Read an interview with Dr. Steven Hodes about his new book, Meta-Physician On Call For Better Health.
Interview By Laurie Sue Brockway
For more on Dr. Steve, check out www.meta-md.com
Many of us wish we had a doctor like Steven E. Hodes M.D.
“Dr. Steve” is a traditionally trained physician with a metaphysical point of view. His approach to well-being encompasses both the scientific and spiritual causes for pain, illness, and disease. He helps us bridge the gap between traditional medicine and holistic healing and shines a light on ways non-medical issues — such as stress and emotional blockages — contribute to illness. Although he has a great regard and love for traditional medicine, he believes strongly in the connection between body, mind, and spirit. Dr. Steve has devoted himself to teaching, lecturing, writing, and sharing his wisdom on this topic.
In his new book, Meta-Physician on Call for Better Health: Metaphysics and Medicine for Mind, Body, and Spirit (Praeger Publishers, November 2007), he explores the connection between spirituality and medicine and offers many ways metaphysics can help facilitate healing. He also offers a free lecture and dialog series in Manhattan, “Tuesdays with Dr. Steve,” in which he offers metaphysical prescriptions for better health (for more information, visit www.meta-md.com).
Dr. Steve brings warmth, compassion and the wisdom of almost 30 years in private practice to his work as a Meta-Physician. He received his medical degree from The Albert Einstein College of Medicine and also has a degree in Religious Studies from Franklin and Marshall College.
How do you define metaphysics?
Metaphysics is by definition the branch of philosophy which endeavors to explore the nature of reality. It traces its origins to the works of Aristotle but I believe it has tremendously important practical applications as well. All human beings, I believe, possess an innate desire to make sense of their own lives and the world around them. We are all seeking metaphysical answers to the great questions of existence. Life does make philosophers of us all.
“Unfortunately traditional medicine has become a victim of its own success. As medical science proved its effectiveness in treating the human body, the mental and spiritual aspects of healing fell by the wayside. It is time to re-incorporate them into the picture in order to truly achieve healing.” — Steven E. Hodes, MD
How does metaphysics relate to traditional medicine and science? Are they very different from one another or complementary?
Some would argue that metaphysics is distinctly separate from medicine and science. I strongly disagree. To me, science and medicine are tools which can shed light on the nature of reality. I would also include art in this mix as well. It is essential to understand that our very nature includes body/mind and spirit. How else can we approach ‘healing’—which means ‘to make whole’?
How can you tell if a patient’s ailments are caused by metaphysical issues (such as stress, emotional turbulence, spiritual imbalances)?
I have come to believe that all physical ailments contain some degree of emotional and spiritual elements. The challenge is to evaluate this balance correctly. Clearly, a case of acute appendicitis requires surgical correction immediately. Whether or not there were emotional/spiritual issues which enabled the process to develop can be discussed at a later date. Other ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic headaches and non-cardiac chest pain have more obvious mind/spirit components.
How does an ailment turn from a non-serious health issue to a disease that must be treated?
In my practice, I see time and again how patients manifest physical ailments because of their emotional unhappiness and spiritual imbalances. Stress and anxiety manifest in our bodies as physical pain or illness and can cause of host of symptoms that, while real, originate from dis-ease in our lives. I try to help them deal with stress in a positive, powerful, life-affirming way. Again, it brings up the issue of what role the body/mind/spirit plays in any particular illness. Failure to address any or all of these elements will impair the healing process.
Do you believe that we can “pray [or meditate] away” discomforts and disease?
I do believe that prayer and meditation are important components in the healing process. I am concerned, however, when all elements of the individual are not evaluated. There may be times when the mind and spiritual elements are ignored to the detriment of the individual. There may also be times when prayer is substituted for sound medical therapy—this is misguided as well.
you explain your distinction between “alternative medicine” and a “holistic” approach?
I regard myself as an ‘open-minded skeptic’ when it comes to much of the ‘alternative world’. But I apply the same criteria to traditional medical approaches as well. I have found that so-called mainstream medical articles may reach a conclusion which differs considerably from my own clinical experience. I trust what my observations have taught me. I know full well that science is constantly evolving and correcting itself so we need to be careful before abruptly changing our ideas about healing. The alternative world can offer interesting and beneficial therapies. They need to be evaluated for safety and efficacy on a case-by case basis. Science needs to be open to the benefit of therapies which fall outside their scope of understanding. Acupuncture is a perfect example. It has been clearly demonstrated to work, but medical science can’t explain why. My approach is ‘holisitic’ because I try to address all issues and aspects of body/mind and spirit.
You have almost 30 years experience as a traditional doctor – what led you to incorporate metaphysics in your medical practice?
What precipitated the transformation [a process which remains ongoing] was my introduction to an aspect of reality which I had previously denied—the spiritual. Through my interaction with ordinary, sane and reasonable individuals who had had extraordinary experiences, I came to the awareness that there is a spiritual dimension to reality which could not be denied. The mind/body aspects of disease become even more obvious to me as well. I could not help but incorporate this understanding into an appreciation of the metaphysical approach to life and healing.
How does traditional medicine generally view metaphysics and spirituality?
Unfortunately traditional medicine has become a victim of its own success. It is a fascinating story which parallels the development of science in the Western world since the time of Newton, Galileo and Descartes. As medical science proved its effectiveness in treating the human body, the mental and spiritual aspects of healing fell by the wayside. It is time to re-incorporate them into the picture in order to truly achieve healing.
Why do you so strongly believe in each person’s ability to heal themselves?
There is clear evidence that our bodies possess incredible abilities of self-healing. There is also clear evidence that the mind and body are interconnected. Our emotional states can improve or impair our physical healing. The field of psychoneuroimmunology has discovered scientific evidence for the mind/body connection. Our brains possess receptor sites on their cells which demonstrates that anxiety and depression can be improved through our body’s own chemical peptides. Relaxation techniques, meditation and prayer can facilitate healing. But we don’t have to choose meditation over medication. Why not use both and heal faster and more effectively?
Why do you think Spiritual growth is such a challenging process?
It seems as if all growth and transformation require obstacles to overcome. We would never have learned anything in school if we were not continually presented with challenging material. When we become aware that our true nature is that of a spiritual being having a human experience, we will accept life’s challenges with courage and determination. Without this understanding it is too easy to become discouraged, depressed and trapped. Fear is our constant companion and represents our greatest challenge. Once we recognize that we are all capable of rising about life’s difficulties, we find the strength to do so. Unfortunately, the expression ‘no pain, no gain’ applies to the spiritual journey as well.
You are adamant about helping people focus on living, rather than spending all their time fearing and avoiding death. Can you explain your reasoning?
I have come to appreciate the purpose of living—namely to experience life fully, with all its sadness and joys. I see life as a gift to us, an opportunity to use our free will to make choices which will help ourselves and others. There is a Kabbalistic notion of tikkun which is a wonderful metaphor for understanding life. Life is imperfect, filled with pain and joy. We are challenged to choose to ‘raise holy sparks’—to do good, to express our love, to help others. This is essentially metaphysical healing—to make ourselves and the world whole.
Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway is co-host of Interfaith Living.
Find out more about Dr. Steve at www.meta-md.com.