"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Michael Mayne on Holistic Medicine

Michael Mayne, busy parish priest who subsequently became Dean of Westminster Abbey within the Anglican Communion, was well qualified to write about the patient’s perception of healthcare. In his book A Year Lost and Found he describes his experiences and struggle with a debilitating episode of ME, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, the post-viral fatigue syndrome. Of all the various treatments and advice he received for a condition that is still very little understood, he significantly gives special credit to a certain Dr D, whose particular efficacy in helping him cope with his condition is attributed to his grasp of the inter-relatedness of body and spirit:

"…he talked and he tested or massaged parts of my body. Sometimes he just talked. He had the great gift of encouragement. He understood that the question ‘How are you?’ is at root a metaphysical question, which is not sufficiently answered with clinical lists and data …but goes to the deepest part of ourselves as the complex and uniquely precious beings we are." (1)

Mayne tragically died from cancer in 2006, but not before heroically putting the finishing touches to his final book The Enduring Melody. This started as a meditation of his life, but when the cancer struck it became his daily meditations interwoven into an autobiography of his final year. The book is a brave and very thoughtful journal through those last ten months. It culminates in a reflective essay on illness and healing, and the need for a holistic approach:

"To treat a disease," he said: "is to inhibit it and hopefully help the body to destroy it or control it: to treat a patient is to observe, foster, nurture and listen to a life...
In an ideal [health service] it would be good if every doctor and nurse in training would reflect on the mystery of the human being with both the learning of the scientist and the observation and sympathy of the novelist or the poet." (2)

Mayne was writing of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service but his thoughts are equally relevant in the United States, which is actually ahead of the UK in recognizing the importance of spirituality in healthcare. Mayne understood only too well that chasm that is so often evident between what the patient actually receives from a short medical consultation and what he is really looking for.

(1) Michael Mayne, A Year Lost and Found, London: Darton Longman and Todd, 1987, p. 22. 

(2) Michael Mayne, The Enduring Melody, London: Darton Longman and Todd, 2006, pp. 13.
Studland Bay in January


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Biological repair men or healers? Our over burdened doctors

"Doctors are not merely biological repair men, people who know how we work and people who can twiddle knobs or replace faulty parts when they threaten to go wrong. A doctor must be a healer in the fullest, most spiritual sense, someone who accepts that human beings are congenitally lonely and dissatisfied but who may be able to reconcile them to the difficulties of their condition...to share the journey [of pain or anxiety or grief] with the patient." (1)

The renowned Austrian Psychiatrist Viktor E Frankl survived four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, during the holocaust. ‘Man lives in three dimensions,’ he wrote, ‘the somatic, the mental and the spiritual. The spiritual dimension cannot be ignored, for it is what makes us human.’ (2)

The early links between spirituality and healthcare in the history of American medicine were just about abandoned entirely with the Flexner Report of 1910. It was not until the 1960s that any links between spirituality, religion and healthcare began to re-emerge, primarily it would seem driven by the charismatic movement and the neo Pentecostalism churches.
the chapel at the Burrswood Christian Healing Hospital

But the movement to bring the soul back into medicine had started in the 1950s with psychiatrists such as Jung and Rogers, together with the work of Methodist Minister Leslie Weatherhead. Real growth in this field, however, really only came about in the late 1980s and the 1990s and started with what is probably the most famous experiment of all on the healing power of prayer. In 1988 Byrd, a cardiologist at the San Francisco General Hospital and also a devout Christian was struck by a conversation with a colleague about a terminally ill cancer patient. All medical avenues had been exhausted and the physicians really did not know what else they could do for the patient. We could try prayer, said Byrd (3). Thus began the prayer study that has inspired so many subsequent experiments into non -local healing phenomena, but at the same time has been ridiculed by many. The scientifically designed and double blind trials produced more positive responses in those groups of patients who were prayed for, when compared with the control groups. Although the sample was small and the statistical interpretation of the results controversial, there have been many more studies since then that have corroborated in different ways the principal of that pioneer experiment; non local intervention such as prayer can give a positive outcome. Byrd’s work certainly proved to be a catalyst for physicians such as Dossey who was interested in exploring the spiritual questions of medicine within wider parameters beyond the known interaction of mind and body.
The Burrswood Christian Healing Hospital 

In a paper published by the Fetzer Institute in 1993 David Aldridge noted the need to ‘recognize that patience, grace, prayer, meditation, hope, forgiveness and fellowship are as important to many of our health initiatives as medication, hospitalization, incarceration or surgery.' (4)

As I look around and see our overburdened health services and our seeming reliance on drugs and new technology, have we made very much progress in 2014? 

(1) from Kaptchuk, Ted and Michael Croucher, The Healing Arts, BBC Publications, 1986, pp. 26, 37, cited in Michael Mayne, A Year Lost and Found, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987, p. 38.

(2) Viktor Frankl, (1905 to 1997), 1973, p.16, latest edition, Souvenir Press Ltd (April 19, 2004). A 2008 Kindle edition is also available.

