The archetypal role of the physician, and by extension allied health professionals, has historically been cast as the healer. Healing however does not actually mean restoration of health. This recasting of the health professional out of the role of the healer might create cognitive dissonance, until we explore the language of healing further. The NIH is undertaking the considerable task of defining healing. It seems ludicrous that our health care system has not already sought to study healing as a primary objective of health care services, that is until we comprehend that healing is a process driven by the patient that exists outside of the billable deliverable services and interventions that fuel our health care enterprises. One definition of healing is an inner agency that gives a degree of relief from suffering, an inner agency that the patient must find within the depths of his or her own psyche. Another is the human experience of self -discovery and transformation that results in a sense of being whole and connected.
The National Institutes of Health has begun to research factors related to healing. Their work identified the following three primary factors that are considered to be interrelated constructs. They are:
- reflection & introspection
- trust & acceptance.
The paper describes connection to belief in and relationship with a higher power and includes religion, religious community, and family. Reflection and introspection refer to finding meaning, purpose, gratitude and joy in nature. It includes activities that connect one’s own mind and body, interconnectedness with others, present moment orientation, and an increased sense of awareness about the fragility of life. The third category refers to accepting what is, feeling resolved, feeling at peace, and trusting that caregivers, friends, and family will respond to needs as they arise.
Eastern traditions deeply challenge Western views of healing, starting with the perspective that the patient’s true nature exists as a subtle (non-putative) field of vital energy. This vitality is regarded as intelligent, wise, formless, nameless and not subject to the suffering of the body, mind or emotions. Suffering is understood to come from being born into embodied form, forgetting our formless nature and mistaking our form as our “I-ness” Therefore, by virtue of these previous definitions of healing as individual transcendence of suffering, Eastern views consider the patient ‘s essential nature as healed. Yoga philosophy predates Buddhism, as well as all scientific literature related to human health and healing. Its teachings and practices create a path to healing via the alleviation of suffering by a process of remembering or awakening to one’s inherent fullness/wholeness.
There are commonalities and differences in these perspectives. An existing model that integrates both perspectives can be found in the Whole Health Model. It represents a contemporary and secular model that touches upon the deep wisdom of Eastern traditions. It illustrates unity through its use of circles, elevates the role of self care in health and posits a non-hierarchical placement of stakeholders.