I was recently interviewed for The Dr. Hedberg Show, where we spoke about mast cell activation syndrome and how exactly the condition is diagnosed. In this podcast, we reviewed the similarities that exist among certain conditions (fatigue, brain fog, and GERD to name a few) and how they may be indicative of mast cell activation syndrome.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman joins Pandora Peoples on WOMR and WFMR radio to discuss the origins of The Hoffman Centre and the benefits of the integrative approach to functional medicine. Dr. Bruce Hoffman utilizes the ayurvedic model through a program he developed called, The Seven Stages of Health & Transformation™ that brings to light the hidden causes of what may be making you sick, and what you can do to heal yourself.
“One of the great challenges in a doctor-patient relationship is how best to structure their interactions so that the patients get their needs met and their symptoms and diseases diagnosed and treated in a systematic and productive way while at the same time interfacing with the healthcare provider and their staff so that logistical errors (bookings, lab testing, supplement and drug lists) are kept to a minimum. Patients need to act as their own health advocates and educate themselves and their chosen health care team as to what it is they need to do to optimize their health and well-being. Individuals with good ego strength and a solid footing in the world seem to have little trouble negotiating this complex territory. However, those patients with early developmental trauma, PTSD, chronic inflammation and infections, traumatic brain injury, and a host of other possible health issues will often find it difficult to navigate the complexity of an in-depth functional medicine workup and treatment plan.”
“Here are a few guidelines we have found to be of benefit to those who may find themselves struggling to get started on a healing path.”
Dr. Bruce Hoffman
A Successful Patient
- Identify the hierarchy of your main values: family relationships; social connections and friends; financial growth and responsibilities; mental development and education; career growth; spiritual growth; and health, wellness, and beauty.
- Realize you will have to raise “health, wellness, and beauty” to at least one of your top two values in order to achieve successful outcomes.
- Realize you will have to “rob Peter to pay Paul”—i.e., take time away from a high-value activity (such as long work hours) to devote to health practices.
- Realize you will have to invest financially in a wellness program. It is not the government’s responsibility to fund these complex lifestyle, nutritional, supplemental, hormonal, and mind-body programs.
- Realize that health benefits will be limited if you are unwilling to make significant changes to time management, lifestyle, diet, work, and relationships.
- Do not hesitate to make significant changes in order to bring well-being back into your life.
- Seek out resources and solutions to making change.
- Realize the significance of set daily routines.
- Spend time every day approaching your health with commitment and purpose.
- Maintain self-care routines, exercise, and appropriate sleep hygiene routines, and follow treatment schedules and regimens.
- Dedicate at least an hour each day to pursuing health goals.
- Follow the scheduled recommendations of your health care professional based on what will clinically benefit you the most.
- Makes prescheduled appointments based on the recommendations of care given by your health care professionals.
- Make up missed appointments before the end of the week.
- Identify yourself with solutions rather than your diagnosis and its limitations.
- Defining yourself by your diagnosis may shut down any further enquiry and divorce you from a cause and effect solution focused relationship with your symptoms.
- Educate yourself about treatment solutions for your given symptoms and health issues.
- Understand the significant health benefit of defining your life purpose and linking it to healing.
- Clearly define your life purpose and expected health goal outcomes.
- Ask yourself, “how will I be even more effective and productive at what I love to do if I discipline myself to do what it takes to get well. “
- Link cause and effect, and understand how choices you have made over a lifetime (physical, mental, nutritional, emotional, and spiritual) play a definitive role in disease/illness and health/healing.
- Realize that the traditional allopathic model has its limits, as does every other model.
- Explore and engage in a wide spectrum of health paradigms (ancient, modern, Eastern, Western, traditional, alternative).
- Know that one single health care professional does not have all the answers.
- Form constructive partnerships with health care professionals who are experts in their respective fields.
- Find an integrative, functional medicine specialist with the most experience in a wide-ranging spectrum of diagnostic and treatment modalities to assist you in “quarterbacking” all of your expert opinions and options.
- Be an active, educated, and involved participant in the healing process by becoming your own patient advocate, or delegate the responsibility (temporarily) to the most qualified person you can find.
- Do not confuse symptom resolution with the completion of care.
- Maintain the schedule recommended by your health professional.
- Commit to and complete a full course of therapy.
- Discuss treatment plan changes and/or breaks to treatment with your health care professional before implementing changes, thereby ensuring everyone understands, informs, and agrees to the treatment plan.
- Draw on family and friends to build a strong, supportive network.
- Share your experiences in health care with family and friends.
- Educate family and friends about ways to provide support and understand your conditions and health care needs.
- Understand that your maximum health potential is benefitted by a mental attitude that embraces both support and challenge in your quest for well-being.
- Learn to embrace your shadow self and imperfections within yourself as much as your positive attributes.
- Engage in physiological/medical treatment, as well as inner/psychological and spiritual/soul work.
- Keep current with financial responsibilities.
- Realize that the traditional “health care” services pay only for drug and/or surgical treatments for established diseases. The governmental services do not pay for functional medicine and will not assist you in your search for upstream causation and regulation of multiple biochemical imbalances. Like the purchase of a house or a car, your health and well-being and their continued advocacy are your own financial responsibility, not the government’s.
- Pay for services in advance or at the end of each scheduled appointment.
- Take responsibility for your own financial circumstances and commitments.
