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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
  Home  > Helping Professionals  > I. Medicine: From Art to Science to Both

I. Medicine: From Art to Science to Both

Our present model of healing, which is dominated by males and preoccupied almost exclusively with the diagnosis, dissection, and treatment of supposedly independent parts of the physical body, is a recent manifestation of patriarchal societies.

In Midwives, Nurses and Witches, Barbara Ehrenreich and Diedre English trace the decline of natural healing practices in the West as the developing Judeo-Christian, male-dominated medical profession set out to eradicate its competitors, based in the pagan religions, with which natural healing was associated. The recognition of the innate healing powers of the physical body, and of the mind and spirit as crucial elements in the healing process, waned--along with women's acknowledged power as healers--as the patriarchy gained in strength.

During the time of the Greeks, Hippocrates, Galen, and others emerged with a science of medicine that became the domain of men. Spirit and consciousness were separated from matter. Men became experts at dissecting and taking apart what had previously been considered irrevocably interconnected. Reductionism became the entry point to power.

With the technology of the microscope and the discovery of vaccines, men developed a medical approach based on Louis Pasteur's germ theory. This approach defined disease as something external that attacks the body for no good reason and must be overpowered through analysis and manipulation.

For over a hundred years medicine approached health the same way mechanics approach cars, treating the body as a machine consisting of independent parts that can be pushed to its limits, abused, tinkered with, and hopefully replaced.

It was a colleague of Pasteur's, Claude Bernard, who recognized the importance of perceiving the body as a whole and the role of self-healing. He introduced the theory of homeostasis, which illuminated the body's natural and continuing movement toward balance and health. Modern medical treatment often interferes with, or blocks these natural homeostatic mechanisms.

Bernard's theory was eclipsed during his lifetime because it was not as dramatic as Pasteur's "magic bullet" approach. Supposedly, though, Pasteur himself acknowledged on his deathbed, "Bernard was right, the germ is nothing, the terrain is everything."

Around the turn of the Twentieth century, Emile Cou�, a French physician, brought to the public's awareness our innate ability to heal ourselves by changing our thoughts. Thousands flocked to his spa in France, and he is credited with coining the phrase, "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." He is thought of by many as the father of psychosomatic medicine.

Despite such indications of an emerging appreciation of the deeper origins of dis-ease and the innate healing potential of the individual, Pasteur's mechanistic germ theory remained more appealing to the medical establishment because it contributed so dramatically to the patriarchal dream of man's ultimate power over life.


The First Big Shift

In the twenties, the Flexner Report, funded by powerful interests through the authority of the US government, granted a near monopoly to the allopathic medical establishment, forcing closure of the schools of most other medical disciplines such as homeopathy--which are only now experiencing a comeback. Here was a blatant example of the patriarchy exerting its power to protect itself. Prior to this, naturopathy and homeopathy were well accepted in the United States. In Europe they were not so effectively exterminated. (Supposedly the Royal Family of Great Britain has embraced homeopathic care since the 1830.)

The twenties, then, heralded the apparent "Golden Age" of medicine. It seemed that medicine could conquer every disease that befell humankind. Pasteur's germ theory was seen as the final answer. We had only to find the right magic bullets and each disease could be stopped in its tracks.

This intense concentration of power in the hands of the medical establishment gave us a comforting, if false, sense of security that someone had, or would soon have, the answers to our eternal wellbeing. The crowning moment of glory for the allopathic approach was the widespread use of antibiotics in the mid-century when lobar pneumonia and other infections were conquered. Then polio vaccines supposedly put an end to every parent's fear of having a paralyzed child (whether the vaccines had anything to do with an already rapidly declining rate that began before the introduction of vaccines, or whether what was often believed to be polio was really DDT poisoning remains to be seen).

The Second Big Shift

By the late sixties, it was apparent that the allopathic approach was nearing the limits of its effectiveness. Resistant strains of microorganisms were developing faster than drug companies could make stronger drugs. It gradually became clear that allopathic medicine had no impact at all on what had become the most deadly diseases: stroke, emphysema, heart disease, and cancer. These were to become recognized as diseases of lifestyle, and what was needed was a change in how people lived their lives. All the concentrated power of the medical establishment had little effect on Humpty Dumpty's desire to sit on top of high walls.

