Updated: Jun 3, 2021
It was just over a year ago that I had my first appointment with a naturopathic doctor. At the time, it was out of necessity. I was living in Vancouver and could not actually find a GP accepting new patients. I was seeking medical advice for fatigue, pain in my side, oddities in my vision/balance and pressure in my ears - among others. To my surprise, my new doctor did not start the appointment by looking in my ears, or poking and prodding at my ribs; rather, she asked me about my state of mind, my current work and stress load, my coping mechanisms and resources. “This feels more like therapy” I thought. Then something strange happened. As I told her about what was going on in my life, I felt tears come to the surface. I softened to her questions and appreciated her validation. Maybe she was onto something…
Ancient Buddhist wisdom teaches us that the body and mind are connected in intricate and inseparable ways. Eastern-oriented disciplines such as acupuncture and homeopathy have long acknowledged this connection in both theory and practice. The field of Psychology has only recently acknowledged this interrelation. Recent trauma research for instance, demonstrates how despite the mind’s best efforts to forget, the body can hold onto traumatic memories in the form of chronic pain, sleeplessness, and unexplained injury.
Take a moment to call to mind the last time you went to the doctor. What caused you to be there? How did you feel when you left? Did you feel heard, respected, taken care of? If so, great! I would be so relieved to hear your story. If your experience was anything like mine, you were more likely to feel rushed, exposed, disconnected. I often leave the doctors feeling as though “wait, what just happened?”
The fact is, the conceptualization of the human as a whole has become practically obsolete in the more common methods of medicine that we see in the West today. Our predominant medical model benefits when the general public subscribe to the belief that humans are made up of disparate parts, each with its own possibility for malfunction and thus, repair. It is from within this reductionist ideology that humans are going to such extreme lengths as getting back surgery for pain that is not linked to injury (John Sarno) or taking strong doses of prescription drugs for idiopathic diseases (conditions that arise spontaneously and with no known/understood origin).
Western medicine is, in its own right, miraculous and I am not trying to suggest otherwise. Even the most well-meaning practitioners must conform to such strict limitations as time with patients, expected daily caseloads/intakes, and basic space restrictions. What I am proposing is that we have lost something, something important. The slow medicine movement(3) captures this concept beautifully in its desire to afford doctors the time and space to build meaningful relationships with their patients. As Peter Jaret points out in his article Inside the Slow Medicine Movement, “There’s room for both slow medicine and fast medicine. If you’re injured in a car accident or you have a heart attack, believe me, you want fast medicine. You want a doctor to find out what’s wrong and fix it. But if you have a chronic condition, like diabetes, the slower approach may be much more helpful”.
When I saw my naturopathic doctor for the first time and she asked me about my mental health, I see now that she was practicing slow, holistic, medicine. She wasn’t trying to zero in on the problem and fix it. She was seeking to make meaningful connections. Not just between me and her, but between me and my body, my body and mind, my pain and circumstance, my health and happiness. The fact is, we all deserve to be treated as whole beings. Holistic healthcare urges us to look beyond imposed models and imagine solutions for a happier, healthier, whole society.