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."