This Monday night November 6th was my first class in Healing at Brookdale College in Lincroft, NJ. It was fascinating for me to step away from the actual presentation, almost as an out-of-body traveler would, and examine how I had come to be in that place and delivering those thoughts and concepts.
I explained how my traditional medical education, residency and fellowship had prepared me to approach the sick patient as an organic ‘machine’ whose parts were malfunctioning. Make the diagnosis or at least consider a list of possible diagnoses. Order the appropriate tests, acquire information as well as the opinions of other physicians, perform further tests, prescribe medication and follow all of these parameters carefully.
Both the patient and the physician understood each other’s roles to be not dissimilar from that of the customer who brings his or her’s defective automobile into the repair shop. ‘Fix my car’ or ‘fix my body’. There was little difference in the attitude or approach on the part of doctor or patient.
It is not difficult to understand how this relationship developed. In the long and painful pre-scientific history of healing it was clear to all that a human being was much more than their physical body. Emotions, attitude, disposition, spiritual connection were understood intuitively to play crucial if not primary roles the illness or recovery of any one individual. Shamans were the first healers.
The advent and success of science which followed Western Europe’s paradigm shift away from the control of the Church led to the presumption that the physical, chemical, biochemical aspects of the human body, those factors that were successfully described and analyzed by science, were paramount.
And to a large extent, they were. The cause of the vast majority of human deaths had always been as a result of starvation, infectious agents, accidents, dehydration from diarrheal diseases. Sadly, there are large parts of the world today which still exhibit this truth. Science and technology was and is extremely successful in avoiding much of these ‘premature’ deaths. [Of course, war,killing, rape and murder seem as prevalent as ever].
I believe that the demonstrated successes of medical science and technology seduced physicians away from a path of healing. Language itself is a powerful indicator of attitudes. I was trained to be a doctor, a physician but not a healer. I was directed to diagnose, treat, seek to cure but not to heal. It was assumed that the body would respond as a machine. Any failure to recover, or worse to die was regarded as a failure on the part of the physician. The impermanence of this life, the inevitability of death, the concept of an immortal soul were rejected as irrelevant or even contrary to scientific thought.
To heal means to make whole. If the whole is regarded as the physical body, if Descartes was correct in his presumption of dualism [that the body and mind were unrelated substances] and if science regarded the mind as an illusion, then it was appropriate to treat the body as a machine.
To see oneself as a healer forces one to explore what it means to be whole. This is the beginning of transitional medicine. It does not disregard the achievements of science. It does not reject new technologies, new pharmaceuticals [yes, big drug companies are not by definition the source of all evil]. But it can no longer disregard the emotional, personal, intellectual and spiritual state of being of the patient. It body/mind/spirit healing.
But please understand–there have always been wonderful physicians who were healers without defining themselves as such. By their own intuitive sense of truth, they realized that they could not treat a patient’s body in isolation from the rest of the being. Yet they were regarded as ‘dinosaurs’. The medical system made it difficult for them to function that way. HMO’s, government regs, insurance companies dictates, the greed of personal injury attorneys, malpractice claims…..the litany goes on.
Physicians need to reclaim the title of healer. They are losing this to the world of alternative medicine. I will address thoughts about homeopathic, naturopathic, chiropractic approaches in later postings. Each of these practitioners contribute their part to the healing of the population.
I would like to believe that medicine is entering a period of transformation in which issues of body/mind and spirit will be acknowledged. My own journey as a human being and physician is showing me this path. There is no reason why all forms of knowledge cannot be integrated into a Rx for healing. The wisdom of Hippocrates seems more relevant than ever, I would rather know the patient who has the disease, than the disease the patient has.
I would humbly amend that statement. There is no reason why we cannot know everything possible about the disease and everything possible about the patient at the same time. I believe that it is only path to true healing.