- Do not abandon the recommended health care program because of exhausted government health coverage or personal health insurance.
- Realize you are a multilayered, multileveled being and that the triggers for illness may have arisen at many moments along the timeline of your life.
- Spend time recollecting your whole life history to determine significant antecedents, potential triggers and mediators for illness.
- Spend time considering what lifestyle practices and behaviours are perpetuating symptoms.
The greatest compliment from our patients is the referral of family and friends.
We hope that you know how much we value your trust and confidence in our provision of care.
I have reviewed these guidelines and accept the responsibility of becoming a successful patient.
Individuals as health care consumers are becoming somewhat disappointed with the mechanistic model. People want to be taken seriously; they want the complexity of their symptom presentation to be acknowledged. Today’s conscientious consumers are no longer content to merely take a pill to suppress a symptom. They have a deeper desire to know the root cause of their disease presentations, and they wish to know if there is anything they can do to influence the outcome of their healing trajectory. Also, select individuals are aware that they have a certain responsibility in their disease causation, irrespective of inherited genetics.
In today’s day and age, many individuals are looking for a more complete definition of healing—they’re not just content to treat a disease. They are looking for answers to address their sense of malaise and are seeking out a myriad of healers practicing at different stages of the Seven Stages model. It is my hope that the healers of the future will have a much more extended repertoire than just the drugs and surgical procedures they have learned at medical school. It is my hope that they will have studied many disciplines across the therapeutic spectrum, as well as having taken the adventurous step of engaging in some of their own inner process, some direct content with their own unconscious. It is my hope that they will not only have looked into non-toxic nutritional medicines, but they will also have traversed some of the rich inner material that is dormant within themselves, whether it be early bonding disruptions or early traumatic experiences, so that they may have deep compassion for the situation many of their patients find themselves in. It is also my hope that they do not rest until there is healing established within their own family systems, as it is quite apparent that an individual who is locked into the grid of a stable and loving family system has quite a different life force to draw from, not to mention an entirely different way of being in the world.
Larry Dossey comments on the loss of confidence in the modern allopathic model of medicine by commenting on many of the scandals that have rocked the confidence of health care consumers in the past few years. “The uncertainties of medicine are cause for celebration,” Dossey writes. “Modern medicine is losing some of its invincibility. Many of the rules of good health that have guided patients and physicians for decades have taken a beating from which they may not recover. The almost blind allegiance we once had to the treatments offered has been severely undermined by these studies—some of the absolute certainties are no longer as absolutely certain.”
We don’t have to look far for empirical data to back Dossey’s claims. First there was the Vioxx drug scandal, where many people died from heart disease by consuming what were thought to be relatively innocuous anti-inflammatory drugs. Compounding the problem was the fact that this particular drug had been marketed as being relatively safe. Furthermore, evidence emerged that the drug companies had known for some time that the drug had an increased incidence of cardiac side effects, but they had chosen to hide the negative findings to ensure a profit.
The allopathic model of medicine suffered another substantial shock from the hormone replacement therapy scandal disclosed in the Women’s Health Initiative. The study showed that the drugs Premarin and Provera actually increase women’s risk for heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. Another report revealed a shocking disclosure in the world of knee surgery; researchers proved that by performing arthroscopy surgery on a damaged knee was no more effective than administering an anesthetic, make a nick in the skin, and proceeding to not perform the surgery but tell the patient that they had. The outcome in terms of pain and symptoms after either of these two procedures, the real operation versus the sham operation, was virtually the same. The value of mammograms has also been seriously questioned, and it is unclear as to whether or not a mammogram has any influence on the number of women dying from breast cancer each year.
A Wall Street Journal article written by Ron Winslow entitled Study Questions Evidence Behind Heart Therapies, discussed a recent study which revealed that less than 11% of 2,700 recommendations commonly made by cardiologists are supported by scientific evidence. Furthermore, that many of the dogmatic recommendations and guidelines made by cardiologists are made by those connected in some way financially with the pharmaceutical companies. Another study showed that 85 % of individuals who have stents or angioplasties to treat their blocked coronary arteries didn’t need them. Furthermore, the group that did have the surgical procedures ended up much sicker than the individuals who treated their condition with drugs alone.
In light of all of these scandals and revelations, we can’t help but doubt some of the contributions of modern medicine. The historical image we have of doctors—the caring, compassionate healers who sacrifice their personal life in servitude to their passion for helping others—has been replaced by a whole new image, spelled out in popular books with titles like Why Is My Doctor So Dumb? The faith that many once had in the all-knowledgeable doctor is now inherently suspicious.
This state of affairs has not been helped by the fact that doctors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, causing upwards of 250,000 deaths per year. This study was published in JAMA, the most prestigious journal in America. Subsequently, the number has been reexamined, and some people believe that if all cases were reported (doctors are notoriously tightlipped about admitting liability), iatrogenic illness would be the leading cause of death in the United States. Iatrogenic means “induced in a patient by a physician’s activity, manner, or therapy.” The annual statistics are as follows:
- 12,000 deaths from unnecessary surgery
- 7,000 deaths from medication errors in hospitals
- 20,000 deaths from other errors in hospitals
- 80,000 deaths from infections in hospitals
- 106,000 deaths from non-error, negative effects of drugs
That’s a total of 250,000 deaths per year, all from iatrogenic causes!
