My first year of medical school had a required course called Naturopathic Philosophy. Multiple professors giving their perspectives on being a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) taught the class. An important question in ND practice is one’s philosophy about how healing occurs. In one of the classes, the discussion of how to heal came up. Early in the course, there was one professor I was immediately drawn to. He was a Naturopathic Doctor and not an acupuncturist, but he spoke in terms of how organ systems interacted much like in Chinese Medicine.
As a quick side note, I am mildly trained in Chinese Medicine. I don’t use acupuncture in my practice but understand some of the principles. Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) works within the context of five-element theory that believes that different organ systems interact in the body in ways that can create imbalances. A symptom might show up in the heart but that may not be where the problem originates. Western medicine has some of this concept in it as well. For example, high blood pressure may have less to do with the heart and more to do with water retention because of kidney troubles. Generally though, Western Medicine attempts to gain symptom relief within the context of the biochemistry and pathology.
The speaker that day, Dr. Dickson Thom, discussed a six-element theory based on Anthroposophical Medicine and the work of Rudolf Steiner. The five-pointed star of CCM became a six-pointed star of two interlaced triangles in Dr. Thom’s model. The bottom triangle consisted of kidney/adrenal, digestion, and lung. (See diagram 1). These organ systems are about assimilation and elimination. If there is an imbalance in one, symptoms may appear in another. For example, people with liver congestion may present with allergies. A Western Medical approach would be to give anti-histamines, resolving the symptom but not necessarily the underlying problem.
Understanding the interactions of organ systems gives a better indication of how to treat disease. It also creates great complexity even for practitioners. Seeing the interconnections between body parts is requisite to effective medicine. The goal in Chinese Medicine and Naturopathy is balance of physiology.
What isn’t on the diagram is the interaction between the physical body and the mental/emotional and spiritual components of human existence. Much has been written about these topics, and Anthroposophical medicine discusses the interaction of the mental and spiritual with the body. That day we touched on the subject when Dr. Thom stated that it takes years for people to regain health. I questioned that assumption and spoke to him at a break. I said to him, “people can heal spontaneously.” He said, “that’s true, but they don’t.”
Dr. Thom and I have continued this discussion many times over the last 15 years, honing our arguments and discussing cases that illustrate our perspective views. We shared cases where people improved in ways that neither of us expected. I had a case several years ago of a patient who, in the process of doing neurofeedback, had an opening of his heart that couldn’t be explained by the treatment. His other physical symptoms disappeared at the same time. The headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle aches were gone. The neurofeedback treatment could explain some of this, including the relief of headaches, anxiety and insomnia, but not necessarily the good feeling and the muscle aches. His grief and broken heart over his divorce also lifted. What happened?
Dr. Thom and I discussed several patients with cancer that, medically speaking, should be dead but somehow healed and went into remission. There are no answers only questions. The purpose of this blog is to explore these questions. “How do people heal?” is one question, but other questions abound such as, “What is the connection between heart and brain?” “Where does mind reside?” and “How does one mend a broken heart?” It is my purpose to explore these questions, not so much to provide an answer as to ask the question.
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