(3) Story related by Larry Dossey, in his Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Boston, Massachusetts: Element Books, 2000, p. 53 et. seq. followed by his critical analysis of non local studies and positive responses obtained from non local prayer and healing intentions.

(4) Aldridge, David, Is There Evidence for Spiritual Healing? Advances 9(4): 4(1993) cited in Michael Lerner, Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1996, Chapter 9 p. 135: an excellent and comprehensive textbook in this field.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Where is medicine's soul?

For far too many of us, the soul is nowhere to be found in the clinical medicine setting.
The modern physician is able to draw upon a vast wealth of advanced techniques that may be available, whether drugs or surgery or radiation or other interventions that he deems to be suitable from his scientific knowledge, training and experience. With the amazing march of scientific progress and the significant development of clinical medicine, physicians have welcomed the predictability and precision provided by these advances. They have become increasingly trained and skilled in clinical excellence, curing disease, with some wonderful achievements to record.
Chapel at Burrswood Christian Healing Hospital
With the increasing demands of the twenty first century, the work related stress, the bombardment with bad news, relationship problems, even chemical imbalances in the brain, the patient often presents himself at the surgery with mind related disorders. These may include mental disturbances or psychosomatic illness or simply an indefinable need, perhaps even subconscious, to be made whole in some intangible way.
The physician is often not prepared or adequately trained for this modern need. We may be cured clinically, as far as is possible within the capacity of the available treatments; but what have we cured, the illness or the disease? Are we healed?
There can be a mismatch between what the doctor offers and what the patient needs.
It is often said that the physician used to be able to cure rarely but care always. Now it seems that the reverse is the case: he can cure very often but somehow it seems that there is often little room for the caring and the healing.
Burrswood Healing Hospital
The fact is that millions of times a day our health professionals in our surgeries and hospitals come face to face with patients in search of curing, but in need of healing. And that basic need is so often not being met. The physician can feel frustrated and wounded, even sense that in some way he has failed his patient. There is often an equally frustrated patient who remains wounded and who is likely to be back before too long with another physical complaint requiring some ‘listening’ treatment. Although the patient may not fully comprehend his own need to achieve wholeness, to be healed, he certainly recognizes that the consultation has been unsatisfactory in some way.
It is surely because so many of us do not receive the healing for which we yearn on the visit to the physician that we join the ever increasing number of people who seek complementary and alternative therapies (CAMs) elsewhere, often without our physician’s knowledge and with varying degrees of success. It is no coincidence that the number of practitioners trained in such therapies has mushroomed. This is also one of the reasons for the increasing interest in faiths and religions.
Doctors have even sometimes been deserted in favor of spiritual retreats and similar events, but the help that these can offer may often be limited by time constraints and lack of suitable training. Pastoral Counselors are another important resource but of course they do not have the clinical medical training. Because our woundedness remains, we may even resort to dealing with those wounds in other ways, through retail therapy, with drug abuse (including alcoholism) and with smoking. These habits may alleviate our problems in the short term but at the same time are harmful to ourselves, to the environment, or indeed to both. This all raises a serious and fundamental question.
Should healthcare be seen as a problem of cost, or an opportunity for growth?
It should be neither! It should be a dynamic and readily affordable system that continually strives to integrate its conventional allopathic disciplines with the various and increasingly popular complementary and alternative medicines, including spiritual and religious healing methods. These should all work alongside one another in a spirit of full cooperation and mutual respect. This is truly integrated medicine at its very best.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Visions of a better healthcare contd.

This series of blog posts on healthcare is really about the healing of suffering. It is about healing the individual, healing the medical profession and about the contribution that the healthcare profession can make towards healing the world.

It is also about finding the Wounded Healer in our healthcare system; and about infusing that healthcare with spirit. Indeed an understanding of the former should assist a greater appreciation of the latter.

There is a new era of spiritual awakening in the context of pastoral care, which I have written about elsewhere. Medicine is also at the dawn of a new understanding of consciousness. While such changes are for the moment only evident in a few pockets of holistic excellence across America, even less in the UK, progress in this interesting and exciting field is being fuelled by the much more rapid dissemination of information now possible through that most wonderful of tools when used responsibly and with selective discernment, the worldwide web!

Sadly these exciting developments in holistic medicine are yet to be embraced universally in spite of the growing mass of empirical evidence in their support. I also understand that some may find it difficult to share this excitement when tens of millions of American do not have access to free basic healthcare, when so many physicians are disillusioned with their work and when morale within the profession is probably at an all time low. When people are preoccupied not with the state of medical advances but with how they can possibly afford to pay for even basic treatment, perhaps urgent treatment for a sick child, it may seem hopelessly inappropriate to suggest that existing healthcare needs to regain its soul, to suggest that a new spirituality needs to infuse the healthcare profession.

Now I know I am touching on a controversial topic here, but as I watched President Obama make his inaugural speech to the American nation early in 2009, I was concerned. ‘We will restore science to its rightful place,’ he said, ‘and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.’ With the emphasis on technology there was no recognition of the need to support an integrated healthcare. Perhaps that was neither the appropriate time nor occasion to raise such issues. But it may be that Obama’s two aims for healthcare are incompatible. Ever more complex drug regimes and technological advances are alone unlikely to lower the costs of healthcare. Also hurling more money at the present healthcare system seems to me like handing out more pills to deal with the side effect of a prescribed drug, rather than looking for a more appropriate initial treatment without that unwanted reaction.

