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 Integrative Medicine: Whole Healing  

As with the homeostatic and treatment systems, the defining focus of the Mind/Body Healing System, self-awareness and psychological development, accounts for its contributions as well as its limitations. This system approaches but fails to fully consider the spiritual aspects of human experience that transcend and extend the boundaries of personal development. To convey a holistic and intuitive understanding of the living experience that in itself is healing, the Spiritual Healing System comes into play.

The Spiritual Healing System
Although the spiritual experience is singular in nature, there are many paths to it and different names for it. It can arise quite suddenly, through the experience of prayer, devotion, love, compassion, meditation, music, dance, art, and nature. It may last a few precious brief moments, or, at times, for longer periods. It can also evolve slowly over a lifetime of study, practice, growth, and development. In the latter instance, it is as if small islands of understanding expand and coalesce over many years to provide a more comprehensive awareness and understanding of the whole of life.

The spiritual perspective is a way of understanding life that provides meaning to our day-to-day experiences and the larger issues of living and dying. Spirituality sees wholes rather than parts, and patterns rather than details. When we are guided by this perspective, life seems to make sense, everything is in its place, and we feel balanced and connected. This deeper sense of self and nature is satisfying to the soul and spirit. It can have profound effects on personal attitudes, values, relationships, and unresolved conflicts, and as a consequence it can influence biochemistry and physiology. I call these effects on the mind and body spiritual healing.

Spiritual Healing


The Spiritual Healing System is activated when we experience a sense of wholeness. This experience, through its profound effect on our attitudes and perspectives, is healing to the mind and body. It can be activated spontaneously for brief moments, or developed through a progressive expansion of consciousness.

Unlike the preceding healing systems, spiritual healing results from a way of being rather than doing. While mind/body healing results in an increasing sense of peace and understanding, spiritual healing conveys wisdom and a persistent sense of oneness with life. In its emphasis on wholeness, spiritual healing relies on intuitive knowledge, an often unused aspect of our consciousness. It operates by conveying to us a unifying and integrated vision of life, and a sense of meaning, purpose, and coherence. The spiritual experience cannot be well characterized through the limitations of descriptive prose. It is best communicated through symbols, art, poetry, sacred spaces, religion, and myth.

As we consider the Spiritual Healing System it is necessary to point out that healing can be, and has been, approached from two directions. Throughout much of Western history, people relied on faith and spirit as the predominant focus of healing. Individual development, what we have termed mind/body healing, was inconsequential, if not heretical. Through the exclusive and disciplined practice of faith, often in the form of organized religion, day-to-day life was maintained in a state of peace and balance. This is not to suggest that faith in itself resolved and healed all disease, but rather that it provided a continuity and transcendent meaning to life that allowed for an inner peace and balance, mental and physical. But ours is not such a time, and the vast majority of us will find it necessary to discover the transcendent through the exploration and progressive understanding of our day-to-day lives, our relationships, conflicts, and life transitions. For us the path to Whole Healing is not downward from, what would seem to us, an uninformed faith, but rather through the process of individuation and personal transformation, a process that is uniquely Western and modern in character. There is no "better" or "worse" here, merely our historical circumstance, one from which we cannot escape.

Using the Health Continuum
As we explore the four healing systems as a single, fully integrated model, we can discern qualities that are related not to the individual healing systems but to the healing system as an indivisible whole. The result is somewhat like the relationship of individual notes to the melody found in a musical composition. The notes are the elements of the music, yet the music is much more than just notes. The rhythm, the arrangement of the notes, and the spaces between them give the work as a whole a certain context, movement, significance, and meaning. We find in the musical composition a dynamism and vitality that is not a property of the notes by themselves, but only emerges through their organized interaction.

And so it is with the Whole Healing System. Each of the individual systems taken alone is static, stationary, and devoid of the dynamism of life. But if we take them together we find a fully integrated, moving, flexible, adaptive, and organic process. It is all one carefully orchestrated process that comes alive only as we consider the whole.

It has been often said that there are no colleges that teach us about healing, or for that matter, about life. We are left either to rely on others or to do the best we can through selfstudy and trial and error. But the new model of Whole Healing that we've been exploring can serve as a guide to the development of our healing powers. Movement from one system to the next is marked by an initiation. We are initiated into homeostasis through our birth, into treatment through our family and culture, and into mind/body and spiritual healing through the major breakdowns and setbacks of our lives, of which disease is certainly one. Instead of traveling the road without a map, we now have one. The Whole Healing model is a guide to the development of our healing capacities, our consciousness, and our evolving sense of what it means to be healthy.