On his website, Dr. Joseph Mercola has used a similar set of statistics to calculate a slightly different equation. The conclusion is startling. Dr. Mercola was able to calculate that, statistically speaking, doctors are 9,000 times more likely to accidentally kill you than gun owners. The math is fairly simple:
- Accidental deaths caused by physicians per year = 120,000
- Accidental deaths per physician = 0.171
- Number of gun owners in the US = 80,000,000
- Number of physicians in the US = 700,000
- Number of accidental gun deaths per year (all age groups) = 1,500
- Accidental deaths per gun owner = 0.0000188
Therefore, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners. Think about that the next time you go in for a checkup.
Furthermore, in three separate studies it has been shown that when doctors go on strike, the death rates actually plummet. As published in the British Medical Journal in 2000, surveys of burial societies suggest that death rates in Israel have dropped considerably since physicians implemented a program of sanctions. The Jerusalem Post surveyed non-profit burial societies, which perform funerals for the vast majority of Israelis, and found that the number of funerals has fallen drastically since the Israel Medical Association (IMA) began the sanction. According to one funeral parlor manager, the same thing occurred in 1983 during a similar action by the IMA. It lasted for four and a half months, and the only area in Israel which was found to not have a reduction in its death rate was the city of Netanya. As it so happened, there was only one hospital in Netanya, and all of the doctors who worked there had “no-strike” clauses in their contracts and were therefore unaffected by the action.
It’s become increasingly apparent that the trust we once had in the modern medical profession is now being eroded, and people are starting to ask much deeper questions of the profession.
(1) Larry Dossey (Alternative Therapies Sept/Oct 2002, Vol. 8, No.5) 32
(2) Although I am in agreement with the findings of that particular study—these two particular drugs do increase a women’s risk of those diseases—it has subsequently emerged that estrogen alone does not have the same risks associated with it. It appears that the drug Provera was mostly to blame. Many women are now adversely affected by being deprived of safer bio-identical hormones that have been shown to reduce the risk of dying from multiple disease possibilities.
(3) Wall Street Journal | Feb 25th 2009
(4) Rogers S. Total Wellness. Aug 2009 pg 1
(5) Boden et al., Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary artery disease. New England Journal of Medicine. April 12, 2007; 356; 15:5003-16
(6) Starfield, B. (2000) Journal of the American Medical Association. July 26, 2000; 284(4): 483-5
(7) British Medical Journal 2000; 320:1561
When a patient is considering a return to full health and wellness, I, as an integrated medical practitioner, and you, as an informed, self-actualizing person, can no longer use only the antiquated Newtonian method of diagnosing and treating conditions. Although this is still taught at both medical schools and naturopathic colleges around the world, we’re now working in an expanded, systems-based paradigm.
Medical school prepared me for the linear process that identification of symptoms is followed by identification of the disease then the determination of the drugs or surgical procedures that are required. This process may apply if a patient has symptoms suggestive of acute meningitis requiring immediate intravenous antibiotics, but it will do nothing to address the myriad of antecedents, triggers, and mediators of complex, chronic, multisystem symptom processes. Patients suffering from a multitude of complaints that defy traditional diagnosis, a situation that is only too common today, require a much more complex method of assessment and treatment.
This new model of integrative medicine must ground itself in the more comprehensive models of environmental and ecological medicine, functional medicine, energy medicine, early developmental trauma, sociology, traditional and depth psychology, family systems, and models of consciousness as proposed by neuroscience and spirituality research. In complex cases of healing, we need to expand the lens of inquiry to help identify the multilayered factors that are hindering our wellness and self-fulfillment and determine what aspects of ourselves are affected. Furthermore, we must listen to our symptoms and our bodies for any clues that will help us to integrate the neglected parts of ourselves that are hidden from our conscious, rational points of view and may be hindering the realization of our full potential.
For integrated practitioners, an education in an array of disciplines is imperative to a successful outcome. A new curriculum must be written for these new healers and a different method of selection employed. I don’t propose training traditional medical personnel to embrace this task. We need them to continue practicing disease-based medicine with the latest technological advances. However, for those that wish to embrace the expanded paradigm, a new wellness curriculum is imperative, a curriculum that will be highly dependent on a healer’s personal experience and level of education. This is complicated territory to imagine and traverse. A highly educated healer lacking the necessary life experience to have developed compassion and empathic understanding cannot embody the knowledge and the compassion represented by the twin snakes entwined around the caduceus, the ancient Asclepian symbol of medicine and medical practice.
In addition, if all we do when patients present is to tell them what they could read in a book or online, there’s probably no reason for them to see us again. It’s essential, in the new paradigm, that healers strike a chord that resonates in the core of the patients’ being and creates a shift in energy or information, forming a new image that will allow them to perceive themselves and their issues very differently. This will usually entail a radical shift in their value systems whereby health issues become their top priority and other values, such as work, family, or recreation, take a temporary back seat. Under the old model, this is seldom the case unless a patient presents with a life-threatening illness.
To assist in the diagnostic and therapeutic processes required in the new paradigm, I’ve developed the 7 Stages to Health and Transformation™ model (for a detailed explanation, click here). Each stage looks at a different aspect of the individual so that diagnostic and healing methods can be focused on the true causes of illness.
First Stage – Environmental Body
We must first examine the influences of the external environment and the effects of infections, pollutants, heavy metals, and dental materials on our physiology. We must also optimize the body’s detoxification mechanisms.
