Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., is the founder of the Shealy
Institute, the original holistic clinic for the management of pain and stress
illnesses, and the Holos Institutes of Health, a nonprofit foundation dedicated
to holistic clinical services and research.
Dr. Shealy was also the founding president of the American Holistic Medical
Association, which has become the nationwide organization for physicians
whose approach to healing cannot be contained within the standardized constraints
of the AMA.
Trained as a neurosurgeon, he pioneered the technique called dorsal column
stimulation, which was radical when he introduced it, but was soon embraced
by mainstream medicine. But before long, Shealy moved on to other pursuits,
searching for methods of controlling pain without invading or destroying
the nervous system. His programs now include biofeedback, nutritional training,
exercise, massage and other holistic methods.
Dr. Shealy has strong opinions on the politics of medicine and insurance,
which he discusses in this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood. His book Third
Party Rapes specifically devoted to this topic. At a time when health
care costs (Dr. Shealy pointedly notes that these are really "disease
care" costs) are at the center of a national debate, Shealy offers
a unique, thought-provoking perspective. One need fully endorse all his
positions to benefit from hearing him out.
Shealy lectures on health throughout the world, and gives numerous workshops
and lectures in this country. He has written many books, including The
Pain Game, Occult Medicine Can Save Your Life, and 90 Days to Self-Health.
The Creation of Health, which he co-authored with psychic diagnostician
Carolyn Myss, is a unique and groundbreaking collaboration, in which Dr.
Shealy discusses the medical understanding of each disease while Ms. Myss
approaches it from the intuitive standpoint.
For further information, contact:
The Shealy Institute
1328 East Evergreen
Springfield, Missouri 65803
Norman Shealy Interview
DR: I'd like to start by asking how you overcame your medical training?
Norman Shealy: [Laughter]. I have so many places where I wasn't part
of the flock. In medical school I was a bit of a maverick. In my residency
I was more of a maverick. I would say, "Why are you operating on this
person? They don't have nerve root signs." I never understood why we
were operating on people who didn't have clearcut, unequivocal nerve root
troubles with disc disease. I also questioned from the very beginning destroying
any part of the nervous system for pain control. I thought it was unwise,
So when I finished my neurosurgical residency, I was on the faculty at Western
Reserve, and I started looking for some way of controlling pain without
destroying the nervous system, and without using drugs. My first thought
was to stimulate the dorsal column of the spinal cord. That was called wild.
When I presented that paper at the American College of Neurosurgeons in
1966, there was almost a physical fight on the stage. People were coming
up and grabbing the microphone and screaming. It was literally out of control.
DR: For our readers who may not understand why people would get so worked
up and start screaming about this,what was the issue?
NS: The issue was that I had done research on cats and monkeys,
in which I had measured electrophysiological changes in the spinal cord
and brainstem. I said that these were reactions to pain, and that we could
suppress them by stimulating the dorsal columns of the cord. They said I
was making an [unwarranted] assumption that it was pain we were studying.
It reminds me of the old story - when something looks like a jackass and
sounds like a jackass, you assume it's a jackass.
DR: So from the early days you never did the expected, predictable thing.
NS: That's for sure. In 1970, my wife and I had a farm and
were raising Apaloosa horses. I went out to Colorado to look at some horses,
and when the wife of the owner of the ranch opened the door, I knew her.
And she knew me. At a soul level. We started talking about parapsychology
. . .
Then in January of 1971, Janet Travell, who had been President Kennedy's
physician, gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal, just after
James Reston's trip to China [in which the famed New York Times journalist
had an operation with acupuncture anesthesia]. Now I had been doing acupuncture
since 1966. And Janet Travell basically said in the interview, "What's
all the excitement about? There's a young neurosurgeon out in Wisconsin
who's practicing a Western form of acupuncture."
As a result of the publicity from that Wall Street Journal article,
Paul Dudley White, who had been [President] Eisenhower's physician, wrote
and asked me to come and talk with him about my Western form of acupuncture,
which I did.
DR: What led you to acupuncture in the first place?
