Hippocrates once wrote, "The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well." This statement corresponds to the basic philosophy of naturopathic medicine that acknowledges the presence of a "vital force" within all of us. As naturopathic doctors, we are taught to acknowledge, stimulate, and restore this vital force. The stronger the vital force, the healthier and more robust our patients are. The definition of vital force is the energy or spirit that animates living creatures; the soul.
Many of the principles followed in the psychospiritual model originate and correlate with basic naturopathic principles, which include "the healing power of nature," "Identify and treat the cause," "First do no harm," "Treat the whole person," and "Physician, heal thyself," which all involve addressing the mental, emotional, and physical components of every person.
Addressing the spirit or soul has been off limits in medicine for over 2000 years. Confronting this soul/spirit presence and acknowledging this reality and utilizing it as a viable source for healing has been seriously frowned upon. Yet most of us realize that we do possess a soul, and many of us cultivate our spiritual essence on a daily basis with a spiritual practice. Why is it that we often ignore using one of the greatest healing tools available?
As physicians and healers, we are presented with the opportunity to treat the whole person, mental, emotional, and physical (mind, body, and spirit). Observing, acknowledging, and documenting these vital components is essential in determining one's overall health and well-being. It has only been within the last 50 to 75 years that conventional medicine has reluctantly accepted the relationship of the obvious interaction between the mind and the body. This was not an easy pill to swallow for those who held onto René Descartes's reductionism theory. This school of thought considered mind as merely part of the body "machine." Descartes saw two separate parts to man: mind and body. His hypothesis was that the body could affect the mind but the mind had no interaction with or effect on the body. Mind and its thought processes simply did not affect the body. Information flowed just one way.
The eventual change, and acceptance, was precipitated by the advent of new scientific findings which proved that we are indeed more than the sum of our "mechinistic" parts and that the mind does indeed communicate with and affect the body. The eventual discoveries of messenger molecules, peptide receptors, and microbiome activity have further validated the fact the body and the mind are indeed connected, and the idea of duality and separateness is no longer scientifically accepted, although the notion of separateness is still widely promoted. The added recognition and acceptance of quantum physics, which indicated that consciousness creates reality and that the body has an ongoing communication network with the mind, further legitimize this connection. Max Planck, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918, saw consciousness as fundamental. He said, "I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness." This realization that we are all connected with this conscious has opened a new era of awareness.
Psychospiritual medicine encom-passes the psychological relationship between spirituality and the mind. There are other key factors that influence the psychospiritual medical paradigm; these include emotional, social, genetic, familial, biological, tribal input, and personal relationship. It is the integration of psychological growth and spiritual attunement. It is a different and new perspective of looking at and addressing psychological issues. These "issues" involve assisting the patient in learning effective ways of taking greater personal responsibility and thus creating a different response; viewing the complications of life as not just problems (to solve) but as gateways to greater understanding of oneself. Crisis can become an opportunity for greater understanding, depending on one's outlook and what old and dysfunctional habits that one hasn't been able to change yet.
Our goal in utilizing the psychospiritual modality is to respond to and treat the different psychological manifestations that keep the patient from experiencing a more healthy and vital life. By bringing attention, focus, and awareness to the psychological issues that are present with each patient, we can better facilitate and move that patient to a place of greater self-realization. In assessing where the patient is stuck or holding onto old patterns that perpetuate their disease and dysfunction, we can better move forward to providing real solutions for essential change. This change occurs more successfully when we connect our patients to their deeper consciousness and provide an understanding that they indeed have the ability to create the life they so desire. Our role as physicians is to assist and facilitate this metamorphosis. Yes, we are meant to evolve and become more conscious beings.
Psychospiritual medicine allows for an expansion of etiology, or cause and effect, and its development has spawned new and creative ways of looking at the interaction of the spirit, mind, heart, and emotions within the body. In this process, new disciplines have also emerged, and new techniques have been developed that allow the practitioner to deepen their understanding of the interplay between the spiritual self, the conscious and unconscious mind, emotions, and the environmental conditioning – all of which play a vital part in the creation of both the qualities that all humans share as well as the ways those qualities are unique to each individual.
This spiritual approach recognizes and accesses higher consciousness using mind techniques, mindfulness, meditation, biofeedback, visualization, awareness, imagery, a positive mental outlook, intuition, and other tools used in the pursuit of better understanding. Certain brave pioneers took the risk and believed that there must be more effective treatment plans that had not been tapped into yet. One such noble pioneer was Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, who in 1979 recruited chronically ill patients not responding well to traditional treatments to participate in his newly formed 8-week stress reduction program, now called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). These mindfulness-based interventions im-proved both the mental and physical health of those patients in the original study far beyond anyone's expectations, and this program has become legendary.
Traditional psychotherapy often tended to focus on the negative aspects of mental health, in the diagnosis and treatment of mental diseases and disorders. Although in recent years there has been a movement in both psychology and psychiatry to focus on the more positive aspects of mental health, many practitioners still find themselves limited to numbing their patients with psychotropic drugs to manage certain psychological issues. The greater awareness of the mind–body connection has shed more light on the significant role that spirituality plays in health, longevity, and personal contentment.
Using spirituality in therapy requires the practitioner to pay close attention to the belief systems of their patients and find certain concepts of spirituality that offer a unique fit for each patient. This requires listening for cues and asking probing questions that facilitate this process in flourishing. Some patients may be reluctant to let themselves enter this new territory of exploration, and it is the physician's duty to meet patients where they are. In my practice, I have found that many patients are at first reluctant to enter into such vulnerable discussions. Simply asking them what are their spiritual practices are, if any, is a basic and functional starting point for this delicate and most intimate discussion. I believe that all beings have a basic inherent desire to possess and cultivate a deeper spiritual connection. Some folks just have more difficulty in getting in touch with how to accomplish this innate desire. There is a lot of history that keeps people unwilling to risk change … just listen to certain patients who argue for their limitations: sure enough, they wind up owning those self-imposed restrictions.
Hippocrates also recognized the moral and spiritual aspects of healing, and believed that treatment could occur only with consideration of attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies. Interpreting Hippocrates's meaning of consideration implies taking personal responsibility (ownership) for our attitude, our environmental influences (as we see and interpret them), and the treatment using natural remedies.
Our world is calling for a deeper and more compassionate presence, and it ultimately begins within. Reaching that place often requires guidance, direction, and a willingness to explore new places. There will be failures, missteps, moments of extreme exasperation, and general frustration. The peaks will eventually bring light to the valleys of despair. People can and do change; it involves a great deal of heartfelt and real personal examination. Unfortunately, this incredible modality of healing has not yet become a primary treatment plan in medicine today. There is change afoot, and let's start with ourselves. The benefits are boundless!