Second Stage – Physical Body
This is the biochemical and structural stage. We must optimize the biochemistry and homeostatic mechanisms of the body’s regulatory systems. These include diet, gut ecology, hormones, neurotransmitters, the immune system, and brain function. Any structural defects and injuries must also be attended to.
Third Stage – Energy Body
At the electrophysiological, any disturbances to the body’s energy systems must be addressed. The effects of man-made electrical fields on the autonomic nervous system and the balance between stress and relaxation responses need to be taken into consideration. The status of the brain’s electrical circuits, as determined by QEEG analysis, must also be addressed.
Fourth Stage – Emotional Body
Early developmental trauma and emotional wounds need to be examined, brought to conscious awareness, and processed accordingly.
Fifth Stage – Mind/Ego Body
An individual’s sense of an authentic, separate psychological self, his value systems, his internal dialogue, and his general orientation to and defenses against the world at large need to be examined and assessed. Just how balanced and stable are his mental/cognitive processes and how well equipped is he to handle the slings and arrows of a typical stress-filled life? It’s been estimated that our nervous systems are designed to handle one or two challenges every three months. Yet in the modern era the number is more likely to feature six or seven challenges on a daily basis.
Sixth Stage – Soul Body
At this stage one has to turn to the personal unconscious, the more hidden aspects of ourselves and the lessons we’ve learned from Jungian and depth psychology, to ascertain what the deepest part of the individual wishes to express. The question at this stage is not what the ego still strives for but what the soul wants. At this level, we also turn to the influences of the family soul and, through Family Constellation therapy, begin to unravel the entanglements and family secrets that lie hidden in the patient’s intergenerational field. These entanglements and secrets often present as symptoms or as an illness in the patient, who is usually entirely unaware of the connection.
Seventh Stage – Spirit Body/Unified Field
About a hundred years ago, there was an infusion of ancient souls into Western science, great beings like Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein who began to wake us up by mathematically deducing that the objects of our perception aren’t physical. Beyond the masks of molecules, beyond the façade of material matter, beyond the limits of space and time, there’s a vast mystical domain of energy and information. Human beings are composed of these same networks of energy and information and are thus locked in a dynamic exchange with the energy and information of our extended body, which we call the universe. We’re part of the ‘unified field’ proposed by particle physics. At this level, an individual deepens a relationship with a witnessing self, observing the world of phenomenology rise and fall but with little or no attachment to its outcomes or a personal self. In the seventh stage, all personal agendas are surrendered to intelligence greater than ourselves. This intelligence that causes our hearts to beat and organizes both the migration of birds and the movement of the intergalactic cosmos achieves a greater significance than our own personal, mortal agendas. It is to this intelligence that we can turn for help and guidance. At this stage, we’re not identified with our physical, emotional, or mental bodies but with that which is timeless within us. When patients present with complex symptoms or well-entrenched disease processes, how well equipped they are to proceed with the healing process varies widely from case to case. There are also many possible combinations of the seven stages that they may seek to address. Some may simply want to cure their irritable bowel symptoms, while others want to heal across all levels. Consequently, it’s important, at the outset, for the practitioner to establish what exactly the patient wants or expects to be healed and to narrow or widen the diagnostic and therapeutic lens accordingly.
The standard Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary defines healing as ‘a restoration of wounded parts’, but the Oxford English Dictionary definition is ‘to make whole or sound.’ These definitions are profoundly different from each other. The first refers to the treatment of a symptom or the setting of a broken bone, the fixing that which is broken. The Oxford definition is more congruent with the true etymology of the word health, which is to make whole or holy. In truth, healing is an extraordinary miracle about which, despite our 2,000-year effort to understand it, we know very little. It’s a profound, courageous, and spiritual act of coming to wholeness, where the body is relatively healthy, the emotions are stable, the mind is clear and focused, one’s destiny is clear, and yet one remains humbled to a greater intelligence from which one derives daily guidance and sustenance and to which thanks are given. Alternatively, healing can mean that the deepest essence of the individual is in an integrated or individuated, whole place, one where he knows and inhabits his authentic self, in spite of the body’s experiencing symptoms or a disease process. We identify with that which is timeless within us. We’re aware that we aren’t physical machines that have learned how to think. As Deepak Chopra likes to say, we are not ‘skin-encapsulated egos squeezed into the volume of a body in the span of a lifetime.’ We’re not the constricted, isolated individual entities that Western medicine would have us believe. At our core, we identify with that which is defined as an unbounded, infinite, eternal, ever-present witnessing awareness. We’re consciously aware of being a network of energy and intelligence that’s inextricably interwoven with the web of life.
However, given that definitions vary, healing is dependent on where the individual or the healer places the emphasis or the location of the patient’s concerns, whether this is mind, body, soul, or spirit. When a patient presents, part of the intake process is to ask what his intention is in seeking out the doctor/healer’s advice and on what stages, such as environmental, physical, energetic, emotional, mental, spiritual, he wishes to address his concerns. Many people aren’t interested in pursuing higher levels of health, so one of a physician’s first responsibilities is to determine and clarify each patient’s intentions and respond accordingly. There are four possible intentions.
