The Healing Value of Illness

  “…the body’s symptoms are not necessarily pathological, that is, they are not just sicknesses which must be healed, repressed or cured. Symptoms are potentially meaningful and purposeful conditions. They could be the beginning of fantastic phases of life, or they could bring one amazingly close to the centre of existence. They can also be a trip into another world, as well as a royal road into the development of the personality.” 


“If people become ill, it is quite fashionable to say that the immunity system has temporarily failed – yet the body itself knows that certain ‘dis-eases’ are healthy reactions. The body does not recognise diseases as diseases in usually understood terms. It regards all activity as experience, as a momentary condition of life, as a balancing situation.”

Seth – from ‘The Way Toward Health’ by Jane Roberts

In its ‘war against disease’ – a war conducted at whatever cost to the state or to the individual – neither the meaning of illness nor the potentially healing value of illness are acknowledged by biological and genetic medicine. Life Medicine, on the other hand is founded on the recognition that illnesses can themselves serve many different healing purposes:

  • Giving bodily expression to a felt ‘dis-ease’ – to ways in which we may feel ill-at-ease with ourselves, other people or different aspects of our lives.
  • Forcing us to take ‘time out’ from merely ‘functioning’ in a physically or economically desired way.
  • Helping us to feel, focus on and confront painful life problems – even if only through the way in which physical pain can itself focus the mind.
  • Bringing us to a necessary ‘crisis’ in the root sense of the word – a decisive ‘turning point’ in our lives.
  • Allowing us to fully express and reveal intense emotional pain by feeling and expressing it as a reaction to physical pain.
  • Incapacitating us in a way that allows us to accept real limits to our capacities – limits we might otherwise have sought (or been put under pressure) to deny and overcome.
  • Letting us become dependent on others in a socially acceptable way, and in this way to express dependency needs which we might otherwise think are unacceptable.
  • Enabling us to indirectly ask for and receive emotional care and attention from others through the care of our bodies and being taken care of as ‘patients’.
  • Helping us to give more time and be more patient with ourselves and others by becoming ‘a patient’.
  • Providing a temporary respite from life problems by becoming a medical ‘patient’ in need of treatment and care.
  • Providing a temporary but coherent organising principle for a person’s life – built around their symptoms or around timetables of rest and treatment.
  • Overcoming isolation and offering a medium of human contact through relationships with physicians or through the social environment of a hospital ward.
  • Putting us into an altered state of consciousness – one in which we can come to feel ourselves and see our lives in a different way.
  • Stopping us from just living in our heads and minds and helping us feel our bodies again – thereby giving us a fuller, more embodied sense of self.
  • Transforming our ‘body identity’ and ‘body speech’ – bringing about and giving birth to a new bodily sense of who we are and new bodily ways of relating to others.
  • Allowing us to identify with and feel close to an important person in our lives – living or deceased – who may have suffered symptoms of illnesses similar to our own.
  • Giving symbolic expression to a subjectively felt dis-ease. For example heart conditions as a metaphorical expression of either ‘loss of heart’ or ‘heartlessness’, ‘cold-heartedness’ or ‘faint-heartedness’ etc.
  • Giving birth to a new bodily sense of self or ‘body identity’ – one more in tune with one’s current life, able to relate in new ways to others and respond in new ways to one’s life world.

Finally, we must not forget the importance of illness as a quite natural way of dying or as a way out of intolerable life circumstances such as extreme poverty or war. The ‘war’ that biological medicine wages on disease on the other hand, is part of a wholly unnatural and wholly unwinnable war against the basic life realities of both aging and death. That is why people seek cosmetic or herbal ‘elixirs’ of youth and science seeks to develop bio-technologies that offer a purely physical form of immortality. What this reveals is a social culture that values quantitative longevity over quality of life, and why biomedicine uses all possible means – even the most toxic – to extend the lives of patients by mere months – at whatever economic cost and at whatever cost to a patient’s quality of life.

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