The practice of medicine in the world today is often labeled “health care.” Actually, it should be described as “illness care.” It is built upon the diagnosis of disease, the repair of injury, and the treatment of symptoms – all of which are necessary and valuable services. Sometimes, it delivers just what we ask for. Oftentimes, however, we get more than we bargained for.
The fact is we are getting more than we can handle. The term for these unasked-for benefits is “iatrogenesis.” It means a condition created by the doctor’s treatment. Prescription drugs, for example, have become one of the leading causes of death.
As hard as it is to believe, medical science has done little to increase the potential life span of an adult. Overall, we are really not living any longer than did people sixty years ago. In fact, it may be that our potential life span is being shortened by increased stresses and by poisons in the environment.
The interaction between the professional and the patient often looks like the relationship between a parent and a child. Parents have power, and answers, and prescriptions. They are nurturing (“Here, let me help”), demanding (“You should do this”), and judgmental (“That is wrong”). Children have questions, feelings and needs, and compelling desires to please. They are compliant sometimes, downright stubborn and rebellious at others, and looking for both help and approval. And while this situation may be natural and necessary when one person is two years old and the other is forty, it is far from desirable, for instance, when you are fifty and your doctor is thirty.
Our current system for personal health may not be a system after all. Its orientation is toward treatment of an ailing part, a particular disease or set of symptoms, or the physical body alone. But most forms of treatment neglect to take into account that it is not a stomach that gets sick, but rather a whole person who does not feel well.
We human beings also have intellects, emotions, and souls, besides physical bodies. When the last time was your doctor asked you about your ability to express personal creativity in your job, your reluctance to cry or express anger, your sense of meaning and purpose in life, your awareness of the connectedness of all things in the Universe?
This whole situation may be likened to your dealings with your automobile. You can find the best mechanics in town to fix the vehicle each time it breaks down, but they can never prevent you from abusing it and causing the next problem. A great deal of expense and effort might be saved were you to practice preventive maintenance more consistently, and exercise more care in the way you drive. There are two separate systems at work here: one for automobile repair (acute care or crisis intervention) and one for driver’s education (prevention or education). Both are necessary for assuring maximum efficiency and long-term dependability of your car. The former bears a strong resemblance to the operation of our contemporary medical model; the latter represents the neglected component of wellness education. It is the happy occurrence when one institution can perform both of these functions, but to demand this of our medical professionals, in most cases, may only serve to increase the frustrations all around. In any case, the responsibility for prevention lies not with the doctor, it lies within each of us. It is long overdue that we recognize this and start reclaiming our personal power.
As you read on, you may wish to refer back to this PDF on many occasions. Your clear understanding of this process will provide you with a simple way to describe each dynamic that relates to your state of health. Keep in mind also that self-responsibility and love are the supports of wellness, which allow this energy flow to occur most efficiently.
Twenty-four hours a day, throughout your entire life, you make use of your body’s built-in feedback system. Too hot: take off your coat. Too cold: put on & sweater. Hungry: eat. Thirsty: drink. Headache: take a painkiller. These are the easy ones. There are many more, however, that are suppressed or disregarded because you have more important things to do. You are neither ready nor willing to do anything about them.
Tired muscles, sore throat, congested head? Swallow a cold capsule and keep on pushing! That knot in your stomach as you walk into the office each morning? Have another cup of coffee and start working! Light up a cigarette and begin coughing? Decide to quit as soon as this project is over! The list of examples goes on and on. This most sensitive machine, the body, is constantly trying to tell you something. It will do its best to keep a molehill from developing into a mountain, but most of us simply will not listen to its messages. We are only too quick to anesthetize pain and alleviate symptoms, forgetting that these are only warning signals, not the real problem. If we are to be well, we need to start listening to the entire body, then providing it with the best conditions possible so that it can continue healing itself. And that is something the body knows how to do. All the medical technology at our disposal does not really “cure” anything. Only the body-mind heals itself.
One of the most important principles of wellness is learning to call upon our innate body-trust or self-trust. Consider its opposites – ignorance, shame, fear, neglect, and the tendency to praise or blame something out there for what is happening in here – and you will find the primary components of this kind of trust. Body-trust means learning about how your body works and at the same time loving and respecting it for the magnificent and powerful creation it is. It means attuning to its signs and signals, both internal and external. It includes listening to yourself to discover what you want to change. Most importantly, body-trust or self-trust involves a new way of thinking based on (1) the knowledge that healing occurs from within, but only when you are ready to be healed, and (2) the realization that patience and compassion are the key attitudes to facilitating that process.