Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Body Mind and Spirit


Brian Broom is a medical specialist in allergies and a consulting psychologist. His book Meaning-full Disease describes a phenomenon he has seen countless times in his professional life: that people's diseases often seem to follow a pattern and history that mirrors what is happening in their lives. Illness often seems to be a bodily metaphor for the underlying issues the person is dealing with. The book is filled with intriguing examples, such as a woman "putting a brave face" on her husband's depression (her words) developing a chronic rash on her face.

The model of disease underlying Western medicine has no time for this approach. Broom describes the Western medical paradigm as "the body is a biological machine. Body and mind are separate entities...and it is appropriate to deliver healthcare by focusing solely on the body. 'Real' disease will be adequately and completely explained by physical mechanisms; thus, mind, soul or spirit aspects are peripheral or even irrelevant. Disease occurs in the individual's 'machine-body'; thus, disease is more or less an individual's bad luck and/or responsibility." Broom's questioning of this view and his positing of a broader, more holistic model seems to me to be supremely encouraging and hopeful. His model is quite in keeping with the discoveries of Ian Gawler whose cancer treatment, while not dismissing whatever techniques Western medicine might have available, involves a complete revision of lifestyle and the harnessing of the curative powers of diet and meditation.

Talking this afternoon with some colleagues about Christian healing, it strikes me that Christian healing, even at its most "spiritual" operates from the Western medical paradigm. Illness is something that happens in the body for fairly unpredictable reasons. The healer prays and evokes the power of the Holy Spirit to reach in, from the outside somewhere, and effect change in the physical machine of the body. Once the prayer is said and thanks are returned the person is deemed healed- hallelujah!- particularly if there is a temporary diminution of symptoms Seldom if ever are the lifestyle, spiritual, emotional, historical, genetic, familial or other factors that may have given rise to the disease considered, and certainly the long and difficult task of helping the sick individual make changes in these things is never attempted. I suppose it is the Western separation of body mind and spirit which lies behind this attitude. I think this inability to see people as multi-dimensional wholes keeps us repeating the patterns of illness in out lives and stops us getting well.

An early forerunner of Brian Broom's, Georg Groddeck said, "In the first place - I claim the validity of this sentence for all illnesses, every form of illness and at any age - the meaning of an illness is the warning "do not continue living as you intend to do." We are, according to Groddeck, symbol making beings whose existence is simultaneously expressed in the physical world via our bodies and in the world of thought and meaning via our minds. To Groddeck, and to those who came after him, such as Luis Chiozza, Body and Mind are not so much separate entities as different representations of the same underlying core reality. I will get well by knowing who I am and making the adjustments necessary for the health of my whole being. In contrast the approach of mechanistic medicine seems like the workshop advice "Don't force it. Use a bigger hammer."

9 comments:

Katherine said...

Yes. There is no doubt we are whole, complex beings. That's part of the problem, many doctors have only time to treat bits of us...
Enjoy that thing we all should call fleeting ...

VenDr said...

I saw the doctor today. A new one. He was very human and treated me as though I was one too.He recommends popping me into the microwave for a bit and I've got to decide over the next couple of weeks whether or not to follow his advice. We'll see.

janice said...

Yes, it makes me wonder what good all that blather about 'holistic' medical treatment did. Seems no matter how much research is done, we fall back on our old ways repeatedly! However, a GP that I know slightly, a brilliant man, has written a book called 'When the Body Says No', about the body's response to stresses and life issues. His name is Gabor Mate, and you might find it an interesting read if you can find it.

Meanwhile, I'll pray that whatever you decide to do brings you healing and peace, dear Kelvin.

Janice said...

And by the way, your photography just gets better and better - that is a glorious shot heading up this entry! Certainly as good as or better than any professional work I've seen!

VenDr said...

Thank you Janice. The photo is a year or two old now. Next door to us is a secondary school with a lot of lovely trees in its grounds. I looked out my bedroom window one morning and the rising sun was shining through the fog just calling me to rush out and grab some pictures just as fast as I could get my trousers on.

Katherine said...

Ah! Now I see! Think how much BETTER the shot might have been if you hadn't stopped to put your trousers on!

VenDr said...

True. Perhaps I should have carpe-d even more deim. But it's a girls' school. A middle aged guy running around the grounds early in the morning with a camera and no pants on? I might have lasted 5 minutes before I was wearing handcuffs and explaining myself to the duty sergeant.

Tillerman said...

"Mr Wright, you have told the court about the sun in the sky, the tree obscuring the sky, the fog in the sky and your camera pointing at the sky. Where pray, in this "orchestrated litany of skies" is the reason for you to be trouserless, with a camera outside a girl’s high school?"

"Your honour, I was only trying to use my common sense and seize the day."

"Mr Wright, common sense tells us that the world is flat. One also has to use ones intelligence."

"You can't use that line about common sense! that's my line, I said that to Tillerman once on his blogspot!"

"Ah, Tillerman; .... well that throws a whole new light on things. You realise of course that that man has a brain the size of a small ball bearing, an ego the size of Texas and actually believes the world is flat? ....He hasn't been encouraging you along the lines of motorcycles has he? ... yes I see he has... have you read the Wind In The Willows Mr Wright? no? yes? .... Think Toad of Toad of Hall Mr Wright, Think Tillerman, Think equivalence Mr Wright ... Think Toad in the road going "Poop, Poop" Mr Wright .... with friends like that.....

discharged without conviction, stand him down Mr Foreman."

Kathryn said...

Wonderful scenario, both of you!! And just adding more proof that we all are very complex beings. (Some more so than others).

Wishing you well, as always, Kelvin. And still praying for your good health - body and/or mind! :-)