Fortunately, a major change was in the making. Following the work of Bernard and Coue, a few radical physicians were beginning to look at the inner workings of the human mind, suspecting that the mind might have something to do with health. Much of this line of development overlaps with work in psychology, which we trace below. Here we focus on the contributions of physicians who came out of the older tradition of medicine.

One of the first of the new breed who was to impact this field by looking at the inner process of the human being was Sigmund Freud. The founder of psychoanalysis, Freud delved deeply into dreams and sexuality. Alfred Adler, following in Freud's steps, developed an even more cognitive model of psychopathology, emphasizing a behavioral approach.

Carl Jung, MD (Memories, Dreams and Reflections), a protege of Freud, was not as bound by the mechanistic medical model as were Freud and Adler. He explored many ancient and symbolic traditions, venturing as far afield as astrology, where he found statistically significant correlations.

He developed the concept of archetypes; posited each person as having aspects of the opposite sex (the anima and animus); and popularized such terms as the "collective unconscious" and "synchronicity." He also pioneered the concept that though created equal, humans are fundamentally different and have different temperaments. He contributed much to the opening into the deeper areas of human experience that wellness has begun to explore.

Victor Frankl, MD (Man's Search for Meaning), established a clear link between our thoughts and our ability to survive life-threatening circumstances. He attributed his surviving a German concentration camp to his will to return to his family. He developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy, Logotherapy. The core of this theory is his belief that a person's primary motivational force is the search for meaning in life.

Sidney Garfield, MD, conceived the idea of a health maintenance organization in the thirties and developed it for Henry J. Kaiser over the following decades (Kaiser Permanente). One of the first to recognize the limitations of the medical model, he developed the term "worried well" and explored new ways to circumvent gross misuse of illness services until his death in the eighties.

Unorthodox Docs

Inspired by some of these pioneers, by the middle of the twentieth century, a small but growing group of unorthodox physicians were looking toward the underlying causes rather than the effects of dis-ease. They recognized that experts and treatment could do only so much. More responsibility for health and healing needed to be returned to the individual.

Wilhelm Reich, MD (Character Analysis), discovered what he called "orgone" energy, much the same as the Eastern concept of life force--chi, or ki energy. While the concept of life force or life energy has become widely accepted within holistic circles today, it was a radical concept and posed such a challenge to the accepted practices of the medical establishment that Reich was jailed. He died in a federal prison, but his work has been revived by many neo-reichian therapists who work with body energy.

Eric Berne, MD (Games People Play), built on the earlier work of Adler and Harry Stack Sullivan to develop Transactional Analysis. Berne's ability to describe patterns of human behavior in everyday language, coupled with a strong emphasis on self-responsibility, brought psychiatry into the homes of many lay people.

Hans Selye, MD (The Stress of Life), posited that stress was a real entity, and while too much of it wears us out prematurely, a certain amount is a positive growth force.

Roberto Assagioli, MD (Psychosynthesis), developed Psychosynthesis, a form of psychotherapy that presumes that people have a desire, once basic needs are met, to develop a spiritual life. Assagioli's model fills a vacuum left, for many people, by today's religions.

The Origins of Wellness, Holistic Heath and Medical Self-care

In the fifties, Halbert L. Dunn, MD (High-Level Wellness), dusted off the unknown and antique word "wellness," and brought it into a small area of the public domain, presenting a synthesis of many of the above ideas in radio talks that were later published as his book.

In the early sixties President Kennedy moved into the public health arena, urging Americans to become more fit. From the mid-sixties on, we saw an increasing number of physicians developing practical ways to empower people--to support them in taking back the power they had handed over to the medical establishment.

