Reflections From Our Founder

Reflecting on 2021 and the Courageous Optimism We Need

It will truly take outrageous acts of courage to create the change we want to see, and it will require inclusivity and collaboration, combined with knowledge and experience, to improve the entire lived experience that influences health. That’s what we’ll be focusing on at Nova, and we are excited to tackle the challenge.

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Announcing the Nova Institute for Health

A burst of light. The sudden appearance of a bright, new star. In Latin, meaning “fresh, new, young.” These are all definitions of nova—and they are the inspiration behind our organization’s new name: Nova Institute for Health—of People, Places, and Planet.

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Seeing With New Eyes

Change never comes easily. Nothing important ever does, and there’s nothing more important than the work that is in front of us right now. I’ve been training my whole life for this moment, and so have our partners. Welcome to the future.

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Fair Winds and Following Seas

California is ablaze. It was 130 degrees in the Mojave Desert two weeks ago. The Democratic and Republicans National Conventions have ended. The November election is coming toward us like a freight train. COVID-19 is flaring, subsiding, flaring again – and this is our new reality.

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Where the River Meets the Sky

Some days I sit, staring out at the Chester River which flows to the Chesapeake Bay, which empties into the Atlantic. It’s beautiful here. There is room to think, room to dream, room to reflect. It is not Baltimore. It is not Hong Kong.

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portrait of nova institute founder brian berman

ABOUT BRIAN BERMAN


Dr. Brian Berman is the president of Nova Institute for Health (formerly the Institute for Integrative Health), which he founded in 2007 to catalyze new ideas in health. He is also Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he was director of the Center for Integrative Medicine. Trained in family medicine and pain management as well as complementary medical approaches such as traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, Dr. Berman has dedicated his academic career to evaluating the efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness of complementary and integrative medicine. In 1991, he founded the first U.S. academic medical center-based program for integrative medicine. He now continues to conduct his National Institutes of Health-funded research at the University of Maryland, while expanding his focus to understanding and promoting health through his leadership of the Institute for Integrative Health.

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.