Monday, September 24, 2007

Curing vs. Healing...

When the question of curing versus healing was first posed to me, I was in chiropractic school, and told in philosophy class that curing symptoms is pointless at best and harmful at worst. Successful symptom elimination was compared to taking the battery out of a beeping fire alarm--if we know where the smoke is coming from, then it's no big deal. But imagine the damage if there is an actual fire raging somewhere else in the house!

And that's the main challenge with the curing perspective--it's impossible to know whether there is a fire somewhere else in the house when our only focus is on the beeping alarm. Curing requires first the determination of a problem, usually associated to a specific body part or disease process, and then the elimination or at least control of the identified pathogen/pathology. The goal of curing, and of treatments intended to cure, is the removal of symptoms from the body, the removal of that beeping alarm. Unfortunately, the source of the offending symptom is not always obvious, and the pursuit of an elusive cause is often abandoned once the beeping is resolved.

Even if the determined cause is appropriate, and the problem can be solved, thinking about our health in this way can have a distancing and disempowering effect. We learn to function with an understanding of our bodies as machines with parts that break down as a consequence of time, injury, or random happenstance. When symptoms appear, we turn to the expert physician whose authority it is to diagnose us and to fix us, God willing. We are no longer responsible for or involved in what's happening with our bodies and our selves because the disease has been identified, and the professionals are on the job. We take the role of victim, and our broken body becomes the enemy.

I accepted these arguments against curing as a student, and even espoused them to those around me. But it seems that in life and in practice, black-and-white becomes gray-gray-gray. I was hard-pressed to give a categorical "no" when clients and friends asked me whether or not to take the Vicadin that was prescribed to them, or what I think about their use of Advil, Tylenol, etc. What I am coming to understand is that the desire to cure is strong in all of us--we want things to make sense, we want to be certain, we want health care to be a series of clear-cut choices. And with life-threatening symptoms as well as situations where our sense of safety is threatened, curing symptoms is essential to healing.

Healing, of course, is what I was taught chiropractic is all about. Healing involves the whole person, healing comes from within, healing is the process by which our body, mind, and spirit become more connected and integrated. While curing and healing are often placed in opposition to each other, I am learning that in truth they each have their place and primacy. The real problem with either approach is denying the importance of the other.

Healing and more next time... : )

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