One of the first physicians to address lifestyle issues as they affected health risk was Lewis Robbins, MD (How To Practice Prospective Medicine). During the 60s he developed a unique approach of assessing a person's risk of premature death by analyzing high-risk behaviors (smoking, drinking, not exercising), and computed statistical predictions about their projected length of life based on life insurance data. He called this tool the Health Hazard Appraisal, and processed questionnaires using desk calculators and hand-drawn charts. It showed a person's actual age contrasted with their health risk age, along with an achievable age, if they followed the recommendations for lowering risks of premature death.

In the 70s, the Society for Prospective Medicine was formed around Dr Robbin's work, bringing together professionals from many disciplines for annual meetings. As a result of their efforts, health risk appraisals (HRAs), as they came to be called, were adopted by many large corporations and remain a mainstay of preventive medicine programs.

All in the Mind?

On a more psychological note, Fritz Perls, MD (The Gestalt Approach), pioneered Gestalt Therapy, which emphasized self-responsibility and complemented Berne's Transactional Analysis. Perls encouraged people to talk to different aspects of their personalities, e.g., "top dog" and "bottom dog," and was refreshingly irreverent toward the establishment.

R. D. Laing, MD (The Divided Self), challenged contemporary ideas about the nature of mental illness. He argued that there may be benefit in allowing acute mental and emotional turmoil to have its way and that the outcome of such turmoil could have positive value.

Carl Rogers, MD (On Becoming a Person), developed client-centered psychotherapy. While contemporary psychology was largely preoccupied with the minute aspects of behavior, or with the mentally ill, Rogers set his sights higher, with a focus on growth and potential. He continued actively into his eighties to foster world peace through his Center for Studies of the Person, which he founded in La Jolla, California.

Henrik Blum, MD (Planning for Health), helped bring the concept of planning into the health arena and was one of the first to study the forces that shape people's state of health. He found that behavior, and the environment that shapes it (cultural norms), were more important than the available medical treatment.

In the seventies, the number of physicians developing tools to enhance wellness grew rapidly:

Elizabeth K�bler-Ross, MD (On Death and Dying), began to vanquish the conspiracy of silence which once shrouded virtually every hospital's terminal wards. Her work led her to explore the phenomena of near-death experiences. For many years she maintained a center in Virginia, until it was set afire by disgruntled neighbors, and gaves seminar worldwide exploring the process of accepting dying as intrinsic to living.

Raymond Moody, MD (Life after Life), and Ian Stevenson, MD (Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation), have explored the possibility of life after death within an academic framework at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Their studies indicate that many people can remember events that appear to have occurred in other lifetimes, and that death is not the end of our experience of life.

Alexander Lowen, MD (Bioenergetics), once a student of Wilhelm Reich, developed a system to study the structure and energy of the body. His Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis in New York City serves as the training center for many certified bioenergetic analysts.

Working together in California in the early seventies, Michael Samuels, MD, and Hal Zina Bennett, PhD, wrote The Well Body Book that provided some of the first readily accessible tools for self-care--visualizing the body as fully healthy and learning to listen to its messages.

Norman Shealy, MD (Soul Medicine), a former neurosurgeon, was a pioneer in pain control and holistic medicine. He founded the American Holistic Medical Association and heads the Holos University in Missouri.

Gerald Jampolsky, MD (Love Is Letting Go of Fear), works with terminally ill children using principles from A Course in Miracles--healing through forgiveness. He founded the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, California, which has been replicated around the world. Its focus is the belief in the extraordinary ability of ordinary people to be of help to one another, and the idea that we have the power to choose our attitude in any given moment, regardless of circumstances.

Herbert Benson, MD (The Relaxation Response), while at the Harvard School of Medicine, studied persons who practiced Transcendental Meditation and popularized the ability we all have to improve our health through simple relaxation techniques.

Kenneth Pelletier, PhD (Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer), was instrumental in bringing to public attention the power of the mind in the healing process. He has brought a good deal of credibility to alternative healing methods in the academic world, producing a steady stream of well-researched material.

Carl Simonton, MD(Getting Well Again), while a radiotherapist in the Air Force, discovered with his former wife Stephanie Matthews Simonton, that cancer patients could speed their healing through visualization. He is Director of the Simonton Cancer Center in Pacific Palisades, California.

