The Importance of Addressing the Spiritual in Modern Medicine: Pioneers in Holistic Health Care

Rev. Dr. Bill Breuer, MCH. CI.


(Painting by John-Brain Paprock)

Website:  That the human is a synergy of body, mind and spirit is a fundamental concept in the healing arts found historically throughout the world. Each aspect is interwoven with the health of the other... but only in the past decade has this basic approach reached into the mainstream of the healing arts in the United States.

One has only to look antropologically at the 'primitive' and ritual practices of each culture to see the natural incorporation of these factors as used in the ritualized healing practices of medicine men and women, herbalists, and eventually some clergy and physicians. Over time the healing arts have split into numerous forms of specialization, often ignoring the whole person. Now the trend has come to recognize not just the deep underlying spiritual problems of patients that may affect physical and mental health, but the advantages of utilizing this avenue to actually treat conditions and enhance healing. Goleman & Gurin in their work 'Mind Body Medicine' establish the physical avenues, connections and methods for addressing these needs in numerous forms.

Larry Dossey in his work 'Healing Words' actually goes as far as to suggest, when appropriate, that the doctor actually pray with the patient. The spiritually oriented doctor will discuss the patient's home and work life, lifestyle, her/his meditative or reading habits, philosophical/spiritual belief system as it relates to the condition, perhaps even life & death. The healer then often recommends specifics to do, to take home, to remodel in their activities of daily living. Even just a short informal spiritual counseling may take a little time for a modern doctor, but the patient reaps the benefits. Giving the patient something to do for the body, something for the mind, and something for the spirit again harkens back to the healers of old who helped the human race to survive and recover from diseases in spite of the lack of modern science (nature being given credit, too). The old 'country doctor' of just a few generations ago often had a gift for the blend. Reassurance, goal setting, and positive reinforcement about the outcome (stories such as relating a similar case and how they lived to happily play with their great-grandchildren) is a way to reproduce the power of the storyteller.

Storytelling is one way of exchanging and establishing ideas, expectations and setting in motion future ritual. As Janine Roberts presents the case in her book 'Tales & Transformations', storytelling creates a mindset which weaves its way into working reality. She uses this practical approach for treatment in family therapy. Thus generations and cultures may inherit symbols, archetypes, metaphors and allegory which, when processed and carried within the individual can be a part of a problem, or be accessed as a key to a solution to a problem. Even when directly derived from religion, depending on one's orientation scripturally, this inheritance can be a blessing or a stumbling block in growth, as shown in Bryan's book, 'Chapter & Verse', the blessing or baggage can be highly individual. Even God may be seen as a punisher, cruel task-master, or a comforter. Complicate this with poor family dynamics and the 'programming' that can produce.

Marital and 'significant other' relationships and their ramifications of extended family can have their bearing upon a patient's healing when there is underlying stress and potentially destructive unresolved issues. Sometimes even science and technology with all its blessings creates issues by providing solutions that people need help in handling. From new reproductive technologies to life prolonging or sustaining methods, transplants, genetic modification etc., there is a need for the modern healer to address the spiritual aspects, it least initially, and not just dump facts onto patients and their families. When people recognize themselves that something is wrong, or find they are unable to fulfill expectations (self-imposed or otherwise) they may look for help in many places, or from a variety of professionals. Giving spiritual counsel may serve in reframing, giving new direction, and creating a healing.

Each person is a hologram or synthesis of their past and present, their culture and their environment, their body, mind and spirit. The field of psychoneuroimmunology made popular in 1975 by Ader, explains how these all interconnect and why we can have 'miracles' in life. The physical and 'metaphysical' factors affecting peoples' total health, and possibly life paths, can be uniquely addressed by each professional. When we address the spiritual aspect, it is as a rock cast into the water: the ripples extend far and wide. This is the way of the spirit. All things are connected and in that way too, we live on in each other. (c) 1997