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What we ordinarily do in Western scientific medicine is gather data, make a diagnosis, and render specific treatment, which usually consists of drugs, surgery and technology either alone or in combination. However, patients know that there is a larger process occurring. It is an always present, often chaotic, sometimes mysterious, sometimes miraculous process. It is a process that encompasses and can enhance the work of scientific medicine. We call it the healing process -- the response of the person to the trauma or crisis he or she is facing.

Healing is always a miracle and because of this it is a mystery. It is not that the process has no scientific aspects that are entirely predictable, it does. But the way that even the most certain predictions come to pass in a given person is the mysterious part since it is always unique to that person. What we have is a paradox in modern biology. Two great contrasting truths coexist: 1) The laws of biology which apply to everyone, and 2) The phenomenon of the uniqueness of the individual. For healing to occur both aspects must be addressed together. Only then will we have a complete description of the necessary events required for healing.

The moment something really bad happens to you, your life literally stops. It is as if you come immediately into the present moment, and the past and future are suspended. You think about the essentials and begin to ponder the following three questions. What's happening to me now. To the patient something is happening that is embedded in their whole life. What will happen to me? Will I be the same as before or will I lose something permanently and be different from now on? What does this mean? The is the "why" of the event and is inextricably tied up with the quest for meaning - both for this particular episode and for one's life purpose. They are both always related. Medicine through the ages is basically an effort to manage these three questions.

Healing is accompanied with a sense of belonging, a sense of control over one's life. The sense of belonging is important and implies that the person is loved or has a rightful place among the living. But to have self-esteem in that experience a person needs to feel some sense of power over his environment. But watch out, the sense of self-efficacy or control over one's life is tricky. There is another side to it, a counterbalancing need for a measure of acceptance, a kind of "letting go and letting God." Healing is always about change. Sometimes the changes are in areas that you thought would never change in your life. Sometimes they are in areas that you don't ever want to change. Yet healing is also associated with a sense of urgency and a newly felt need to change. Change is often chaotic or "out of control" and can be painful. However, change has to be desired or sought after for healing to occur. It has to be voluntary -- it is possible to reject healing by holding on to the very ways that may have contributed to the illness. Healing involves some creative expression that was not present formerly. It is like writing a novel in which you are both the writer and the chief protagonist of the story simultaneously. Healing requires an encounter with a higher power or deeper meaning. It involves a non-ordinary state of consciousness and is fundamentally a transcendent experience. Embedded within every crisis or illness is a quest for meaning. The search for meaning is a fundamental human need that is brought out during a major illness. There is an inescapable connection between healing and the experience of unconditional love. The healing force is the uncritical acceptance of another human being as you find them -- unconditionally. There is a vital requirement to be open-hearted and receive the love that is directed your way. Again it is possible to turn this healing force away by fear.

There comes a point where all the good intentions, work and hopes for a better day seem to evaporate into thin air. One feels especially alone and forlorn as if God has forgotten about you. This is the darkest night of the soul. Yet it is at the very darkest moment that transformation occurs. Here is the first awareness of the need for relationship to the Great Mystery, to God. Throughout the healing process parts of ourselves that we don't like lurk in the background, watching the whole thing, amused, somehow waiting to sabotage the process. This shadow side represents all those "benefits" of being sick or unwhole. Therefore, one of the most important things to do in the healing quest is to face, explore and work with those aspects of ourselves that we don't like. In a sense, embrace them.

Western scientific medicine, must be put in a context that promotes healing. It needs to do this by developing a partnership of loving kindness with those around us -- doctors and therapists, spouses and family members, friends and community. In effect, the medicine of the future must address the Paradox between the laws of biology and the phenomenon of human uniqueness. This is the goal of Integrative Medicine, a term now used to denote the use of complementary medicine alongside and integrated with conventional medicine.

Sylver Quevedo, M.D.
FMBR President , Oct. 2002

Updated Feb. 12, 2003.

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