About Jamie What is Somatic Expression? CalendarPhotography Somatic Expression Articles Somatic Expression Links Somatic Expression Products Contact Jamie McHugh Home Page

“I respect all choices that people make and undertake in their healing process, whether it is allopathic, Chinese, or Christian Science!”

Monthly Aspectarian December 1996

Originally published in The Monthly Aspectarian, Chicago, IL, USA.

Last month I wrote a statement about my reflections on the biopsychosocial nature of illness and the treatment of disease, especially HIV as that is the condition I live with myself and work with others so affected. I questioned some of the underlying philosophical premises of Western medicine and how that translates into actual care. My questioning of Western medicine provoked the most comments, as if by critiquing it I am attacking the very glue that holds together our collective hope.

I respect all choices that people make and undertake in their healing process, whether it is allopathic, Chinese, or Christian Science! What we place our faith and belief in is our right as individuals, and the power of faith is an active ingredient in the formula of healing. What I am challenging is the monopoly that allopathic medicine has on our thinking, and the lack of access to different cognitive and actual possibilities. Our semantics reflect this bias. As a friend of mine who is an MD pointed out to me years ago, allopathic medicine is a fairly recent trend in world history and should actually be labeled as "alternative medicine", rather than Chinese medicine, for example, which has been around for at least 2,000 years. Yet our thinking seems to be, OK, alternatives can be helpful as long as they are "complementary". Very often this translates into, as long as they take a back seat to the "real thing."

"It is easy for me to see parallels between the points you address, and the kind of pathologizing I witness every day in the psych hospital, where peoples’ strengths often get buried beneath labels like "borderline" and "sociopath". Still, those diagnostic labels serve some function and can't be entirely dispensed with, just as the psychiatric meds serve a vital role for many people purely because without them their symptoms are intolerable. While you personally have survived HIV for so long, quite probably because of the unique blending of healing paths you have pursued, it is not a given that any other individual, doing the exact same things you are doing (my highlight), would have lived those twelve years. I reminded of how my mother, who died of a supposedly treatable form of lung cancer, died with all those Louise Hay and Bernie Siegal healing tapes and herbal remedies in her possession. I bring this up because I think my mother felt a sense of personal guilt and failure, as if she wasn't doing her wholistic healing the "right" way. Of course, the toxic chemotherapy had a lot to do with the complications she eventually died from."   Rob

I agree that "it is not a given that any other individual, doing the exact same things that you are doing, would have lived those twelve years." I am not proposing that people should follow my way, but that each of us should chart the course of our own healing practice and not abandon ourselves to any authority, whether it is an MD, a shaman, or a therapist. What I am proposing is we question and evaluate our assumptions about health and healing; seek information, resources and other people for support; give ourselves the space and time to explore and determine the values of differing treatments; and make decisions based on intuition and bodily feedback as well as through cognition.

In choosing my path, I am communicating my intention on many levels to my conscious and unconscious that I am engaged, that I want to live; and I wish the same for others, whatever protocol they adapt. But no matter what treatments we choose, there is no guarantee that things will unfold as we imagine. Life is not guaranteed to us, no matter what our sero-status is. As Vaclav Havel, the Czechoslovakian playwright and political leader has stated, "Hope is not the conviction that things will turn out well, but the certainty that things will make sense no matter how they turn out."

My former partner is a nurse on an AIDS outpatient unit. He takes my challenges as a personal attack on his "family". I do not question the intentions nor the personal commitment of his colleagues for the well-being of their patients. We are all doing the best job that we can given our knowledge and our training. What I'm questioning is the strategy, not the need for a strategy; and I'm also questioning the form of treatments, and not the need for treatment.

In French, they differentiate between "medecine dure" (hard medicine) and "medecine douce" (soft medicine). Dure is the medicine of drugs, chemotherapy, surgery, etc. whereas douce is what we usually refer to as "alternative medicine", such as herbs, vitamins, acupuncture, osteopathy, etc. Obviously there is a need for both, but what I wonder is why are we not starting with the softer path? Why isn’t the first step in dealing with illness a comprehensive strategy utilizing treatments that have fewer side-effects on the organism? Do we not trust the body’s ability to heal itself with a soft regimen? Does our fear of dying push us to take strong measures immediately that can have adverse effects? Does having the heavy artillery available lull us into a certain complacency so we wait until things get really bad before we respond?

