Approaches to healing and health
Emerging before our eyes, if only we could see it and play our part in encouraging it, is a new way of thinking about and doing health, moving away from the current / recent paradigm which is besot by identifying, treating and eliminating symptoms, to instead, exploring the mysteries of causes, to moving from a health paradigm which is about symptoms and disease elimination or management, to one which is about signs of growth and potential and aiming towards flourishing health.
The following diagram illustrates this well, developed by John. W Travis in 1972. In the centre there is a neutral point where we live with neither a discernable illness nor great signs of wellness.
To me, conventional medicine and the so-called current paradigm of health to be found in the British NHS, is more about the left hand side, identifying signs and symptoms, managing dis-ease and disability, until death strikes its final note.
But functional medicine, modern medicine, integrative medicine, however we call it, the new paradigm has to be more about-
Awareness, education, growth – noticing our health, learning from the signs and symptoms that suggest we are going out of balance becoming aware of why that may be so, assessing holistically including taking account of our lifestyles and life stories, seeking the causes, educating ourselves as to the many ways the causes could be dealt with, not just through conventional drugs and surgery and radiography, but by availing ourselves of a whole smorgasbord of treatment possibilities, complimentary, nutritional, mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, alternative, and Oriental helping us to live with a high level of wellness and well-being.
What is Functional Medicine?
From the website Functional Medicine UK, functional medicine "is an evolution in
the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.
By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more
patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not
just an isolated set of symptoms."
Of course, as we all die one day, there may be times when the left hand side in the
earlier model is appropriate but let us make it the exception and not, as at present,
Where are we headed?
We need to move from seeing a patient as someone with a (mostly) physical symptom or ailment which needs cutting out or treating to a patient whose health and physical symptoms and ailments are influenced too by other aspects of their life and living, how they think, the beliefs they hold, their behaviour and lifestyle, their relationships, and fundamentally their spiritual take on life. Whether you and doctors and medical staff like to hear it, all dis-ease has its root in the spiritual. We are often so ill because it is the spiritual that we ignore.
We need to move from forcing patients to choose one of their several symptoms to discuss in ten minutes to being able, especially in days of older populations and patients with multiple morbidity, to discuss a range on inter-related, presenting conditions. Yes, it will take a radical shift in systems - but difficulty is no reason not to do so.
A pie of approaches
Looking at our health and well-being, we could be looking at a pie,
and although it may seem we treat each piece separately, we are
dealing with one pie, each bit depends on the other.
Instead of a pie, it could be a house of cards,
where if one card is weak and is removed,
the rest come tumbling down.
Similarly, it could be a good old Scottish stone cairn –
with each stone delicately balanced on another as they are piled up.
The top one, which you could consider as symbolic of the best of health,
is totally dependent on all the other stones below it,
each one symbolically representation an aspect of your health.
Why, given those three examples, do we still treat patients as if they are a series of bits!
Why is our health system set up in departments, with specialists able only to deal with their bit and seldom communicate with another?
Why do we ignore the fact that a patient is a whole being, whose bits constantly communicate with each other?
Twenty percent of adults in the UK are now on five or more medicines – twice as many as in the mid-nineties. It is a trend that has been accelerated by a population that is living longer and developing multiple health issues, multiple morbidity, cheery term eh?, all of which have their unique treatment pathway. How do all these different medicines interact? How do the different conditions interact in the one body. And why are we still treating them as if they were separate, non-interrelating, non-inter-communicating systems?
You only have to go to any hospital or look at the way healthcare is organised to realise we still tend to do medicine in silos, treating single conditions separately. So you go to the hospital, there’s a sign for Respiratory Medicine, Cardiac, Lungs, a multi-faith chapel or room tucked away somewhere and so on but real people have lots of problems simultaneously and their spirituality, their faith if they have one, is part of them, not something to be lived separately. Even NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (for England and Wales) still produces guidance on the management of individual conditions giving scant recognition to the fact we’ve got all these patients with lots of conditions. Scotland's equivalent is noticeable by its silence.
I know a man who has diabetes and coronary artery disease, hypertension, at one point chronic liver and kidney conditions, diabetic neuropathy, atherosclerosis, diabetic retinopathy, sleep apnea, and not surprisingly depression. That man is me – but never in the twenty or so years I have been living with those conditions, has any medical person talked to me of how one condition could be linked to another, nor sought to look for causes, either for the conditions individually or for a common link. We do not have a health serevice or system but a disease management system.