Whole Healing

Checks and Balances
Feedback Loops
Alternative Therapies
Steady State
Restore Funtion

The Whole Healing model, when looked at in its entirety, is a guide to the progressive development of consciousness, the expansion of personal resources and capacities, the unfolding of a larger vision of health, the attainment of wholeness, and, of course, Whole Healing.

In my own life and in my work with clients I frequently refer to this model and ask the questions, Where am I (or where is my client) on the developmental continuum? What is called for at this stage of life? What aspect(s) of healing are essential at this time? Consider the following example.

Richard, a forty-five-year-old lawyer, comes to my office with the symptoms of atherosclerotic heart disease. His age and the intensity and severity of this particular illness indicate the need to consider, at a minimum, the Treatment and Mind/Body Healing Systems. Further inquiry, which may continue over weeks, will clarify whether Richard is willing to and capable of viewing his disease within the framework of a spiritual perspective, a perspective that is both appropriate and essential for his age. Stated another way, is he ready to "use" his disease as a challenge to transform his life, to take some risks and explore new possibilities? First, I would discuss with him and then initiate appropriate steps toward treatment, diagnosis, and therapy. Next we would examine the context of his illness, the web of circumstances, attitudes, and lifestyles that has brought him to this point in his life. Finally, if it is acceptable to him, we would begin a dialogue together in which we would seek a larger understanding of the meaning, purpose, significance, and implications of this disease for his life.

In this case a Whole Healing plan includes a mixture of approaches: the use of appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic interventions (the treatment system), the introduction of attitudinal and lifestyle changes in the areas of stress management, nutrition, exercise, conflict resolution, and insight-based psychological counseling (the mind/body system), and an ongoing consideration of the impact of this illness on previously held values, beliefs, and priorities (the spiritual system). The goal is to use this disease as a doorway into a more considered and expanded life-one that serves to remedy the problem at hand, to reverse the personal factors that have contributed to the developmental of the illness,, and to enhance the overall quality of life.

Consider again the case of Ann, whom we saw earlier in this chapter. How would I have worked with her if I had met her at the time of diagnosis? To begin with, I would have strongly recommended that she immediately proceed with the surgical treatment of the tumor, a use of the treatment system that would likely have cured the cancer. Then I would have quickly introduced her to a variety of mind/body practices, such as meditation and imagery, that could have helped her in preparing for surgery and assisted her during the recovery period. Once the immediate issues were handled, I would have spent time discussing with her how, by examining her attitudes and lifestyle- issues of food, exercise, and stress-she could possibly influence the risk of a second cancer (individuals with cancer are at an increased risk of a second cancer). Finally, we would begin the most important part of our conversation, exploring the significance of this life-threatening disease, what it can teach her about her life, her directions, and her priorities. Together we would seek to find a meaning to this phase of her life, a meaning to help transform the next part of her life, a path to renewal and wholeness. The Whole Healing of a disease of this severity requires the use of the entire healing system. The result is not only the elimination of the illness, but the promotion of health and the revitalization and redirection of life.

As we begin to understand the implications of Whole Healing we will naturally loosen our exclusive reliance on practitioners. It will become quite evident that the capacity to develop fully the Whole Healing System and design and orchestrate the healing process is in the end a personal endeavor. Practitioners can serve as important resources, but never as surrogate healers substituting for our own lack of initiative or commitment. The sense of the whole will be contained and situated, as it should be, within ourselves. The health continuum is liberating. It suggests that no one healer can or should master the entire healing process. It liberates the healer and researcher to study, practice, and fully develop a particular field of interest while maintaining a vision of the whole at all times. It further liberates each of us from the notion that we cannot understand or take charge of our healing. We no longer need to be victimized by the stigma of professional expertise, but can feel free to consult with practitioners while maintaining the responsibility and expertise for organizing the whole.

(Excerpted from Whole Healing: A Step-by-Step Program to Reclaim Your Power to Heal ISBN: 052594155x)
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 About The Author
Elliott Dacher MDElliott S. Dacher is a pioneer in the emerging medicine of the future. His knowledge and practical approaches to the field of health and healing have evolved from his extensive experience as a practicing internist......more
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