Western health care has mostly been the study and practice of attending to structures. Anatomists have looked at the biological things, named them, and identified their locations. Medicine mostly finds diseases or injuries and treats them. Careful attention to finding the problematic thing and remedying it has had vast rewards: the evolved treatment of so many diseases, now annoyances, that used to be lethal; the virtual elimination of smallpox, measles, polio; incredible advances in surgeries of all kind, including remarkable arthroscopic breakthroughs. These advances contribute to many more lives being healthier and to greater longevity. I and many of you reading this may be alive today as a result of modern medicine. So all homage to these life-sustaining medical advances!
At the same time as Western medicine has successfully treated the physical
body, it has not been innovative with regard to the treatment of the person
themselves. I recall, for example, an allopathic therapist telling me, “I’m
seeing four knees this morning.”
Western medicine does not essentially take into account the feelings, the thoughts, spirit, or the soul of the patient. In other words, it pays attention to structure primarily, with very little attention to energy.
Energy we here are defining as anything not strictly physical. So, whereas structure relates to matter, particles, and is solid, visible, and tangible; energy relates to waves, vibrations, movement, and, in humans, the epiphenomena of sensation, awareness, self-consciousness, emotion, and spirit.
What remains problematic then is two-fold. First, a medicine that ignores the person will tend to fail at treating chronic problems because these often have to do with people’s behavior and not an identifiable pathogen. Secondly, a medicine which ignores the personhood of the patient will not promote therapeutic trust. Patients whose feelings are ignored become resentful, even though the disease treatment may go well!
This is undoubtedly why malpractice suits are so common. If a medicine does not relate to the feeling, thinking, and spiritual side of the person, it can seriously compromise the healthy relationship between doctor and patient. Leaving energy out of the equation is itself a cause of dis-ease—for relationships in which trust does not fully exist lack ease. This un-ease ultimately has physiological and social consequences.
We may indeed consider the separation of structure from energy as a cultural wound or epidemic. A medicine and a society that regards people merely as things is one that leaves the worlds of feeling, thought, and spirit to the vicissitudes of chance. This is, certainly in some respects, the world we find ourselves in today. Education teaches children the manipulation of symbols and facts but continues to avoid issues pertaining to the energetic world—beliefs, emotions, ethics, spirit. And religion, with diminished authority for many, no longer takes up the slack.
Western science prides itself on its empiricism—looking closely at what is and drawing scientific conclusions from it. But in humans, importantly, part of what is, is emotions! Therefore, a science which ignores emotions is simply bad science. In people there is matter and there is also energy. To speak of life without either is senseless. Leaving discussions of energy out of our examination of structure, is like leaving the meaning of words out of a discussion of language.
That scientists should have separated structure from energy and paid it over-much attention is not their fault. This has been a pervasive cultural phenomenon traceable to the philosophical problem called “mind-body dualism” that has haunted Western thought throughout its history. We have developed a primarily materialistic culture in which the ability to possess things is often associated, however naively, with happiness. Indeed, the worship of mere things from the golden calf of the Bible to the idolatry of the computer has been an important strand in our history.
As in most either-or conundrums, however, the obvious solution is both-and.