In the first instance, many if not most patients will view their symptomatology, whether this is physical or emotional, as a nuisance that has to be removed as soon as possible. They’ll turn to healers, whether allopathic or alternative, to provide the most powerful external treatment that can be found to treat worrisome symptoms at the level of the physical body, which is at stage two of the model. They subscribe to the consensual reality of our culture, which entails identifying the cluster of symptoms, naming the disease then finding a drug or surgical procedure to treat it. . At medical schools and naturopathic colleges today, students are still taught that human beings are collections of molecules encapsulated by skin and bones, physical machines devoid of any influential states of consciousness. If you’re feeling a little depressed, it’s because there’s a problem with your serotonin molecules, the implication being that if you take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac or Effexor, or a herb like St. John’s wort, it will prevent reuptake of your serotonin molecules and you’ll no longer be depressed. Likewise, if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, it’s not because you’re worrying about your marriage or your kids. Instead it’s because you have a deficiency of gamma-aminobutyric acid molecules, which Ambien, Xanax, or a GABA supplement will fix. Increasing your concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid molecules will allow you to sleep soundly and the symptom will be eradicated.
The problem with this model is that it works too well in the short run. Mahatma Gandhi lamented that the problem with Western medicine is that it’s too effective. If a patient mentions to his doctor that he’s regularly woken at 3 a.m. by heartburn, he’s prescribed Tums or Nexium and the symptom disappears. In the standard six-minute doctor visit, very few inquiries are made into the fact that, before bed, the patient always eats cookies and has a whiskey nightcap. As a result, if you pop a couple of tablets and ten minutes later the symptoms are gone, what you’ve learned at this level of healing is that you should have taken your heartburn medicine before going to bed. Instead of fixing the problem, this mode of treatment perpetuates the ongoing cycle of symptom, diagnosis, and remedy. This is symptom treatment and has nothing to do with healing. At this level, patients see the source and the solution of their problem as being outside of themselves. In turn, their healing becomes dependent on changes in situations and on circumstances outside themselves.
It’s interesting that the original definition of a ‘quack’ was someone that treats symptoms. This approach has little chance of activating any inner process within the patient or resulting in healing on a deeper level. All too often, patients with significant diseases such as cancer sit in front of me and demand to be cured. The prospect of a deeper healing experience is extremely remote in these cases.
The second possible intention involves some patients arriving in the consultation room willing to go a little further. They look at physical symptoms as entry points into a larger inquiry. They ask much deeper questions and use their symptoms as allies in their quest for meaning, well-being, and integration. They might inquire about what emotional patterns may underlie their disease and recognize the role of unresolved emotional issues, anxiety, stress, and other mental factors in the development, perpetuation, and recurrence of illness. They may learn about their individual Meyers-Briggs typologies, their defense mechanisms and complexes, and their Ayurvedic doshas. This deeper understanding of themselves allows them to respond to the stresses of life in a less reactive manner, one that won’t cripple their growth, individuation, or consciousness. They begin to use a more conscious, mind-body approach to healing, making use of stages one through five in the 7 Stages model™.
As these factors are explored, it becomes possible to tailor a series of mind-body approaches such as integrated body psychotherapies, relaxation techniques, yoga, neurofeedback, and biofeedback. These patients recognize their personal role in suffering and disease, they link cause and effect and, to an extent, they substitute internal remedies for external ones. They’re beginning to move from the more limited definition of healing, namely fixing a broken part, to the more expanded definition of restoring wholeness.
As psychologist Alastair Cunningham has said, the qualities that best predict spontaneous remission among cancer survivors are an openness to change, a commitment to daily practices, a deep sense of self-worth, and a degree of autonomy and inner authority.
The third possible intention has patients seeking a state of health because they aspire to something more than an absence of symptoms and desire an overall state of wellbeing. They’re fully engaged in a deeper relationship with self-healing and are seeking a sense of wholeness, either for themselves, their loved ones, or the planet as a whole. They’ve learned about the signs and symptoms of disease and are now learning about the signs and symptoms of health. These include a deep sense of inner vitality, integration and self-knowing, healthy relationships, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
A patient I’ll call Jane was primarily interested in eliminating or at least managing her symptoms. This is true for many new patients until I teach them the 7 Stages of Health and Transformation™. Once Jane increased her understanding of optimal health, she said she wanted more than to simply get rid of her symptoms. She wanted to find meaning in her life and enjoy herself and her family. She wanted to achieve overall well-being. Her three-year inquiry into her symptoms had produced a lot of information about the signs and symptoms of a disease, but now she was open to learning about the signs and symptoms of health. With that goal in mind, she became fully engaged in deeper relationships with herself, her loved ones, self-healing, and with the planet.
This desire to be whole is a profound evolutionary urge that prompts many of us to seek out a vast array of healing techniques, from physical to spiritual. In the East, such seekers, upon a certain attainment, are referred to as enlightened. Carl Jung called them individuated and Abraham Maslow’s term was self-actualized. “As far as we can discern,” Jung said, “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” To me, this means leading a life of inspired, self-actualized creativity rather than an existence of mere tolerance set against a backdrop of the mundane.