NS: It made sense. Intuition. In 1965, when I theorized that
we would be able to control pain by stimulating the dorsal column of the
spine, I started sticking needles into people where they hurt, and stimulating
them. Soon, I realized that sticking needles into people frequently got
rid of their pain. So I got into studying acupuncture out of books.
The next year, I went down some steps with a bag of concrete, leaned over
to put it in a hole, and couldn't stand up afterwards. I felt as if my sacroiliac
joint had locked, and for two weeks I walked around bent over. I went to
an orthopedist, and I told him, "My sacroiliac joint is locked. Would
you manipulate it?" He said, "That's witchcraft, I don't do that!"
So I called a chiropractor in my area, and I said, "I'm a neurosurgeon.
I don't want x-rays. I know what's wrong. Just put it right." And he
did it, in one adjustment. The chiropractor, Dr. Fred Barge, later corrected
my daughter's scoliosis, after she was told [by an orthopedist] she would
have to be in a brace.
DR: You must have been one of the few MDs in your area to consort with
chiropractors in those days.
NS: There's more. I was the leader of the medical society's
campaign to have the water fluoridated in our town. Fred Barge and the other
chiropractors in town attacked me, in the papers and all. And they started
sending me all this information. The fluoridation campaign lost. And by
the next year, when the medical society tried to get me to run it again,
I refused, because by that time I was against fluoridation.
DR: How did you develop contacts with other physicians who had interests
similar to yours? Back then, I assume they were relatively few and far between,
more so than now.
NS: Paul Dudley White asked me to take his place at a symposium
at Stanford, to talk about acupuncture. While I was there, I met Olga Worrell,
the great healer; Bill Tiller, the physicist from Stanford; Felix Mann,
the English acupuncturist and physician; and Bill McGarey [the physician
who co-founded the A.R.E. Clinic in Arizona].
Not long after that, I attended a "week of attunement" at the
A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment) in Virginia Beach. I
had my first past life therapy session. I met Joel Andrews, the harpist,
and went into a trance while he was playing music, had out of body experiences.
It was quite a week.
DR: And you were on your way.
NS: Yes. Then Genevieve Haller [a Virginia Beach chiropractor who then headed
the chiropractic section of the Edgar Cayce Foundation] referred me to Henry
Rucker. I had wanted to meet a psychic, because I was interested in [psychic]
medical diagnosis. He was very good, an excellent diagnostician. Then I
got a grant from a Fortune 500 company, which shall remain anonymous, to
study psychic diagnosis.
DR: What did you find?
NS: I investigated 75 people who were psychics. We devised
a test where they would get the patient's name, photograph and birthdate.
Then they could check [from a set of choices] what was wrong. By chance,
you would have one chance in 20 of getting the right answer. I investigated
The average psychic was 50 percent accurate, which is ten times chance.
But five or six of the people were 70-75 percent accurate, which is just
phenomenally good. Henry was about 75 percent accurate. We had both physical
diagnosis and psychological diagnosis. Then I met one person, Bob Leichtman,
a physician [and psychic], who was 80 percent accurate on physical diagnosis
and 96 percent accurate on psychological diagnosis. That, of course, also
changed my thinking rather significantly.
DR: Has your own intuition sometimes given you diagnostic information
to which you would not have had access via normal physical methods?
NS: First of all, I think that probably every time you see
a patient, it's your intuition that tells you what tests to do. It really
isn't just facts. You can choose between ten thousand different options.
DR: The science and the art.
NS: Exactly. But back in medical school when I was a sophomore,
in physical diagnosis, I saw a patient, wrote up my findings and my history,
and gave a diagnosis. The professor who was teaching the course was furious,
and accused me of cheating, because he didn't think I, as a medical student,
could have made the correct diagnosis, which I had. He wrote a long report
accusing me of cheating. Interestingly, three years later he begged me to
intern there, and apologized for his error. He said "I don't understand
what that was, but I know you're honest."
One of my more striking cases was a woman who came in, and the first question
I asked her was, "Why are you afraid of having a brain tumor?"
I had never asked that of another patient. She broke into tears, and told
me her best friend had died of a brain tumor six months earlier.
