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Monday, 23 December 2013

Healing and Curing: Eric Cassell and Leslie Weatherhead

A brief recap on posts to date may be a good idea here: I am fascinated by the movement to bring the treatment of the mind, soul and spirit back into mainstream Western medicine. I yearn for a wider recognition that technology and pharmacology cannot provide all the answers where wellbeing and healthcare are concerned. Over the last week or so and for the next few weeks in this blog I am tracing the history of Western medicine, showing where we lost sight of our souls in our treatments and then offering signs of hope all around us for those who are looking for healing for our dis-ease as well as cures for our illness.

I really don’t want to imply that during the 1900s there were no physicians who understood the importance in their work of a sympathetic interaction, a sensitivity of feeling between the doctor and the patient. One notable American physician, Eric J. Cassell, had a mission in the 1970s
to help physicians understand the difference between curing and healing in the relief of suffering.
Cassell wrote a great deal about the need to combine the practice of medicine as a science with the need to address the overall illness of the patient, the need for the patient to be made whole, the need to address all the other complex interrelated factors affecting the patient’s overall well being and the all important need, the ultimate purpose of all medicine, to relieve the patient’s suffering. He developed this theme in many books throughout his career and by the 1990s was still lamenting that in his view modern medicine was generally still failing to relieve suffering. Throughout his working life Cassell has emphasized that mind, body and soul or spirit are one and cannot be viewed in isolation.

Then there was the extremely popular, if sometimes controversial, English Methodist Minister and legendary preacher Leslie D. Weatherhead  in London in the 1950s, who wrote an important thesis on the links between psychology, religion and healing. This was a subject that had come to intrigue him immensely. In this thesis he wrote eloquently and in detail of
a perceived new era in medicine, when faith and soul would again be widely recognized as a vital part of the mainstream medical practice. 
He saw the limitations of the average medical doctor, in terms of time constraints and training, for healing more than the physiological body. In relation to patients for whom he thought the illness was rooted in the mind or the soul, he wrote:

‘the ordinary doctor is usually of little use in such cases. He tends to interpret physical symptoms only in terms of physical origins. He works on what I have described as the ‘garage level’. He is skilled to repair the machine. It is no disparagement of the general practitioner to say that he has not the time or, often, the skill, to interpret physical symptoms in terms of psychological, let alone spiritual, disharmony. If he had, in the latter case at least, he usually would not know what to do about it.’(1)

Seeing the potential for using the combined skills of the psychologist, doctor and pastor in the healing process, by 1935 Weatherhead had established the City Temple Psychological Clinic in the heart of London, where these principles were successfully put into practice (2). Weatherhead wrote extensively of the spiritual and religious aspects of medicine as foreseen in Jung’s work. Although certainly controversial in his preaching and healing, he was also widely regarded and respected for much of his work and insight. But he was of course trying to reintroduce the soul into mainline medical practice in the broadly secular climate of that time and his work failed to capture the combined and co-operative imaginations of the public, the pastor and the doctor. After his death in 1976 Weatherhead seemed to all but disappear from public awareness and his thesis of the integration of psychology, religion and healing was largely forgotten, or so it seemed, in the continuing inexorable march of scientific knowledge.... to be contd.


(1) Weatherhead, Leslie D, Psychology Religion and Healing, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1951, reprinted with further revision 1955, p. 482. There is a new edition published by Stewart Press: 2008.

(2) Weatherhead led the City Temple church from 1936-1960. There is a Healing and Counseling Centre at St Marylebone Parish Church opened 1987 combining innovative health care through an NHS doctor’s surgery offering many complementary therapies

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