For many people, this desire to shine with their true essence emerges around the midpoint of their lives. Until that point, what our deepest, instinctual self, or our soul, wants is often hidden from our conscious view, clouded by the innumerable and overwhelming demands of the first half of life and by vague value systems that we have yet to develop fully. Often, what brings these individuals into the office is a conflict with a midlife transition. Their symptoms often arise as a result of a discrepancy between what their egos want, such as endeavors in the first half of their lives, and what their deepest, unconscious selves desire, namely the aspirations related to the second half of life. What drives us to achieve our life goals in the first half isn’t what serves us in the second half. What drives us in the first half of life are often the wishes and wants of outer authority figures, including parents, society, or our culture at large, as well as the innate, Darwinian selfish gene that wishes to perpetuate the species by mating with the most suitable partner from whatever gene pool is available. Thus, with the help of a hormone-drenched physiology, we develop a strong sense of an ego-driven self. We strive to achieve the highest standards that our gene pool is capable of. We educate ourselves, fall in love, marry, create financial security, and buy the most suitable home to provide safety for our offspring. We feel accomplished on achieving some modicum of success in these areas.
It’s usually in the second half of life, which begins between ages 35 and 55, that the first whisperings of our hidden potentials and possibilities emerge. We may be plagued by lingering doubts: “Is this all there is?” “Is this what I really want?” “Am I fulfilling my true potential?” “Is this partner really aligned with my values?” “Does my partner really see who I am?” “Should I be doing something else with my life?” We may also start to develop symptoms or signs of an illness or disease process. It’s at this exact interface between what the ego has striven to achieve and what the soul really wants that symptom may appear, as if to draw us into a deeper inquiry with ourselves. It’s been my observation that symptoms at this level serve as feedback mechanisms of our core selves, drawing our attention to that which is most neglected within us and which most needs our attention. Perceived in this way, symptoms may be said to have teleological intent, drawing us into a deeper, unimagined unfolding of our life’s journey, previously hidden from our conscious view.
In such cases, the task of a healer is to help patients identify the factors that are preventing them from achieving what their souls are seeking and what their ego-based minds are incapable of determining. When patients are in this position, no amount of ‘goal setting’ or ‘life-purpose’ strategizing will fulfill their deeper motivations. Often, the continued pursuit of the goals and life-purpose strategies of the ego-based first half of life is the very reason for a lingering sense of malaise and can even make patients sicker, driving them further from the very aspects of themselves that are calling for attention.
Somewhat problematically, the therapist/healer’s success is highly dependent on his own level of differentiation, autonomy, and stage of life individuation. If any healing is to take place at all, the healer must be highly aware and conscious of his own stage of life preparedness, his own ‘woundedness’, and must refrain from projecting his own agenda too heavily. Similarly, but in an opposite direction, the client must become aware of the inner healer/healed part of himself, the part that needs to be activated and made conscious. Tragically, this is rarely the case in most current healing exchanges, where mutual cause and effect inquiry is ignored. This practice limits the patient’s involvement in their own care and projects the power to heal onto some outer authority. The doctor is seen as all-healthy, while the patient is often seen as all-sick. The patient frequently identifies with their diagnosis in order to derive some form of identity and meaning from this one-sided relationship. It’s a means of barter and exchange within the allopathic system. The implication is that when this transaction occurs, the patient’s inner physician, the healthy part of themselves, completely shuts down.
This atrophy is particularly tragic, since it’s been my observation that it’s the physician within the patient that needs to be activated if a true transformation is to occur. The inner physician’s healing action is as vital as that of the physical doctor appearing on the scene. Similarly, if the inner healer isn’t mobilized by the conscious act of intention by the patient, the possibility of a true healing experience is somewhat dissipated. If nothing shifts in the internal dialogue and mental field of the patient, if they aren’t fully engaged in cause and effect enquiry and totally committed to changing previous behaviors and decisions that had led to the symptom presentation, then the possibility of something shifting at the physiology level is somewhat muted and no true or lasting transformation takes place.
Furthermore, it’s at this third possible intentional level of healing that the answer to the patient’s malaise will surface only after a deep inquiry and a deep surrender are made, a surrender to their own unconscious and to a larger wisdom than their own ego-based minds. At this level of healing, one has to listen to the many ways the psyche expresses itself in its desire to make conscious its hidden intentions.
Actively listening to our bodies, our symptoms, and for messages from our unconscious are some of the profound tools we can use to seek information outside of our rational ego-based mind-set. Dreams are spontaneous messages from the unconscious, suggesting symbolic ways of seeing issues that we cannot see or understand with our conscious minds. Synchronicities, when an event in the outer world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind, may also provide us with clues to the directions our souls may want to take.
Symptoms or illness can also arise from an issue within a family system, perhaps some entanglement or hidden secret that’s never been consciously exposed. In this way, symptoms provide a voice to the silence in the family system. They help shine a flashlight into the system, revealing what normally cannot be seen. We know from recent research on the epigenetic transfer of life experience that the unresolved emotions and traumas of our ancestors can affect family members for multiple generations. Family Constellation therapy can cover the unconscious bonds and loyalties that underlie many physical and emotional symptoms. It’s been my observation that very often the inner healing process cannot be accessed if the patient is not fully aligned with his birth mother or father.
When my patient Jane told me that she despised her mother, it was a very clear indication that she didn’t have access to her full life force and inner healer. It’s vital to keep in mind that we inherit half our gene pool and the epigenetic transfer of their life experiences from our mothers and her ancestors and half from our fathers and his ancestors. We’re literally half our mother and half our father. If we disown or otherwise remove a parent from our lives, we’re literally disowning half of ourselves and all that this parent represents to us. I’ve never seen a patient fully recover without first realigning themselves in the correct way with the parents that birthed them, no matter what the story they tell themselves consciously regarding why this may not be possible.
