An alternative view of healing that includes four different dimensions responsible for maintaining the health.
Science is a powerful tool. It can give us hard numbers and solid evidence showing what outcomes we can expect from medical interventions. However, it is not a final answer when it comes to how we heal.
Dr Wayne Jonas, MD describes a ‘paradox of healing’ in his new book How Healing Works. He dives into an exploration of the placebo effect, and describes case after case where patients who were given the placebo ended up with equal, if not better results than those patients who received the actual treatment. He explains that research has shown “that the healing effect from fake treatments could vary from 0% to 100%—even for the same disease and same treatment— depending on the context and cultural meaning in which they were delivered. For example, patients show a better response to acupuncture in China, where it is a widely accepted and utilized treatment. Pain medicine proves to be more effective when delivered with a needle rather than a pill, administered in the hospital rather than at home, and given along with “a positive and confident message rather than a neutral or skeptical message.”
Since 1995, research on the placebo effect has grown widely, and is examining how and why the placebo effect seems to be responsible for up to 80% of healing across many treatment modalities. It has been shown that “the effect of the social ritual and the meaning it creates for a patient produces a larger rate of healing than the treatment itself.” Jonas, a practicing family physician, research scientists, and professor of medicine at Georgetown University, wants to understand how to harness this information to bring greater healing response to treatments given to his patients. He, along with his colleague Professor Moerman, presented an idea that, rather than the term placebo effect, physicians consider “the physiological, psychological, and clinical effects of meaning when a placebo (or inert treatment) is used.”
Jonas presents an alternative view of healing, that includes meaning, called whole systems science. It offers the perspective of “all the chemical, energetic, psychological and social exchanges of a person visualized as a web-like ball composed of millions of interactions occurring every second.” The idea is that this webbed ball wants to retain its’ spherical shape, and even when a trauma or illness destabilizes it, it will do it’s best to bounce back—or in other words, to bring healing and balance to the system. Jonas describes the different dimensions responsible for maintaining the health of the web as four-fold, and maintenance of health as a whole should be approached with the idea that we are “more like a garden to be cultivated than a car to be fixed.” We can no longer act on one part of our system, and expect it to solve the whole.
The Four Dimensions of Healing
Body/External. This takes into account how the external, or physical aspects of your life are are interacting with your inner self, where meaning and values reside. This could involve creating spaces that activate healing, because “the brain is built to respond to the place we are in—directly, continuously, and unconsciously.” This response of the brain either amplifies healing or disease based on our nervous system’s response. Natural light, the presence of nature, and cleanliness and safety are all part of this dimension.
Behavior/Lifestyle. It has been shown that a healthy lifestyle can prevent up to seventy percent of chronic disease. Managing stress, eating healthy, exercising, not smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption are all part of a healthy lifestyle. Many people try to use willpower to change their behavior, especially after they have been diagnosed with some form of illness, and often it is does not work. Instead, Jonas offers, We must find the meaning in any kind of behavior change before we can expect it to last.
Social/Emotional. Jonas describes that one of the greatest secrets to healing is to become aware of, and learn to manage, how you handle love and fear; “love opens. Fear contracts. Both of them are needed for healing.” Simple physical presence of a loved one can stimulate healing, as can sharing an experience of deep trauma or loss with another person. When we are able to connect with others, to share in the experience of both our greatest fears and our deepest loves, we are supporting ourselves in creating healing throughout our system.
Spiritual/Mental. We all want our lives to make some kind of sense, we want there to be meaning in our existence. Jonas contends, “the most powerful way we have for making healing work is our own automatic assumptions about whether healing is possible- that is, the story we, our family and friends, and culture tell us about the way things are and can be.” He explores various mind-body and spirit modalities to see what resonates with his patients because he knows that only those that truly touch them, and have meaning in their lives, will offer any hope of healing.
Jonas offers many specific practices to try, as well as advice on engaging your health care providers in your search for an integrative approach to well-being. In seeking to widen the scope of healing from one of treating a disease to including a person’s entire being is a promising a hopeful look at the future of health-care.