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SUNDAY READING

Treating the Patient Behind the Disease : The Science of Healing as an Art

October 18, 1987|DAWSON CHURCH

THE PROLIFERATION of approaches to healing and medicine today--with its smorgasbord of treatments, from the exotic and unproved to longstanding and well-understood procedures--presents the patient with a bewildering array of choices. More crucial than the method of treatment that is adopted are the inner workings of doctor and patient. Factors such as attitude, belief and faith are unquantifiable and perhaps unmeasurable; yet they have an enormous relevance to the healing process. They can reinforce the efficacy of a particular treatment or doom it.

In our Western obsession with "objectivity," with its emphasis on repeatable experimentation, a study of healing is thought to be tainted if any of those factors creep in. Yet as the evidence so eloquently shows, behind the therapy is the therapist and behind the disease is the patient. Looking at the disease and the therapy--rather than the healer and the healed--robs us of our very humanity. It renders medicine an impassive, inerrant, uncontrollable monument, on a plane removed from the uncertainties and unpredictability of everyday human life.

But what of science--the science of healing? It has a vital place, but that place is in the context of healing as an art. The painter wields brush and paints to give voice to the creative urges within. Yet the brush is the end-product of a long technological and manufacturing process. So are the paints. What the artist creates with them, however, far transcends their value as technology and chemical formulas. It is the living expression of a set of inner values.

So, also, in healing. The great healer must master his or her technique, as must the great painter. But the true healer wields techniques as a master--a master of the art of healing--never becoming so lost in the mechanism of science that he forgets the essence of healing as an art.

M.D.s, chiropractors, psychologists, mystics and priests have chosen to express their art through several different techniques. While there is a diversity to their views, there is a remarkable underlying unity that springs from what each of them has to say. Some great common themes emerge. Perhaps the most striking of those is the often reported experience of entering a state in which there is no differentiation between the healer and the one being healed--only of oneness. That is the inner state from which healing proceeds, an "inner ground of healing" characterized by stillness, peace and a sense of the infinite wellness of all things.

Seeking the core of what "makes" a healer leads the inquirer beyond any favored therapeutic approach. It involves a fearless personal evaluation of one's inner state, to what it means to be "standing in the place of healing." From that stance, everything one touches is imbued with life; everyone one treats stands within the compass of one's own atmosphere.

In the strictly scientific approach to medicine that came into its own in the 19th Century, pioneered by such visionary surgeons as Ignaz Semmelweiss and James Lister, the fathers of antiseptic sterilization, the sphere of the responsible healer unintentionally became more and more confined to the definition and treatment of ill conditions of the human body.

With Sigmund Freud, and the development of psychoanalysis and its progeny, even the elusive mind became subject to systematic analysis, definition and prescriptive treatment. By the middle of the 20th Century, the medical profession was convinced that every something called a "disease" had something called a "cure," and that the irrevocable march of research would eventually place in the healer's hand the tools to eradicate virtually every human ailment.

That myth was seriously dented by the intractability of diseases such as cancer, in which the nature of the human being as a circular continuum of body, mind and heart, or rather the ancient Greek idea of "body, soul and spirit," is evident. Diseases of the body are not confined to the body. They may be caused by the mind or heart, and have real and observable effects upon the soul and spirit. Indeed, the division of the human being into component parts is for the convenience of discussion only: Real human beings are indivisible. Wellness or illness in one part of the system affects the whole. Illness cannot be successfully treated in one part of the organism only.

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