Jane had symptoms of crippling fatigue, anxiety, depression, and body pain that had been present for three years. She said that the symptoms had started when she was 44 and that she’d seen many medical doctors and naturopaths, been to the Mayo Clinic, and undergone numerous blood tests and special investigations. The diagnosis was atypical depression. This is the catchall of the medical profession when no discernible causative factor or factors can be ascertained.
Although further tests did reveal significant biochemical imbalances, what was most revealing to me was her obvious dissatisfaction with her life, her anger toward her mother, and a generalized sense of boredom.
“I am my father’s daughter,” she said, through clenched teeth. “I despise my mother.”
She later elaborated about her father.
“I’m an engineer like my dad, but I haven’t worked for 12 years because I wanted to stay home and bring up my daughter.”
After a long dialogue investigating her family dynamics, it was clear that her rejection of her mother and her overidentification with her father had led to an imbalance in her psyche between the masculine and feminine lineages. It’s been observed in family system dynamics that the energy we take from our mothers provides us with our day-to-day relational energy, nurtures us, and gives us life. A father’s energy organizes and provides a context for the unfolding of our life force. It’s possibly not ironic that the mitochondria, the organelles within our cells that transform food into life-giving ATP or energy, our life force for healing and repair of all bodily functions, are obtained entirely from our mothers. For a very long time, Jane had been under the influence of her father’s desires, negated her mother’s character and positive influence, and subjugated her own deeper, soul-based desires to the point of total silence. It’s common that people experiencing fatigue are living not according to their own inner value systems but according to those of outer authority figures that have been unconsciously adopted as one’s own, in this case those of Jane’s father. She’d also silenced and rejected her mother’s voice, hence abandoning half of herself, creating a perfect, dual causation scenario in which life-crippling fatigue could arise.
It took many months of listening intently to the symptoms of her body, paying attention to her dreams, asking her body for guidance, and turning inward to the inner healer within for her to see the path of her true, creative self more clearly. She realized that being only a wife and a mother was not her true vocation. Her symptoms had escalated until she could no longer ignore the issue. Although much work was done to optimize her adrenal function, treat her Epstein-Barr virus infection, balance her glutathione levels and tweak her hormones, involving treatment at the outer, physical level, it wasn’t until she turned inward that the healing occurred. When she saw her symptoms not as some curse to be eradicated but as harbingers, whisperings of the need for a deeper inquiry, she did what it took to begin her healing journey to return to wholeness.
She saw that what she’d proudly worn as a badge of honor as Daddy’s little girl was a trap from which she had to escape. She realized that she wasn’t living her life based on her own authentic values but on those of her father. As she softened her stance toward her mother, accepting and seeing her through a more compassionate lens for the first time, she felt a certain lightness return to her mood.
As she turned inward, Jane’s inner healer was activated. She learned to trust her body and her instincts for the first time. She’d resisted this progress for years and seen countless excellent physicians/healers to get the latest outer remedies, all to no avail. But once she recognized her symptoms as messages from her soul and learned how to pay attention, her healing was dramatic.
If successive generations of a family have struggled with parenting problems, the patient will often be unconsciously entangled in an unresolved, energy depleting, family system issue. The only way to resolve this is to uncover the hidden dynamics of the ancestral family. No amount of personal nutrition, bodywork, or herbs could heal Jane. She had to uncover the entanglements in her ancestral lineage that were hidden from her conscious view and she had to learn to listen to the messages of her own soul.
The following visualization exercise, entitled Creative Imagery: Listening to Your Cells, will help you to listen to your body for clues regarding what your soul is seeking and how your conscious mind may be obscuring from its view.
Come into contact with yourself and taste your own presence. Welcome and cherish your own presence in this world.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Let go of any physical tensions and relax any mental tensions. Focus your attention on your heart and your soul.
Allow your attention to go to the place within you that has a lot of pain or symptoms. It can be a mental place or a physical place, a muscle or an organ.
Approach this area with respect, tenderness, and care. Talk to this area. You’re talking to these cells in a time of difficulty. Memories may arise.
Say, “I am here now to listen to you.” Let whatever comes from that place speak to you.Allow the messages of the cells to come to you. These cells represent the strength of life trying to talk to you and connect with you. This attitude of listening and respect, without discussion, is already healing you.
Now that your cells or your symptoms finally have your attention, and you’ve heard their message, say to them, “You don’t need to keep showing up in this way. You now have my attention.”
With the same care and respect, begin to transform. Imagine your stem cells coming from your shoulder blade or hipbone, where your bone marrow is active, and flooding the tissue that’s in need of healing.
Imagine your stem cells flowing through to the place where you’re suffering. Imagine them dancing and producing color and light.
Let this dance take part in all your cells and in your entire psyche, producing an experience of healing. Soon your entire body is light and warm. Rejoice in the health that these stem cells bring. Imagine yourself becoming luminous from this sensation, nourishing yourself and everyone around you.
Imagine what you will do with yourself once your health is restored. Where will you go to nourish your health and what creative choices will you make? Imagine yourself doing things you like, things that give you an intensified love of life.
When you’re ready, open your eyes and make a note of what you experienced, what you saw, and what new image or images have arisen for you.
