Curing means to eliminate sickness, while healing refers to repairing the body, mind, or spirit. But what’s possible when it comes to mental health?

Young woman floating in a lakeShare on Pinterest
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

In a world of many possibilities, can one truly be at a place where the mind flows freely and in sync with the ebb and flow of life? Is it possible for the mechanism of the mind to impact the complexities of human experience in a definite and positive way?

For those with mental health conditions, the desire is often to be without it — to cure the mind like one cures pink eye or heals a broken bone.

But mental health issues are usually far more complicated. They may come with a plethora of symptoms that may incapacitate or impair an individual’s entire functioning. These symptoms are very real and just as complex as the complexities of life.

Mental health professionals often try to use and develop new skills and tools to improve insight into the mind for a chance to heal.

Still, most mental health conditions are considered chronic conditions that are treated and managed rather than cured.

Both curing and healing offer a multitude of benefits. The difference can look like the process and the ending of one’s journey.

To cure means to be without illness or to eliminate sickness that brings disease. Usually, curing requires help from a physician. The goal is to return the body, mind, or spirit to its original state and to avoid change.

Curing may take less time and may be less painful, although it’s an end and total removal of the problem.

To heal means to repair or strengthen the body, mind, or spirit.

In a 2015 research paper, Kimberly Firth and other researchers developed an operational definition of “healing,” concluding that it is “a holistic, transformative process of repair and recovery in mind, body, and spirit resulting in positive change, finding meaning, and movement towards self-realization of wholeness, regardless of the presence or absence of disease.”

This means that with healing, there is a journey that provides you with the intelligence from your experience. Healing may involve change and acceptance of that change. Spirituality may accompany this healing, in that there is patience, understanding, and faith.

While a physician may be involved in healing, it may require more involvement and self-awareness of the person being treated as they use their own resources to grow.

What sets curing and healing apart is the amount of time for the process to occur and the mindset it takes to harness positivity in healing.

It’s also important to keep in mind that though the two are different, they can be intertwined for different conditions.

The 2015 research paper aimed at creating an operational definition for “healing” noted that healing may include curing, or “the eradication of physical symptoms of illness or disease.”

Physical vs. mental illness

If someone has pink eye, an optometrist can cure it with medication. There isn’t any damage or major illness, so an eye infection requires no healing. Once the infection is treated, the eye is restored to its original healthy state.

If a person has a broken bone, there is no disease to be cured, but a physician can mend the fracture and the bone may heal. Still, depending on the case, the healing process may bring with it change, like limiting the person’s mobility.

The distinction between curing and healing may be best understood when it comes to physical health conditions.

For mental health conditions, it may not be as distinctive whether curing or healing takes place.

What makes this finding more complex is that each mind is subjective to its personal experience, in contrast to the collective findings of objective disturbances within the human body.

In other words, while most people experience the same or similar symptoms when it comes to pink eye — as it’s caused by specific viruses or bacterial strands — mental health conditions often manifest quite differently in different people depending on their experiences, background, and various other factors.

For this reason, mental health conditions may also be more difficult to diagnose. In terms of evidence-based research, physicians are likely to access several tools to rule out infections, for example. On the other hand, psychologists have fewer measuring tools to prove the existence of a mental health condition.

From self-reported inventory and limited operational definitions to guide measurement, psychological distress is often unpredictable and invisible.

Thus, it can be a challenge for clinicians to determine whether a mental health condition can be cured or healed. Plus, when looking to mainstream psychology, there are few to no models that imply healing the mind.

For most mental health conditions, curing — eradicating or correcting the illness — isn’t possible.

In some cases, like with postpartum depression or seasonal affective disorder, people may no longer have symptoms once they’ve received treatment and once the period that caused symptoms — postpartum period or the dark winter months — has passed.

Some might say that these people have been cured. Yet, it’s important to keep in mind that symptoms may come back if the person experiences a similar situation.

Still, while a complete cure may not be available, it’s good to keep in mind that many mental health conditions are highly treatable and that people can live with a mental illness without experiencing severe symptoms.

The brain is key to housing the experiences of our subjective, psychological mind. Because of this intrinsic subjectivity, it can be difficult to recognize something is wrong with the process of these experiences, which limits our ability to see anything that is “broken” with our mind.

Still, though it may take some time to recognize a broken mind, the mind is capable of healing.

For example, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) has been found to be beneficial for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by helping them process and release traumatic memories.

Some argue that people undergoing EMDR for trauma can begin to heal once they have all the necessary information.

As the aforementioned definition by Firth and other researchers suggests, healing doesn’t necessarily mean a physical or mental health condition is no longer present. Healing can happen even when the condition is still there.

Thus, while treatment in the form of medication or therapy can help a person manage their mental health condition, healing — the acceptance of change — can happen at the same time.

It may be easier to see healing as complementary and an alternative means to improve mental health.

Mental health professionals can help individuals restore and improve their state of being and reduce further damage and conflict in the mind.

In recovery, the complex symptoms of mental health conditions may be layered in the unconscious, despite being addressed, and worked on in a timely manner.

In healing, those symptoms may subside, as they are integrated into a newer and healthier version of the individual.

To assume that complexities and vast differences of the mind are easily understood by empirical science would be a disservice to human existence.

Healing or curing the mind isn’t as easy as curing a viral infection or healing a broken bone. The mind is far more complex and shaped by experiences and factors unique to every individual.

Still, in many ways, mental health conditions are like other chronic health conditions. They’re managed and treated, not cured.

Yet, despite the presence of a mental health condition, healing and acceptance are often possible with the right treatment and support.

The next steps can look like defining goals for yourself to build upon based on self-evaluated levels of dissatisfaction or uncomfortableness.

You may find a solution to reduce symptoms and move toward recovery or to meet yourself in the middle and work toward increasing tolerance and relieving distress.

Many therapeutic approaches can help you on your journey to acceptance, healing, and recovery, including:

While the help of a mental health professional may be the best approach, you can also find many online mental health resources and self-help books that can get you started if seeing a therapist isn’t an option right now.

DRK Beauty Healing is a mental health and wellness company for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, South Asian, East Asian, and all women and nonbinary People of Color to discover, experience, and create their unique well-being journey. They offer free therapy through their nonprofit initiative, one of America’s leading free mental health resources. They also provide access to a broad range of affordable resources (e.g., support group sessions) from culturally responsive therapists, faith-based teachers, and practitioners of various spiritual, healing, and occupational modalities. DRK Beauty Healing believes its holistic approach to healing will ultimately empower People of Color across the globe to forge their unique path to wellness.