DR: What kind of cases give you the most difficulty?
NS: There are two. First of all, psychotics. I can't deal
with psychotics. Their energy is disruptive to me. I find myself feeling
attacked, and I want to run away. I see energy around them. They have what
looks like a storm taking place around them, chaotic energy, usually over
the right shoulder near the head.
DR: Have you seen people who used to have that storm around their head,
and something was done, and they no longer have it?
NS: Yes, I have seen that. I can work with a psychotic between
attacks, when they are back in their body, so to speak.
DR: But not during the storm.
NS: I don't know how to protect myself from that energy.
DR: What was the other group you have difficulty with?
NS: People who are just openly hostile. They're angry with
the world, not with me. These are people who feel victimized by someone,
and don't really want to get well, and have been often forced to see me
by an insurance company.
DR: What encourages you most about the current health care debate in
the political arena . . .
DR: ... and what disturbs you most about it?
NS: There's nothing encouraging about the current political
DR: They're all just barking up the wrong tree?
NS: I've written a book called Third Party Rape. Basically,
my thesis is this: the current problem was created by Blue Cross and Blue
Shield (BCBS) around 1920. They set out to put people into hospitals. Hospitals,
which at that time were low on census, loved it. Medical insurance was set
up to put people into the hospital.
The original policy was that for six dollars you could have twenty days
in the hospital. This was in the 1920s. In the 1960s, I did a survey of
the physicians at a hospital which I consider one of the finest medical
facilities in this country. The physiciansthere are the finest group I have
ever worked with in my life, anywhere. I asked, on two different days, "How
many of your patients are here not because they need to be here for medical
reasons, but because it's to get their insurance to pay." It was over
60 percent. Now this was at one of the finest hospitals in the country.
DR: The insurance would only cover the treatment of their particular
ailment if they were hospitalized?
NS: Exactly ... so the hospitals and BCBS were in collusion.
Until 1965 the vast majority of medical insurance in this country was BCBS.
In 1965 Johnson put through Medicare. Then all the other insurance companies
decided to go to the trough, because it was suddenly profitable to have
medical insurance. But the system was the same stupid system of putting
people in the hospital.
By 1970, the headlines across this country were screaming "crisis in
health care costs." I would say we have never had a crisis in health
care costs. We have never had any health care costs. We have had disease
care costs. We do not have a health care system. We have a disease care
DR: With regard to hospitals, we now have a situation where apparently
for financial reasons, there is increasingly, at least in the managed care
area, a disincentive to putting people in hospitals.
NS: That started just ten years ago, when Medicare decided
they just couldn't stand the bill anymore. Here's what we've got. What we
had between 1965 and 1980 was collusion between BCBS and its clones, and
the hospitals (which loved it, because they have always been the first to
Then we had the federal government joining in the collusion. And finally
at that point, the legal system saw the trough, and that's when the lawsuits
began to accelerate. In the last ten years, you know what the number one
inflationary item in this country is?
DR: Tell me.
NS: Legal services, at all levels.
DR: More so than medical?
NS: Oh yes. Way above medical.
DR: But we always hear about medical costs.
NS: I know that. The number one inflation, the number one
increase. I've got the statistics. Believe me, I've got 89 pages of statistics
in my book. Do you know what the number two inflationary items in this country
NS: The federal government. Do you know what's number three?
Insurance. All levels of insurance, not just medical insurance. Do you know
what the number four inflationary item in this country is? Medical insurance.
Number five? Hospital costs . . .If we eliminated physicians' costs completely,
but all the other costs were kept the same, we'd cut the cost of disease
care only 19 percent
Now, are the physicians guilty? Of course they are. They are guilty
of the sin of hiding their heads in the sand, and going along with the system
for too long, and not standing up and saying what is wrong with it . . .
The surgeons might have helped. Back in the early days of BCBS, the main
thing that was done in hospitals was operations. Surgeons always, for the
last 60 years, have been paid bundles more than other physicians. Bundles
more. There are inordinate discrepancies between pediatricians and surgeons.
