muscle weakness and a host of other physical conditions can have their roots in emotional disturbances. That’s one of the reasons I started

Sometimes, the mind—or spirit or soul—makes itself known through the body. And, then, healing has to take place at the level of mind and soul, as well.

Keith Ablow, MD

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How Could Psychiatry and Psychology Forget About Faith?

Here’s an interesting fact: During my four years of medical school and four years of psychiatry residency training, the total number of hours devoted to spirituality and faith were . . . zero. That’s right, not a single hour was devoted to exploring the place of faith in overcoming medical illness or psychological suffering.

That’s stunning, given that a myriad of data support the healing potential of prayer and of belief in a higher power—regardless of one’s particular religion.

The house of medicine seems so hostile to anything that cannot be weighed and measured that it has locked the door to the house of God. Yet, great power lies in acknowledging that human beings can find comfort and confidence and even a cure for their anxiety and problems of mood by being reminded that they are unconditionally loved and have a sacred purpose in life.

It’s one thing to suffer terrible emotional pain. It’s another to know, at a very deep level, that a determined journey through that pain will lead, inevitably, to some of the most important parts of their existences. And that happens to be true—for everyone, every single time.

Only once I completed my training in pastoral counseling did I understand the full healing power of human empathy from a counselor, coupled with faith in an all-powerful source of sustaining love. Helping people identify the self-defeating patterns in their lives (often fueled by emotional trauma early in life) turns out to be only half the equation. The other half is helping people recognize that immeasurable forces of healing can be unleashed when we allow ourselves to believe that they will—when we have faith.

Many clients have told me that understanding the roots of their suffering doesn’t give them a clear roadmap on how to change their lives to prevent it, in the future. But once human beings have real faith, they don’t need a map. They can move in the directions dictated by their hearts (once freed from the past) and feel confident they will never be truly lost.

My practice of blending life coaching, pastoral counseling and motivational mentoring is designed to finally join together the two halves of healing: fully understanding one’s life story and having complete faith that it can and will include wonderful new chapters.

Keith Ablow

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Starting a New Chapter of Your Life Story

Getting a start-up off the ground is something I know about. I launched a medical company and a charity fundraising company, amongst others. And I’ve noticed that the process has a lot in common with launching the next phase of your life.

I think “starting up” is a three step process.

• Coming up with a compelling idea
• Identifying psychological hurdles in your way
• Taking a first, concrete step


The Idea

First, you have to have a compelling idea—compelling to you. That’s the vision piece. What do you want to change about your life or manifest in your life? That certainly involves introspection, and it should involve consultation with a trusted advisor or advisors. That’s the work I love to do.

The vision can be taking your current work to the next level, deepening a personal relationship in your life, freeing yourself from a complicated and painful relationship, embarking on a new path of education, mastering a new skill, pivoting to a different profession, enhancing your spiritual foundation or any number of other changes.


The Hurdles

The next step is examining psychological hurdles that are preventing you from getting started, or from getting started in the most powerful way possible. That’s pretty hard to do alone and has become part of my calling. Those hurdles may be emotional ones related to self-doubt or to the way you think about risk and reward. A good life coach or counselor (or, sometimes, a really insightful friend) can help you clear them, with ease.


A Concrete Step

The third step is . . . taking a first concrete step. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you want to write a book, it can be as simple as registering for the best online workshop on the topic. That’s what did it for me and got me started on my six published mystery novels. If you want to write a screenplay, it can be committing to attend the right seminar. If you want to run for office, it can be committing to one hour of consulting with a political consultant. Have you thought about starting a company (or your next one)? Maybe it’s time to ask three of your most trusted friends to listen to the idea. Just taking that first step makes it real. Yet, lots of people need some encouragement to take that first one.


Paul Coehlo wrote, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Sometimes, all the universe needs is concrete evidence that you’re ready, that you’re serious and that you’re going forward, to the next chapter of your life story.

Keith Ablow, MD

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Even Fictional Stories Need to Tell the Truth

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. –Pablo Picasso

One of the joys of writing my six psychological thrillers, featuring forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger was when my editor would say, “I don’t know if Frank would do that. Is that really an authentic way he would act?”

Of course, Clevenger wasn’t real. He was my fictional creation—the lead character in Denial, Projection, Compulsion, Psychopath, Murder Suicide and The Architect. Yet, I had built Clevenger a core persona. Sure, he was addicted to drugs. Yes, he was addicted to sex. But he never failed to come through when the truth was at stake. He was a broken man, who was, nonetheless, tireless in solving mysteries, whether they be murder mysteries or the more personal psychological mysteries of the other characters that populated my novels.