To keep things simple, let us return to our image of a pie as we consider how we might approach treating and healing of a patient with or without numerous health conditions. After all, you need only one serious health condition to trigger and lead to others, especially if they go ignored as they often do due to the ten minute apppointment system. We wait till things are at crisis point and call in the para-medics.
One can “cut up the pie” of healing methods in many ways – long or short term, self-help or
professional help, individual or group therapy, treating yourself or treating the wider family,
treating you or treating the environment, consulting with allopathic or complimentary practitioners
– or both.
But to simplify, I like to imagine the pie as having six segments at the centre of which is YOU.
Whilst conventional medicine will focus mostly on the physical (or the mental if they
are specialists in mental health) there are functional medicine doctors and
complimentary therapists who use all of the above – an approach I favour as
it offers a wider and more eclectic and holistic range of helping and caring methods.
It treats the patient as an integrated whole. It demands more time than can be given
in an NHS ten minute session, but is more thorough, gets to the causes
(at least as an intention) and is more comprehensive. It surely can be argued
it is a better use of money and resources.
Cognitive – Behavioural
Cognitive (or mental) approaches work on how you think and behavioural on how you behave. They tend to ignore feelings and unconscious motives. Everything is meant to be rational, practical and clear. How your thinking affects your behaviour.
If you are anxious – you will be taught relaxation techniques or biofeedback.
If you have fears and phobias – you are likely to be exposed bit by bit to them until the fear has gone.
If you’re depressed, you’ll be taught to examine your irrational beliefs; if you persist in the belief thoughts you are likely to be taught ways to stop those thoughts. This is called CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you are behaving in particular ways that are unhelpful or are not engaging in specific tasks that might help you psychologically you are likely to be set goals around those specifics. You’ll learn whatever skills you need to meet your goals.
If struggling with stress at work or at home you’ll be helped to reframe the situations in ways that include more insights to help you manage.
Besides learning these techniques through various forms of psychotherapy, you can find the techniques (eg of reframing, changing limiting beliefs etc) in books, and on self-help audio and video tapes. But it usually helps, for the more serious situations in your life to turn to professionals in the field.
There isn’t really much of a common language or a vocabulary that defines emotional health or talks about it in a way that is widely understood. We seem afraid to work at an emotional level and yet it is crucial. All mental health should not be just about changes thoughts – 9t needs to acknowledge our emotions, how we feel…especially when going through the dark night of the soul, considering suicide, grieving and getting over death or a relationship. Feelings get trapped in our body system from an early age and can do damage – see our pages on metaphysical causes of disease where we describe the mental beliefs and emotional underpinning that contribute to disease.
We use the term mental health and of course we talk about physical health, but we very rarely talk about emotional health. And yet our emotions are absolutely integral to the way in which we relate and engage with our world.
An approach gaining ground is Emotional Freedom Techniques – see separate page.
Interpersonally oriented psychotherapy is what most people think of as “therapy.” Examples are Freudian, Jungian, Gestalt, Rogerian or client-centred, transactional analysis, existential, and Assagiolian drawing on most eclectic therapies. They all involve talk and making use of the relationship between you and at least one other person – usually the therapist. Some say it is a place to mourn the past and let go of it, find meaning in it; for others it is a place to observe and try new behaviours, and still others, a place to explore your unconscious until you’re in better harmony with it.
You and the therapist work together on your feelings. Not only will you learn from what is discussed; you’ll learn how to do this on your own.
The downside of this approach is that you can talk all you like and probably go round in circles and end up taking no action to remedy your situation. A good therapist should prevent this from happening.
Physical approaches clearly include things like exercise, improving nutrition or being careful about food allergies, using accupressure, herbal supplements, massage, tai chi, yoga, Rolfing, bioenergetics, dance therapy and of course all the medication approaches, and surgery.
Anything done to the body will change the mind. Our brain and our thoughts (and therefore how we feel) can be changed by sleep, exercise, nutrition, environment, and the state of our sexual hormones, to name a few factors. It is equally true that anything done to the mind will also change the body – meditating, telling our troubles to a friends, or even just writing them down helps release and let go, become clearer and lighter.