And now, in the last year, physician income, exclusive of inflation, is
down 3 percent.
DR: Is hospital income down?
NS: Hospital income is up.
DR: And insurance income?
NS: Insurance income is up. If you look at the last ten years,
the only item in this field to go down, adjusted for inflation, is physician
income. We are scapegoats in this fiasco. Are we lily white? Of course not.
We've done a lot of things that are wrong. I believe, for example, that
we have far too much specialization. A minimum of 75 percent of physicians
should be family physicians. A minimum.
DR: So if you were in charge of medical education, that's one of the
key changes you would make?
NS: One of them. There are others. We have what I call the
disease-wise society, and I do not believe it is right or fair for people
who are health-wise, who represent only about 25% of the population, to
have to pay for the disease habits of others.
Here's the other side of the coin. If you live in a house that has wooden
shingles, you pay higher insurance rate, don't you, than if you have asbestos
shingles? Why, if you smoke, don't you pay twice as much? Because through
a lifetime, smokers have twice as many illnesses as non-smokers. And they
even cause illness in everybody around them as well. According to the
Surgeon General, if we were to abolish smoking, alcohol and drug abuse,
obesity, excess dietary fat, salt and sugar, and inadequate physical exercise,
we would eliminate within ten years, 75 percent of illness.
Now, there is nothing in my opinion that can be done other than having
the people who have those habits paying for it . . . therefore, what I am
recommending is that the health-wise take a $5000 deductible insurance policy.
By doing that, you save $4000 a year on medical insurance. If the 25 percent
of the people who are truly healthy did that, it would collapse the system
within one year, because the other people, with the unhealthy habits, would
suddenly have to pay for it themselves.
If 25 percent of the people dropped out of the system, it would force the
system to change. If you want to smoke, fine. You pay twice as much. If
you want to drink, fine. We're not going to pay for your drug rehabilitation.
There is no solution with medicine. There is only a solution with educating
people that they've got to be responsible for their health habits.
Am I uncompassionate? I'm sure I'll be accused of it ... there just
has to be a limit to what we are capable of financing. There is a part of
me that says it is immoral to transplant livers and lungs. You couldn't
pay me to have that done. And I don't think other people should have to
support it. There's a place for dying in peace rather than in agony. There's
a place for the limits of technology.
DR: How does a society decide where those limits are?
NS: I don't know. Maybe by a vote. You know, polls have been
taken since the 1940s on the whole question of insurance. People have always
voted that they want it, and they have also voted that they won't pay for
DR: Which brings us right up to the present.
NS: We will have changes. They will take place in this decade.
I believe that when it's all over, we will come closer to having a system
like what I am talking about than what we have today, because it's all we
can afford . . .
I think the public is way ahead of the medical profession. Now, dentists
and nurses, and half of chiropractors (the mixers) are way ahead of the
allopathic physician . . . Most physicians today don't know what's happening.
They don't realize that they have, in the last ten years, totally lost control
of the situation. The situation is now 95% in the control of bureaucracy.
The good news is, I think it will go bankrupt of its own weight, of its
DR: What takes its place if that happens?
NS: Who knows? It depends on what happens to the federal
government. One of two things will happen in this country. We will either
have hyperinflation in this decade, which means, if we do, that we have
the risk of a totalitarian dictatorship taking over. Or we'll have a total
deflation. It's going to happen this decade. I believe it will be no later
than 1995. Probably by 1994, perhaps as late as 1998. It will happen this
decade. I hope it's a deflation, because otherwise we're in the economic
position where Germany was before Hitler took over.
DR: One is a situation where people feel they don't have enough money.
The other is a situation where they feel money has no meaning.
DR: Money having no meaning is much scarier.
NS: One or the other is going to happen. I've known it was
going to happen since the 1960s. It was obvious to me then that sooner or
later, the piper had to be paid.
Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor, writer and musician who lives in
Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal: How to Reap
the Benefits of Holistic Health (A.R.E. Press), and is a member of the editorial
board of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. He can be
reached by e-mail at Redwoods@infi.net.
©1993 Daniel Redwood, D.C.