What is Healing? And Who Should Care?

We all talk about the healing but what exactly is healing? Medicine supposed to be a healing profession but it is rear in medical literature to find any extensive discussion on healing. Is healing just curing the diseased part of our bodies? Can person be healed and still have a disease process going on inside the body? Is healing a much wider concept then just eliminating the disease?

Quite often patients come back from the specialist after having had extensive investigations to explain their symptoms but the investigations all come back as normal. The medical profession and the patients assume that no “healing “is required if all the investigations come back as normal. I remember my teachers and lot of the specialists even now tell their patients all the investigations have come back normal so there is nothing wrong and no further treatment or investigations are necessary. The patient continues to experience the symptoms and at this point may even feel worse because nothing was found, no explanation for the symptoms exist and often patients at this stage wonder if they are going crazy? This disconnect between the investigations and the symptoms patient is experiencing is because the concept of the healing here is too narrow.

Physicians today are trained as scientists, they learn about the diseases, the treatments and prevention of the diseases. This very nature of their training makes them look for the underlying cause of the disease, treat it and prevent it from coming back again. The focus is on curing the underlying cause, if this cause is not identified the physician is unable to help.  His role has changed from “healer of the sick “ to the “curer of disease”. This shift of the roles over time, has radically changed the doctor – patient relationship; instead of getting to know the patient as a person, there is a tendency to focus on the disease and the patient becomes to be seen as a disease rather than a person.  There is nothing wrong with focusing on the underlying disease but it should not be at the expense of not knowing the patient as a person. As we will see later, without knowing the patient as a person the physician is not a very effective healer; although sadly lots of physicians don’t see their role as healers anymore.

There is no one definition of what healing is that everyone can agree.  However, there are many features of healing that most would agree with. Most would for example agree that someone who is not “whole” would require healing. So healing here means becoming whole again.  People may argue about what “whole” is but even here common ground for agreement can be found. Most can agree that to be whole means restoring physical health, emotional health, intellectual health, social health and spiritual health. I realize these terms can be argued with too, but in general most should be able to agree.

There are those who emphasize healing in context of real persons in connection with other real persons “ to be whole is always to be whole in the presence of others” – one cannot be whole in isolation by oneself; this is known as healing as a narrative. Persons life narratives are social constructions, stories fashioned in connection with others.  For example when patient over time sees his physician, together they create a close physician – patient relationship that is personal in nature, very private information is shared; in this process healing narrative are created during which healer physician help to restore patient to being whole. There maybe other people in the patients life who may play the role of the healer through their relationship.

There are others who emphasize the theme of spirituality in the healing process.  Here the patient finds meaning of the illness through their spirituality.  This leads to a transcendence of suffering, “ things fall into place”- patient find a peaceful place. I see this kind of “ healing” in patients with terminal illness with very short life expectancy. Notice I am saying healing has occurred even though the patient has a terminal illness. This is because I am using the word healing in much wider context. Here the healing has occurred because patient through his personal experience has transcended suffering.

In summary, if we try to put all this together it seems that healing is to do with a human experience of being a whole person physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Furthermore, the wholeness of personhood is facilitated through personal relationships that are made over time; resulting in the transcendence of suffering.

Who should care what healing is?…..we all should!


The Meaning of Healing : Transcending Suffering: Discussion

Thomas R. Egnew, EdD, LICSW, Tacoma Family Medicine, Tacoma, and Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Wash


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  1. Nadia

     /  January 29, 2012

    hear hear!

  2. Wilma

     /  January 30, 2012

    This is why it is so important that people have family physicians. There are many people who are not able to get a family physician and they need to resort to going to a medicentre and seeing which ever doctor happens to be in for the day. When that becomes the primary way of doing medicine, there is no longer any patient-physician relationship and medical care for people becomes eroded and poor quality. That’s a very sad state of affairs and yet it is common and does not leave room for healing to take place.

  1. The Healing Doctor & His Spiritual Guru « Laughter Brothers

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