October 22, 2001
Alternative Emotional Healing
In the January 28, 1993 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, David M. Eisenberg of Harvard published an interesting research paper that rocked the medical establishment. It essentially reported that one in three Americans choose "unconventional therapy" or alternative healing methods. Here is a quote from the abstract:
"Extrapolation to the US population suggests that in 1990 Americans made an estimated 425 million visits to providers of unconventional therapy. This number exceeds the number of visits to all US primary care physicians (388 million). Expenditures associated with use of unconventional therapy in 1990 amounted to approximately $13.7 billion, three quarters of which ($10.3 billion) was paid out of pocket. This figure is comparable to the $12.8 billion spent out of pocket annually for all hospitalizations in the United States."
The general consensus is that people are unhappy, and are seeking alternatives that work. The common complaints about the medical establishment are: haughty attitude; rushed or inadequate care; excessive use of drugs and surgery solutions; little understanding or encouragement of prevention and health; little understanding or concern for feelings.
Alternative medicine, in the form of chiropractic, naturopathy, homeopathy, dietary therapy, acupuncture, ayurveda, massage therapy, craniosacral, etc., is becoming very well accepted by the general public. There is a growing belief in the power and wisdom of the body, and a move away from the MDs to either self-help or alternative practitioners.
But what about the emotions?
In spite of this exodus away from modern physical medicine, the public still seems to be stuck with the established, institutional system when it comes to emotional problems, or what the "profession" calls "Mental Illness." This I find rather strange. For physical ailments, the public is turning away from medical doctors because of their inability to deal with the whole person in a feeling way, and yet for feeling issues, statistics show that most people turn to their family doctor, who most often prescribes drug therapy! What makes an MD expert in emotional health? They are never tested for their own emotional stability and rarely train in psychotherapeutic facilitation.
If people get past their GP, they are referred to the next establishment phalanx - the psychiatrists and psychologists - MDs and PhDs who usually either prescribe medication or blatantly deny the value of emotions and administer cognitive/behavioural mind-control methods. These "experts" are also never tested for their own emotional stability, and work from an intellectual, academic understanding of emotion. This is equivalent to climbing with a mountain guide who has never been on a mountain.
There are alternative therapists for emotional or mind-body healing, but the public is not rapidly seeking them out. It isn't because of the cost, since as Eisenberg presented, the masses are paying billions out-of-pocket for alternative medicine. I think it's because alternative psychotherapists have not made themselves and their methods well known and understood, and because emotions are still the last frontier of whole person health. Regular alternative medicine still deals with a known entity - the physical body, even if it is explained by some unconventional models. The emotions . . . now that's another ball game.
In modern western culture, the wisdom and expression of emotions is misunderstood, unappreciated, feared, and even viewed with contempt. As children, our strong body knowledge of joy, fear, sadness and anger is suppressed and shamed into submission. We are told to "grow up" and mold ourselves into the ideal image of the "together" adult - calm, cool, reasonable, and controlled. In short, emotionless.
When we and the medical establishment are out of touch with feelings, we cannot recognize emotional problems for what they are. The tool we need to unravel the mess - feeling - is dormant. Confused, we follow that which is familiar, and turn to doctors instead of exercising other more helpful options.
I would like to propose that everyone apply the same yardstick for emotional health as we do with physical health. We want considerate, whole person care, focused on wellness that encourages natural healing rather than illness that requires drug and surgical intervention.
For whole mind-body health, it's wise to consider all the alternatives.