Tom Ferguson, MD (The No-Nag, No-Guilt, Do-It-Your-Own-Way, Guide to Quitting Smoking), founded Medical Self-Care Magazine in 1976. He was a leader in disseminating, to lay people, tools for taking care of their physical needs and developing greater psychological self-awareness. Later in his career he coined the term "Consumer Health Informatics" and was instrumental in its popularity via the Internet.

Irving Oyle, DO (The Healing Mind), one of the founders of the Headlands Health Clinic, was an early pioneer in holistic medicine.

Martin Rossman, MD (Healing Yourself), and David Bresler, PhD (Free Yourself from Pain), founded the Academy for Guided Imagery (see Appendix F). Joan Borysenko,PhD (Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson), Rachael Naomi Remen, MD (The Human Patient), and Richard Shames, MD (Healing with Mind Power) have also helped advance the use of imagery in medical settings.

Delores Krieger, PhD, RN (The Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help or Heal), while teaching at NY University School of Nursing discovered that touching patients with healing intentions led to physiologic improvements.

Elson Haas, MD (Staying Healthy with the Seasons), was an early pioneer in holistic medicine and is believed to have coined the term "integrative medicine"

Emmett Miller, MD (Software for the Mind), was the first to develop a wide range of high quality self-healing imagery tapes. His skills in music, movement, and drama make a powerful impact on the listeners of his media.

Larry Dossey, MD (Space, Time and Medicine), formerly an internist in Dallas, Texas, and his wife Barbara Dossey, RN, have introduced to many people the importance of the findings of the new physics as they apply to medicine.

An Australian physician, Helen Caldicot, MD (Nuclear Madness: What Can You Do?), helped revitalize an existing older organization in Boston, Physicians For Social Responsibility, and kindled a movement in medicine (replicated within several other disciplines) emphasizing what we as individuals can do to end the threat of nuclear war. With the perceived threat of nuclear war reduced (some say it's not really much reduced)

A respected journalist who later joined the faculty of UCLA Medical School, Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the Patient--Reflections on Healing and Regeneration), was hospitalized with a severe degenerative disease that was not responding to treatment. He checked out of the hospital ward, took high doses of vitamin C, watched old "Candid Camera" shows, and supposedly laughed himself back to health. (His book indicates that there was more to his self-treatment than just laughing.)

Andrew Weil, MD, (Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being) has probably done more to popularize integrative medicine and train practitioners than any other pioneer. Inspired by some of the above-mentioned pioneers and many lesser-known and lesser credentialed folk healers, the post-hippie generation began to use the term "holistic health." By the late seventies it had become a major movement. Western Michigan University pioneered college level courses and a statewide network of practitioners met regularly. Similar programs arose in other states around the US.

Not to be left behind, holistic medicine soon gained in popularity, especially with the founding of the American Holistic Medicine Association (check) founded by Norm Shealy in 1978. A similar organization, The American Holistic Nurses Association, developed in 1981.

Nutrition is another field related to medicine that has become widely popular. Nutritionists such as Roger Williams, PhD, Paavo Airola, ND, Nathan Pritikin, PhD, and Robert Atkins, MD, began the movement in the 60s and 70s, which has now become inundated with so many fad/celebrity books and diets that it's clearly here to stay. Despite the fact that most focus on some form of dieting, which is rarely a long-term solution to weight problems, research documenting the connection of our diet with diseases have finally encouraged many more doctors to take nutrition seriously.

Not surprisingly, the names of more men than women are listed above, doubtless a reflection of the exclusion of most women from medicine until recently. While most patient care is done by nurses, the male-dominated medical world has given nurses (traditionally women) little say in how things are run.

While there's still way to go, we have seen a dramatic de-mystification of the role of medical practitioners, who were until recently dispensing health from the exclusionary realms of a male-dominated vertical hierarchy. People are recognizing the relation of the mental and spiritual to the physical, and being empowered, with a wide range of accessible tools, to enhance their own wellbeing.

We now turn to look at parallel developments in other traditional areas of science.

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