One of the principal attractions of ‘alternative’ forms of medicine is that its practitioners tend to give a lot more time to their patients than doctors – at least in the initial consultation – and to ask questions about their lives and life situation as a whole of a sort that biomedical doctors have no time for or see no point in. All the more disappointing then, that such initial consultations usually prove to be a mere prelude to a procedure identical in principle to that of any biomedical doctor i.e. internally framing and ‘diagnosing’ the patient’s bodily symptoms in terms of an unquestioned body of knowledge (for example homeopathy or Traditional Chinese Medicine) and then prescribing some form of pre-given remedy or engaging in some form of preprescribed alternative ‘treatment’ – all in a way that the practitioner has been taught is appropriate to the patient’s condition according to their training – and which therefore demands of them no further or deeper thought.
The effectiveness of the alternative remedies or treatments is in large part due to the relationship of trust established between practitioner and patient and to their joint belief in the rationale and efficacy of whatever remedy or operational procedure (for example a selected acupuncture procedure) is prescribed. Belief and trust are the real foundation of the so-called ‘placebo effect’ – though this is a no less important factor in the efficacy of much orthodox biomedical practice than it is in the practice of alternative medicine. For even so-called random double-blind drug trials designed to exclude subjective or observational bias on the part of both patient and researcher assume in advance that the patient’s own body is not itself aware of whether it has been given a ‘placebo’ or a complex pharmaceutical drug even though the latter is bound to be registered and reacted to by the body and registered by the patient in one way or another.
The term ‘alternative medicine’ belongs to a variety of so-called approaches to medicine regarded as ‘holistic’ – that claim to ‘treat’ the person and not just the disease, i.e. the human being as a ‘whole’ and not just their body. Yet the very language of medicine and of holistic healing – in particular the use of the little word ‘and’ in stock phrases such as ‘mind and body’, ‘body and soul’ or ‘body, mind and spirit’ effectively reduces the human being to a mere assemblage of separate parts. In this way holistic medicine is again, no different in essence from biological medicine – with which it also shares the same basic aim of seeking ‘causes’ and ‘cures’ for illness rather than exploring its life meaning for the patient. Indeed the term ‘holistic healing’ does not even make linguistic sense, for it constitutes what is called a pleonasm like ‘black darkness’. That is because the words ‘whole’ and ‘holistic’ actually share many of the same roots as the word ‘healing’ itself – for example the Middle English hole/hoole and hāl from which the words ‘hail’ – meaning ‘be blessed with long life’ – ‘hale’ and ‘healthy’ are derived. In its linguistic roots, therefore, the phrase ‘holistic healing’ means nothing more than ‘healing which makes healthy’.
On the other hand, alternative methods of healing such as cranio-sacral therapy, acupressure, acupuncture and different types of massage can certainly be understood as stimulating a type of healing inter-cellular communication between different organs and parts of the body – not through the flow of any ‘thing’ that might be called ‘energy’ but rather in the form of breath or air-like flows of atomic, molecular and cellular awareness. Understanding such flows in this way can help bring us closer to essence of what is called ‘Alternative Medicine’ and its distinction from both Biological Medicine and Life Medicine – namely that it works neither through the so-called ‘physical body’ nor through any form of ‘energy body’ but rather through that bounded portion of our larger ‘body of feeling’ awareness’ or ‘lived body’ that can be called the ‘physical soul’.
Understood in this way, alternative medicine in all its forms may indeed be effective in ameliorating or working on symptoms in a way that does not rely on dangerous forms of biomedical testing and treatment. Yet even though biomedicine recognises neither a psychical ‘body of awareness’ nor a ‘physical soul’ made up of organising patterns of atomic, molecular and cellular awareness, the ‘effectiveness’ of alternative medicine tends to be assessed – even by its own practitioners – in exactly the same terms as biomedicine. That is why this ‘effectiveness’ can and often is disputed or dismissed on the basis of the purely statistical or so-called ‘evidence-based’ criteria of biomedical science and research, which (like the alternative medicine) fails to research and assess what is most important of all, i.e. the specific life meaning of a given symptom or illness for an individual patient as opposed to its supposedly universal ‘causes’ or ‘cures’ and the impersonal, statistical evidence surrounding or supporting them.
Biomedicine and alternative medicine differ essentially only in the language they use to describe such ‘causes’ and in the ‘cures’ they offer. Thus whereas a biomedical practitioner may seek the causes of a disease in our genes or in organic disorders, a practitioner of alternative medicine may seek them in the form of ‘blockages’ in ‘energy flows’, an imbalance of so-called ‘energy centres’ or ‘chakras’, a lack of specific vitamins or nutrients, or a surfeit of ‘bad’ ones. And whereas a biomedical practitioner may prescribe a pharmaceutical drug with serious side effects or invasive and potentially dangerous operative surgery as a ‘cure’, the alternative practitioner merely offers a different form of ‘cure’ in the form, say, of a natural herb or a safer type of treatment procedure such as massage or acupuncture. The use of both may, like pharmaceutical drugs, either serve as a placebo and/or have very genuine effects on what I call the ‘physical soul’. And yet, as I repeatedly emphasise, unlike ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ medicine, the focus of Life Medicine is neither on the physical soul or ‘body consciousness’ (i.e. the innate consciousness of our cells and tissues) and nor, like mainstream Biological Medicine, is its focus on the ‘physical body’ – which is nothing but the physical soul as perceived from the outside. Yet the physical soul is, again, but one portion of the lived body or soul body as a whole. Hence if only the patient’s body consciousness or physical soul is treated by whatever means – including those of ‘alternative medicine’ – then, despite all talk of treating the ‘whole person’ or of ‘holistic forms’ of medicine uniting ‘body and soul’, the patient’s larger soul and its body, their body of feeling awareness, remains unseen and unsensed.
In this sense the life of the human being and human body as a whole – their soul – is still ignored and left out of the picture even in alternative medicine. That is why, just as is the case in biological medicine (and no matter how more empathic, personable’ or ‘person-centred’ the ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ practitioner may be) the patient may be left feeling dis-ensouled. For whether in the form of homeopathic prescriptions, herbal remedies or acupuncture, the patient still ends up being given quasi-clinical and essentially impersonal forms of treatment which effectively treat them merely as ‘some body’ – and not at all as a unique, living, breathing and embodied soul – one with a soul life and a soul body that extends far beyond the boundaries of the flesh and embraces their entire life world. Then again, the patient as a ‘person’ is but one face of their soul. The patient’s larger soul life and life world however – and its relation to their illness – is something that not even the most detailed medical history can offer a practitioner of any sort the slightest clues to – unless, as in the practice of Life Medicine, it is ‘complemented’ by also taking a detailed life history of the patient.