In contemporary agriculture, there has been an increasing reliance on the use of fertilizers and pesticides to generate high yields. Looking at it from the perspective of immediate gain, we could label this a success and find it odd, perhaps even crazy, that a farmer would not follow this protocol. Yet in recent years, we have begun to notice that there are "side-effects" to this means of production. The soil is being depleted of its nutrients too rapidly, without the time to regenerate; the chemicals are playing havoc with water supplies; and the pests are becoming resistant to them. Rather than examining the wisdom of the land and following its rules, we are imposing a goal and not paying attention to the diversity of effects and the means where-by. We have to give up some yield to care for the land and remember the whole ecosystem. Are we doing the same with the body?

"Drugs are OK and important in order to prolong the life. But they can not bring a real "healing" of the body. Your point of view can not be used as a product, that you can use and then the body is healed. It is more an inner work that your point of view implies and this needs time. So for me it needs both: the drugs and your inner healing." Mathias

I am not totally convinced that drugs prolong life - compared to what? Almost all our research studies that indicate the varying levels of immune markers and life-expectancy data revolve around pharmaceutically-based treatments (usually financed by the pharmaceutical industries). At the recent XI International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver, there was only 1 ninety-minute session that addressed complementary therapies in the official program out of over 100 sessions. Even to get into a clinical trial these days (where the research originates), you usually are required to have already been on an anti-viral, or to continue the drugs you are doing.

According to WHO (World Health Organization), an estimated 22 million people are currently infected with HIV. 93% of these HIV+ people live in the developing world while the other 7% live in the First World of Western Europe and North America. As we witness the impending economic collapse of our healthcare system in the US, we can perhaps begin to comprehend the situation of the global community. With the new wonder drugs such as the protease inhibitors averaging a yearly cost of $14,000 per person (and having only been successful for 12 months so far in research studies), how long can health-care providers and insurance companies meet the growing demand for these treatments in the West alone?

All of this was placed in perspective at the Vancouver conference. An African woman with AIDS, at the end of her presentation, thanked her sponsor who paid for her airfare to the conference. That money, she stated, would feed her two sons, ages 8 and 10, through their whole adolescence. And the money another sponsor provided her with for registration fees (about $760) is the equivalent of two years of wages!

It is incumbent for us to begin to redirect our research strategies away from a disproportionate pre-occupation with virology and chemistry and to begin to invest more resources in immunology, and increase our understanding of the mechanisms by which the body heals itself. We should begin to research traditional medicines, more of the "medecine douce" that is easily available and accessible to the world’s peoples - even those that seem preposterous to the rational mind. Dr. Elizabeth Targ of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco conducted a research project last summer on the effects of healing at a distance with 60 men who were HIV+ in San Francisco. She found those who were prayed for, without their knowledge, did better in terms of immune markers than those who were not.

"The healers donated at least 30 hours of their professional time, and 60% signed up to do it again for the current phase of the study. Delivering the packets with patient information required perseverance at both ends. One of the packets went to an Alaskan town by small plane, and another was delivered via small boat to an island on a lake in the Idaho wilderness. Some of the healers report "taking on" the study subject as a permanent "healee" and working with them psychically beyond the end of the study. The healers as a whole were extraordinarily caring, and were very moved by the situation of the men in the study. They included Native American healers, a fundamentalist Christian, a Chi Gong master, and many people from healing training schools e.g. Joyce Goodrich program, Rosalind Bruyere, etc."  (She is currently following up this study with a new group of 120 men with HIV.)

December 1 is World AIDS Day, for us to remember those who we have lost and to acknowledge the reality of the on-going pandemic. If nothing else, we can offer a prayer on that day. And for us who have the benevolent good fortune of living in the West, with the abundance of clean water, shelter, nutrition, education, and mobility, it is morally imperative we continue to investigate all possibilities for healing, even those that challenge our cultural norms and cognitive paradigms, not only for our own sake but for the benefit of those less fortunate in the world.


Originally published in The Monthly Aspectarian, December 1996, Chicago, IL, USA.

Copyright by Jamie McHugh. All rights reserved.


Return to top

Jamie McHugh.