Let me stress, by contrast, that the healing power of the spirit is free and wholesome, with no unwanted side effects. And healthcare is certainly not a commodity to take or leave. The quality of its provision should not depend on the wealth of an individual.

It is a matter of religious compassion and social justice that a basic healthcare should be freely available for all as a human right, not only for fellow citizens but also for all populations across the world.

As we work towards a more integrated and less expensive health system, is it too much to hope that the money saved could be redirected to help to provide basic medical needs across the globe in the fight to combat malaria, AIDS and the other crippling health concerns of so many who are very much less fortunate than ourselves?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Is holistic healthcare our future?

"Future generations, looking back, will regard conventional medicine during the twentieth century as being as limited as five-finger arithmetic. A new medicine is arising; one which embraces spirituality and consciousness as emphatically as conventional medicine has dismissed them." (Larry Dossey, M.D (1)  

Is it?
Is conventional medicine now looking so outdated?
Is Larry Dossey right or do we still have a long way to go?

The future of an integrated healthcare looks considerably more certain than it did only a few years ago. By integrated healthcare I mean a system that considers not only the interaction of the mind and body, but also the influence of the soul and spirit, in a holistic approach to healing. But there are still many who are not ready to accept such developments into their lives. This is in spite of the increasing evidence and support for the power of unseen forces within the holistic healing experience. Some even become aggressive in their denial of any hint of such spirituality, soul, Higher Being, or God. That is their great loss. But it is also a loss to the world.

I believe that only by experiencing the transcendent in our lives, submitting ourselves to this new consciousness and spirituality that is all around us, infusing our lives with spirit, will we achieve a personal level of real health, wholeness and well-being never before seen in the history of scientific clinical medicine. Not only that, but I think the social significance of some of these changes could be immense. This fractured world would be healed in so many ways, with increased potential for us all to enjoy a life of well-being, global justice, love and peace. The cost savings could also be significant, relieving the healthcare profession from its present almost unbelievable financial burden. Indeed medicine could be leading the way for us all in this spiritual journey if we only had the will.

‘To be a good doctor you have to be a compassionate chameleon, a shape shifter, a shaman.’ So wrote Cecil Helman, family doctor, medical anthropologist, poet, traveler and observer of health systems worldwide, in his book Suburban Shaman (2). From fascinating anecdotes of consultations with traditional South African shamans or Sangomas to the curative trance dances in the Brazilian favelas, he reflected on how western Doctors can learn much from the folk wisdom and shrewd knowledge of human nature as demonstrated by these indigenous Wounded Healers. In the midst of the poverty, illiteracy and appalling living conditions of the shanty - towns of Southern Brazil, a Brazilian doctor, Carlos Grossman, has developed an innovative Community Health Program. The ‘social doctors’ who work in such areas not only provide the primary health care for their patients but also devote as much as half of their time to community development, to health education, to campaigning for improved conditions and generally engaging with the underlying social conditions of those patients in their care. This, says Helman, is ‘real’ medicine. The shantytown conditions of Brazil or the indigenous medicine man may seem far removed both culturally and geographically from our own Western experience. But the healing methods of indigenous tribes are found in the culture of the Native Americans, in the Ayurveda of native Indian, in Chinese Oriental medicine and in many other cultures worldwide. These traditions go back thousands of years. I would suggest that the importance of the personal, subjective and social elements of patient care are no less relevant in mainstream healthcare provision in the USA or the UK than they are in the favelas of Brazil.

The World Health Organization (WHO) first recognized the value of these traditional shamanic healers as long ago as 1978, as being especially relevant in areas where there were few conventional doctors. The shamans, the WHO said, should be allies of conventional healthcare, not opponents, as they had the holistic advantage of ‘viewing man in his totality within a wide ecological spectrum, and of emphasizing …that ill health or disease is brought about by an imbalance…of man in his total ecological system…’ (3) The shaman could work cooperatively alongside conventional physicians in helping to combat AIDs, to promote family planning, child health and mental illness for example, as ‘social workers.’ Unfortunately the genuine holistic healing skills of the true indigenous shaman are too often today confused with the fads and abuses introduced by some of those unscrupulous ‘medicine men’ and ‘faith healers’ in our twenty first century culture, who are driven more by monetary gain than by any altruistic motive. This insults true shamanism and its origins.


1. From Larry Dossey front cover endorsement of Shealy, Norman and Dawson Church, Soul Medicine: Awakening your Inner Blueprint for Abundant Health and Energy, Santa Rosa, CA: Energy Psychology Press, 2008.

2. Cecil Helman, Suburban Shaman: Tales from Medicine’s Frontline, London: Hammersmith Press, 2006, p. 77

3. World Health Organization, The Promotion and Development of Traditional Medicine (WHO Technical Report Series 622) (Geneva: WHO 1978), cited in Cecil Helman, 2006, p.163.

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