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 Interviews with People Who Make a Difference: The White House Commission On Complementary And Alternative Medicine Policy 
Interview with James Gordon
   as interviewed by Daniel Redwood DC

REDWOOD: You were the first Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Office of Alternative Medicine. Looking back ten years or so to the time before OAM existed, did you have any idea that by the year 2000 things would have progressed to the point they have?

GORDON: Let me think.

REDWOOD: I'm asking because it's been my sense that virtually no one?nd you may be an exception?eally saw in advance the leaps and bounds that would occur in the 1990s.

GORDON: I know that this approach makes sense and I know that there are a number of techniques that are helpful. It always seemed so obvious, and therefore it seemed to me that other people would come around to it as well. On one level, I couldn? imagine why it wouldn't happen. People?rdinary, non-physician type people?re often much more sensible than all of the medical establishment. If something makes sense to them and it works, then eventually it's going to happen, no matter what interests are arrayed against it.

I guess I'm optimistic by nature. I just kept seeing the increase in interest at every step along the way. Thirty years ago, when I was at NIMH and beginning to talk about this, there were certainly a lot of people who thought I was probably a nice fellow, working with runaway and homeless kids and all, but rather strange. They wondered, what were these alternative therapies all about? I said, "Well, I've come to it out of my experience of the limitations of other therapies." At this point, I think what's happened is that we've had such a long run, so much research, so many hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on conventional pharmacotherapy and surgery, that we've all seen its limitations. Just as I felt these limitations on my own body and in my own life, other people have as well, including lots of physicians. In a sense, it feels like this is just a redressing of an imbalance and an enlarging of our perspective.

I understood why people resisted these approaches because I had some of that resistance myself when I first heard about them. When I first heard about Chinese medicine in the 1960s, I thought, "What is this stuff? This is weird, this is different. Could this possibly work, energy circulating in the body?" It sounded like a nice idea. But once I began to experience it and look at it more deeply, it just became clear. I figure that people with open minds and people in need are going to discover the same kinds of things that I?e been discovering.

So on one level I could say I'm surprised. Did I know when OAM started with $2 million that it would grow to $100 million? No, I can't say I specifically expected that. But did I think in some deep way that this approach was going to make a major difference in health care in this country? I think so. Again, it? a combination of a sense that "of course it's going to happen," and yet at the same time incredible surprise at seeing Andy Weil and Dean Ornish on the cover of news magazines, and seeing this interest in all these medical schools, and all these orthodox physicians who are coming around. It's a combination of pleasure and surprise, and at the same time, "Yeah, of course, why not? It should be happening!"

REDWOOD: If there were a single key message you'd like to impart to all healing arts professionals and students, what would it be?

GORDON: I'd say that the most crucial thing for physicians and students in all the health care professions is not their specific technique?hether it? allopathic medicine, or chiropractic, or acupuncture?ut rather a worldview that has to emphasize first of all that being a physician is a privilege. That being a healer and a helper is a privilege, and that we're there to serve other people. This is not just about having a trade, or a profession, or a way of making money. The primary work that we do?his is the message of all medical traditions, but unfortunately it's often been lost?s to serve other people.

One of the fascinating things at this year's cancer conference was the clear message from patients that our role is not to promote our particular brand of healing, our particular technique. We had a wonderful panel of patients, ranging in age from 8 to 60. They said that one of the most crucial things to them in an oncologist, or any other physician, was that that person not only be willing to talk about what he or she was doing but also willing to help them consider all forms of healing. So it seems to me crucial that anybody who's in the health care professions be open to helping people find what's best for them, whether or not it's something that they themselves offer, and whether or not it's something that they?e paid for.

The other thing is that people have a far greater capacity to help themselves than most of us ordinarily realize. The only way we as physicians are going to realize that other people can help themselves is by helping ourselves, by doing what we can to take care of ourselves, to become more self-aware, to learn more, and to deepen ourselves as human beings. If we can do that, then we can help other people do the same. For me, what's crucial, whether it's in our training programs for professionals, or in programs in medical schools, or with the commission, is really to come back to helping people help themselves, helping people to help one another, and making self-knowledge and self-care integral to all health education and all treatment of all people for all conditions.

Our work is not ultimately about relieving symptoms. That's part of our work. Our work is about helping human beings to live fulfilled lives. That's what the ultimate healing is about, and all our techniques are ultimately in the service of that. I think that's a really important message to get across, and especially to get across to physicians.

Every year we have our training program at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, which we now limit to 120 people. And every year, we have about six people, usually MDs, who come and say, "I didn't know I was going to have to work on myself. I didn't know I was going to have to use this guided imagery and meditation and knowledge about these therapies to help myself. I thought I was just going to learn to use this on my patients." No matter how many times we say in our brochure that healing others begins with self-healing, some people don't see it.

The wonderful thing, of course, is that after they?e been in the training program for a few days, they get it. They say, "I'm glad I didn't see it. I wouldn't have come if I'd seen it. But now that I'm here, I realize how much help I need, and how important it is for me to learn how to take care of myself so I can then take care of other people."

REDWOOD: So it all leads back to the point of realizing that we?e all in it together.

GORDON: That's right.

Daniel Redwood practices chiropractic and acupuncture in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal: How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health and Contemporary Chiropractic. A collection of his writing is available at He can be reached by e-mail at

© 2000 by Daniel Redwood lson M. Haasti¡ Weaver

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 About The Author
Daniel Redwood, DC, is a Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City. He is editor-in-chief of Health Insights Today ( and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the......moreDaniel Redwood DC
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