Spiritual approaches include all the things people do to explore the nonmaterial aspect of themselves and their world. Spiritual approaches offer us comfort, tell us there really is more to life than what we see. They heal or make more bearable the wounds received in this world. They tell us we are not trapped to this situation, there is more, there is a way not to breakdown but to break through. Maybe there is even some order or plan behind it all, a purpose. I happen to be convinced of this. Additionally when we open to a spiritual approach, we often begin to have experiences that convince us that there truly is something more here to know. Then we want a spiritual approach to therapy; anything else would seem to leave out n important aspect of life.
Some therapists are mainly spiritually oriented but some, e.g. clergy members, spiritual directors, or others directly associated with a religion or spiritual practice may not have received suitable psychological training. Some therapists may not honour this aspect at all so check!
If you are truth in a dark night of the soul, do, if you can and feel motivated, some research on the dark night, what it it is, how to be in it and how to move through it. Read the page on this website if nothing else. And seek help from someone who fully understands what the dark night is and that you need to experience it, not always fix it.
We all live in a context, and one which gives us an environment for our lifestyles to play out.
Some of us are country lovers, others city dwellers. Some cities are more environmentally friendly than others. We may have easy access to warm sandy beaches, as I did when I lived in Spain, or mountains with ocean, fresh air, keep-fit paths, inspiring scenery, as I had when I lived in Germany. Some of us may live in areas with heavy pollution, or stress that comes from poor transport networks. We may be unemployed or in dead-end jobs which we find highly stressful. The availability of recreational pursuits may be abundant or in short supply. We may live in poor accommodation on our own, or it may be excellent living conditions with a wide social network.
All of that will impact our state of health and needs to be considered during a major health review.
My approach is to combine all of the above – according to need and the preferences of the client. Some clients will want a “deeper” approach where simple techniques at the cognitive level may seem to them too simple to work. This may be all the more reason to suggest they at least explore that area.
In working at a “deeper” level, particularly drawing on the spiritual quartile, I will draw heavily on intuition and psychic and spiritual information. For example, often before a client arrives for a first session I will already be getting information/impressions. My aim is not to allow these to dictate the agenda but I will use them to inform my discussions as well as offer them to the client.
In working specifically at a spiritual level I will work through my own spiritual guidance and knowledge. This often involves helping the client in developing different belief systems about the world and the Universe, about inviting the client to work with me in meditation, prayer, ritual, and other spiritual practices.
Outside in Nature
Throughout this website you will find references to nature, the natural, and
to gardening - using metaphors of gardening where we thinking of tilling and
preparing soil (making our attitudes healthy, fertile, and right), planting a
seed (our thoughts), nurturing the seed (empowering through positive words,
phrases, affirmations and emotions) and cultivation in the right time (being
patient and noticing how we need to grow to new beliefs, ways, and
behaviours.) Above all, it is about highlighting the health benefits of going
for a walk in nature, of breathing in nature, and if you can't get out in nature
then no excuse - sitting down inside and entering your imagination where
you spend time in an imaginary scene of your own creation eg in a beautiful
garden, by the sea, a mountainscape, and a magical forest - all of that and more
will help you relax, lower your cortisol levels, and contribute to your healing.
Escape your box, your envelope in which you live
People don’t fit into neat little boxes or pieces of pie – as is witnessed in the following case.
A client came to see me to deal with intense anger – initially some of the more interpersonal approaches were offered. The more he talked the more it became clear that some unhelpful limiting beliefs were at play and some cognitive work was needed. On some occasions his capacity to talk was limited due to the fact he was frequently exhausted. I referred him for a medical check up (the physical) and on some occasions drew on my training in Swedish Massage to offer him massage (the physical) whilst I listened to him (interpersonal.) There was a great void in his life and bit by bit he moved to wanting to integrate spiritual practices into his life (spiritual) and he began by taking long walks, regularly, in nearby forests.
To find a counsellor/therapist in your area consult www.counselling.co.uk
To explore functional medicine http://www.functional-health.co.uk/treatments-advice/functional-medicine/
Conventional medicine ie our NHS
Health benefits of being in nature
"A new philosophy, a way of life, is not given for nothing. It has to be paid dearly for and only acquired
with much patience and great effort."