My editor once shared Raymond Chandler’s description of the perfect detective with me and suggested it applied to Clevenger:

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.

The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.

The wonder of writing fiction is creating truths within it. Those truths may be inherent in the characters one creates, or the storyline they populate, or in both. So I always advise writers to know their main character, inside and out. What would he or she do in this situation or that situation? What would he or she feel in this situation or that one?
It is impossible to create such a character without knowing oneself pretty well. Otherwise, the same avoidance of core beliefs and emotions that afflict the writer in his or her own life will afflict the main character in that writer’s work.

One of my favorite authors is the late and great Harry Crews, a great novelist who hadn’t sold a single book until he stopped trying to hide who he really was. Here’s the way he wrote about what happened when he finally stopped faking:

I was sitting in a tiny room at the typewriter trying not to wake up my eight-year old Son. Beside me in boxes were manuscripts. All rejected. Rejected because they were no good. I’d written five novels and hundreds and hundreds of short stories. I’d written ten years, and not a word had seen print . . . I was a writer. A fiction writer. And a goddamn good one. It was in me somewhere, but something had gone horribly wrong . . . I turned and looked at all that worthless work stacked against the wall. Why was it all so goddamn bad? Because by then I knew the work I had done, and was doing, was no good. I had worked just hard enough and had learned just enough to know that I wasn’t neglected or overlooked by several thousand dumb publishers of one kind or another. No, I was a twenty-four karat fake; that was the trouble.

For many and complicated reasons, circumstances had collaborated to make me ashamed that I was a tenant farmer’s son. As weak and warped as it is, and as difficult as it is even now to admit it, I was so humiliated by the fact that I was from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in the worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia I could not bear to think of it, and worse to believe it. Everything I had written had been out of a fear and loathing for what I was and who I was. It was all out of an effort to pretend otherwise. I believe to this day, and will always believe, that in that moment I literally saved my life, because the next thought—and it was more than a thought, it was dead-solid conviction—was that all I had going for me in the world or would ever have was that swamp, all those goddamn mules, all the other beautiful and dreadful and sorry circumstances that had made me the Grit I am and will always be. Once I realized that the way I saw the world and man’s condition in it would always be exactly and inevitably shaped by everything which up to that moment had only shamed me, once I realized that, I was home free.

Yes, indeed. He was home free. He went on to publish many acclaimed novels. His biography Blood, Bone and Marrow, written by Ted Geltner, was published in 2016.

That’s why I always start coaching fiction writers or editing their work by getting to know them. Their creations are subject to many of the underlying psychological forces to which they themselves are also subject. I’ve been writing books since about 1991 and practicing psychiatry since about 1992. That’s probably no coincidence. Burrowing to the truth is essential in art—even in writing fiction—as it is in living life.

Keith Ablow, MD

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Human Beings as Works of Art

In my view, being human means having the capacity to experience and to give love (often, through a miracle called human empathy) and to reason and make choices. It also means having the opportunity to embrace the truth about oneself, including one’s life story, back to its early chapters, in order to make sense of the effects these chapters have had upon one’s psyche and soul. As human beings we then have the remarkable potential to change and become more truthful, more intuitive, more loving, more creative and more successful. None of this would be possible, in my opinion, without human beings having a spiritual core—a miraculous internal self. You may see that core as a gift from the universe or a gift from Nature or a gift from God.

But, it is a gift.

I see every human being as a masterpiece, in the making. No work of art is created without new brushstrokes being added, or wise edits being made, or without the willingness to believe that one has a destiny to fulfill.

I once purchased a beautiful painting of a man and woman dancing together at sunset, in an apartment bathed by the last light of the day. Before I bought it, I looked at the back of the canvas, where the artist had written in pen, “2002-2005-2010-2015.” I asked him what the years meant.

“Those are the years I went back to the painting, to finish it,” he said.

“Is it finished now?” I asked.

“It is if you buy it,” he said. “Otherwise, I’ll probably keep at it.”

So it is with the art of living. We never finish the work of becoming the people we were meant to be, from all time. But every day is an opportunity to get closer and closer to that spectacular goal.

Being human allows for the ultimate transformation of one’s life story, because each of us is on a unique and important path in life. My work is helping a client find that path and find the stability, commitment and courage to travel it.

Keith Ablow, MD

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