"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

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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Is conventional medicine now looking so outdated?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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