Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ways of Healing

Psychologies - East and West (1974)

Holistic Medicine:
Ways of Healing 

Within the field of medicine a new form is emerging-holistic medicine-focused more on the prevention of disease and the promotion of health of the whole person. This development results in part from the synthesis of ancient and traditional systems of healing such as Chinese medicine, American Indian medicine, and yogic therapy with the scientific methodology of contemporary Western medicine.

 For instance, the age-old claim of yogis that the functioning of the internal organs could be brought under voluntary control is being supported in by research in many laboratories, and biofeedback systems are being developed to facilitate the learning of this internal self-regulation. Such research is part of a larger attempt to focus more attention on the health and educative aspects of medical care and to develop techniques that will enable individuals to take a more active role in their own health care. Also, the study of the social and psychotherapeutic benefits of traditional healing ceremonies is serving to underline the importance of psychological factors in maintaining health and facilitating healing processes.

Psychological Factors in Healing

Since the person is a psychobiological unit, psychic states can profoundly affect bodily healing. The role of mental states in healing and the essential features common to healing relationships will be illustrated by examples drawn from healing in non-industrialized societies, miracle cures, psychic healing, and the clinical and experimental studies on the placebo effect and the relation of mood to speed of recovery and recuperative capacity.

American Indian Medicine and Medicine Men

Medicine men are still active among the people of several American Indian tribes, and notwithstanding the introduction of modern medicine, the demand for their services is not diminishing. For the most part, their methods are complex, subtle and effective, involving a powerful symbolic drama in which the patient acts out a successful and harmonious adaptation to conflicting internal and external forces. Conventional Western medicine can learn much from these medicine men-about ways of being with patients that have either been forgotten or never developed, and about Indian ways of training healers that can enrich our own methods of healing.

Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture: Theory, Practice, and Research 

There had been a recent surge of public and professional interest in the ancient practices and theory of classical Chinese medicine as well as in the current scientific research, theories, and applications of acupuncture developing in China, Korea, Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In addition to exploring the utilization of acupuncture in the relief of pain and the treatment of disease, the preventive and predisease use of acupuncture will be considered. 

Biofeedback and the Voluntary Control of Internal States

Western science has only recently begun to explore the possibilities for training the voluntary control of internal physiological and mental states. Scientific studies of ancient yogic techniques as well as the development of biofeedback technology that provides objective readings of bodily activities represent a major breakthrough in the area of psychosomatic research and mind-body self-regulation.

Traditional Healing Practices

The exclusive reliance on linear, rational, and analytic methods has also made translating the concepts and technical terms of traditional medicine more difficult. As Abraham Maslow once observed, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail." 

As an example, there is a Chinese medical term, hsin, which is often translated in Western texts as "heart." This translation carries with it a structural and anatomical connotation. When Chinese medical theories are then viewed with this materialistic bias they appear ludicrous, inaccurate and anatomically naïve. But if a term such as hsin is more appropriately thought of in functional rather than structural terms-as a sphere of energetic relations and processes, more akin to the entire process of circulation-we come closer to an appreciation of the inner logic of Chinese medical theory. Seen in this light, such traditional medical theories offer us the opportunity to explore valuable complementary approaches to healing based upon different but nonetheless valid principles.

When healing ceremonies from primitive cultures are examined from a psychological point of view several effective therapeutic elements become apparent. First, the ceremonies are complex, carefully constructed dramatizations of successful conflict resolutions in which the patient actively participates in his own healing. However, the significance, power, and meaning of the symbols used in the ceremony depend upon an understanding of the worldview that underlies and is reinforced by the community. 

To the Navajo patient, for instance, the shrub-covered earth is Changing Woman, one of the most benevolent gods who grows old and young again with the cycle of the seasons. The dawning sun is itself a god who with Changing Woman produced a warrior that rid the earth of most of its evil forces. With such cultural background the patient is able to identify with powerful symbolic forces-forces derived from a close relationship with the natural environment-and thereby obtain meaningful perspective on his illness. The emphasis here is on emotional catharsis rather than on intellectual insight, and the healing efficacy is in no small way related to the positive, hopeful state of mind that is invoked and the new patterns of behavior that are reinforced. To see a shaman extract a stick by sleight of hand from the abdomen of a patient, and to view this solely as trickery and charlatanry, is to miss the essential symbolic meaning of this ritual act from which the healing power derives.

Second, primitive medicine relies upon a social concept of disease in which the symptoms of an individual are viewed as a sign of social imbalance. Therefore therapeutic measures are very often applied not only to the patient but to the entire social group. In a Navajo ceremonial all the participants take active roles in the purifications, the blessings, the chants. The sick individual is not isolated but rather is involved in a ritually constructed social support system. In this sense the ceremonial is a holistic form of treatment, aimed not only at the relief of symptoms but at social reintegration and the restoration of harmonious relations with the social and natural environment.

Third, the healing ceremony itself functions as an integrated whole. It is an intense, time-limited process (usually one, three, seven or nine days long) in which many techniques are brought to bear in one context. There is a dramatic change of routine for the patient in which maladaptive behavioral patterns are interrupted. The patient becomes the focus of positive attention, is regarded as important, and is given duties and responsibilities with regard to the conduct of the ceremony. The powerful suggestive elements of the ceremonial are further intensified by the heightened expectancy of the patient for a cure, the emotionally charged atmosphere, and the group pressures, as well as the certainty and self-confidence displayed by the healer. All these factors work together to mobilize the patient's sense of self-worth and self-mastery and to strengthen his inherent recuperative capacities.

In examining the efficacy of traditional healing practices, however, an analysis of psychological and sociocultural factors alone may not be sufficient. Such factors may in fact mask and cause us to overlook other, more subtle features concurrently at work. In many healing practices, most notably in healing by the laying on of hands, it is believed that some sort of energy is passed from healer to patient. Until recently such claims have been generally ignored by conventional medical practitioners and researchers. 

There is, however, some preliminary experimental evidence derived from controlled, double-blind studies suggesting that a healer may indeed influence, through some unexplored means, the healing and growth characteristics of laboratory animals and plants. Clearly more extensive scientific investigation of this phenomenon is indicated.

All of this is not to suggest that we follow a course of wholesale adoption of traditional healing practices, with ceremonial huts replacing hospitals and fetishes superseding medical instruments. It should be remembered that much of traditional healing is culture-bound and depends upon an appropriate cultural setting and worldview for its efficacy. 

What is being suggested is that we investigate traditional systems of medicine with an open mind, with an eye to discerning the essential elements of healing relationships and practices in general, and that we then adapt these elements in a manner appropriate to our culture. Such study can serve to complement and extend our present understanding of medicine as a scientific and humanistic endeavor.

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