Healing has been described as the “process” of becoming whole again. It is a personal experience of transcending suffering – an experience that is independent of illness, impairment, cure of disease or even death. Such a process can be immensely helped by bio-energy based, non-local, and supernatural pathways((Levin, Jeff & Mead, Laura: Bioenergy Healing: A Theoretical Model and Case Series, Explore, May/June 2008, Vol. 4, No. 3 201 doi:10.1016/j.explore.2008.02.005)). The marriage of science and medicine has empowered doctors and physicians to affect cures, to prevent illness, and to eradicate disease. But our doctors are trained as bio-medical scientists, so they naturally focus on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. In the pursuit of delivering cure, the concept of healing has been overlooked.
What is medical science’s take on healing?
Interestingly, modern medicine has no accepted definition of healing, hence it only concerns itself with the mechanics of the physiological processes related to curing((Egnew, Thomas R: The Meaning Of Healing: Transcending Suffering, Annals of Family Medicine,www.annfammed.org, vol.3, no.3, May/June 2005)). However, a number of renowned doctors and scientists like Candace Pert, Deepak Chopra, Bernie Siegel, Bruce Lipton, Judith Orloff, Christiane Northrup, Herbert Benson, and others, are advocating, and endorsing the incorporation of Meditation, Yoga, Visualization and Guided Imagery in their professional practice to help people heal.
In recent times physicians like Michael Kearney and Balfour Mount((Mount B, Kearney M. Healing and palliative care: charting our way forward. Palliat Med 2003;17: 657–8))are asking the medical community to “re-incorporate healing into the medical mandate”. Before we go further, let us try to understand what sets healing and curing apart?
Healing and Curing: don’t take them apart
When a person is in the “curing mode”, the goal is survival. Not just physical survival – but the survival of everything a person identifies with – and it includes physical appearance, lifestyle, relationships and all that makes up his/her life. In other words, the goal of curing is to avoid change.
On the other hand, healing comes from the acceptance of change. With this acceptance comes a new sense of oneself as a person (perhaps with disease), with a new experience of integrity and wholeness that is different than the old status quo.
In curing, the person depends on the expertise of the practitioner to control disease; in healing, the patient begins to realize that it is his or her own resources that will finally lead to growth and that he or she is responsible for managing those resources.
In the curing mode the basis of knowledge is scientific and is driven by evidence-based practice. In the healing mode this approach is not helpful. At the heart of healing is the relationship of one person to another. Art rather than science is required to keep curing and healing together.
In the curing mode, the physician, (through his knowledge and expertise concerning disease), clearly has more power. That is why the patient consulted him in the first place. In the healing mode the power shifts toward the patient. It is within the patient that healing will occur and it is the patient who will make the healing journey. The physician’s role is that of accompaniment.
The Wounded Healer
To do this effectively the physician needs to be able to put part of himself in the patient’s shoes and thus adopt the “wounded healer” role. In their desire to be detached and unbiased, the doctors often loses touch with the patient. Carl Jung learned that it was through his own suffering that he learnt more, than through the study of books or application of intellect. He saw the therapeutic process as mutual and dialectic with both participants equally involved and affected, or as he put it – both are “in treatment.” Jung insisted “You (the therapist/caregiver) can exert no influence if you are not susceptible to influence”((Jung, Carl: Collected Works, Vol. 16, page 71, Pantheon Books, 1977)).
The dynamics of the interaction would be different with every physician-patient pair, a complete contrast to the standardized requirements of science.
The founder of Homeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was a great healer who brought about many “miraculous” cures, and the secret of his success lay in his practice of combining the art of healing with the mechanics of curing. Homeopathic practice is based on accepting that every practitioner-patient dialog is unique. Apart from objective signs and diagnostic tests, it is also the subjective symptoms of the patient that describe the disease in its totality with the central focus on the person and not on the model description of a disease.
In order that clinical medicine does not remain just a search for disease, the practice and teaching of medicine must emphasize the fundamental premise that healing is the doctor’s primary obligation. Hence medical curriculum must include explicit training in a specific clinical method, whose cardinal features include observation, attentive listening and clinical reasoning((Boudreau JD, Cassell EJ, Fuks A:Medical Education 2007 Dec;41(12):1193-201. Epub 2007 Nov 2.)). This has been at the core of Hahnemannian philosophy.