Finally, the fourth possible intention involves individuals aspiring to a level of health that’s fundamentally and radically different from those described above and can only arise following a leap in consciousness. They don’t seek simply self-regulation or self-improvement, but self-transformation.
Such people usually achieve this only after traversing each of the preliminary stages. For them, healing’s center of gravity progressively shifts from the physical to the psychological to the soul to the spiritual. They’re defined by their attention to a spiritual inner process rather than an outer remedy, herb, or potion. They become witnessing selves rather than active ‘doers’ in an external life. The internal reference point shifts from ego to spirit.
Chopra Center co-founder David Simon said this process occurs when “we stop thinking of ourselves as this skin-encapsulated ego that’s been compressed into this physical body for the span of a lifetime and we remember on a daily moment-to-moment basis that our essential nature is unbounded, infinite, eternal, unlimited, unborn, and undying.” Buddhist M.D. and author Elliott Dacher states that this occurs when we’re fully engaged in the broadest and deepest vision of health and healing and define what’s possible rather than what is considered to be customary.
At this level of healing, we suspend our rational left brains and personal agendas and ask for guidance and help from the intelligence greater than ourselves, namely G.O.D. or grand organized design, or the unified field. We surrender and we listen. We trust that at our deepest core we’re part of and connected to the unified field. We discipline ourselves, through daily practice, to surrender, tune in, and trust. Since we’re no longer identified with the mortal body, our fear of death disappears.
This is the deepest possibility for a transformed, healed individual. In achieving this, we’ve moved from the relative purpose of medicine to the absolute purpose and possibilities of a healing experience.
The Quest: From Relative to Absolute Health
Relieving symptoms and curing disease, fixing people, eradicating tumors, normalizing blood tests, alleviating pain, creating clear CT scans, and prolonging life are the culturally sanctioned notions of what physicians are supposed to do. This is the quest for relative health and relative health should be realized with the least amount of effort, expense, and sense of personal responsibility. This mindset also dictates that all illness is negative, to be eradicated. As a result, illness is not used as information to bring about self-transformation.
Yet some people choose to seek a level of health that is even beyond wholeness, a level that might be called absolute health. They want to heal their physical bodies so they can live out their lives in a state of maximum potential and in the fulfillment of love and purpose, feeling the joy, wisdom, and compassion in their lives more fully.
We achieve this not by medicating symptoms but by using them as feedback mechanisms to show us where we need to become more conscious. We learn to “lean into the sharp points of our lives,” as Pema Chodron has said. With this knowledge, we don’t retreat from the world. Rather we consciously engage with the world as we start to wake up to the wonder of our existence.
We start to address the questions raised by the poet Mary Oliver, such as what are we going to do with this one wild precious life? This is indeed a precious life, a fragile treasure. Recognizing this is the second most essential step on the path to integrated health and life. The first is to recognize that our true nature is more than our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and our possessions and that there’s an intelligence guiding us that we can turn to and trust. When we do this, we start to celebrate the miracle and sacredness of our human existence.
Einstein said there are only two ways to live your life. One is to live as if nothing is a miracle, the other to live as if everything is a miracle. The word miracle comes from the Spanish mirari, which means to wonder, to smile, to break into joy, and to release. If you have feet to walk with, that’s a miracle. And isn’t the fact that our bodies are subatomic particles of frozen light also a miracle? Isn’t water a miracle? Isn’t breath a miracle? Isn’t the human brain a miracle? Isn’t the eye a miracle?
We make a mistake if we wait until we’re on our deathbed to say thank you, to show our gratitude for having been given this one precious life. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that will suffice.” If we don’t recognize the preciousness of life, we will neither care enough about it nor feel the urgency to let go of the thoughts, idea, values, and concepts that no longer serve our expanding sense of self and the world in which we live.
Once we hold the preciousness of life near and dear, its importance no longer fades with the busy nature of daily life. And when we die of physical diseases, it isn’t a tragedy. We die fully healed, with an open heart and the realization that our true self is nonlocal, outside of space and time and incapable of death.
- Alastair J. Cunningham. Can the Mind Heal Cancer? (2005)
- Elliott Dacher. Integral Health. (Basic Health Publications, 2006)
- Carl Jung. Memories, Dreams and Reflections, revised edition. (New York: Vintage, 1989)
- Ken Wilber. The Integral Vision of Healing. (Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone, 2005)
- David Simon. Keynote address at Ayurvedic conference, University of California, Berkeley, 2002.
- Pema Chodron. When Things Fall Apart. (Boston: Shambhala, 2002)
- Guy Corneau. Lecture at Jung Society, Calgary, Alberta, 2012.
- James Hollis. The Middle Passage. (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1993)
- Dietrich Klinghardt. Five Levels of Healing Model. www.klinghardtacademy.com
- John Demartini. The Breakthrough Experience. (Hay House, Inc. 2002)
I have heard the same lament too many times to ignore it any longer. Every day, while interviewing new patients, I hear the same thing. They tell me – often with sadness, sometimes with anger, and most often with regret – that they’ve come to the end of their relationships with their family practitioners. Most often, the reasons are, “He just doesn’t listen to my needs anymore”, or “She chastises me every time I wish to use non-medicinal therapies”, or “She’s a very good doctor, but she doesn’t know anything about the supplements I’m taking”.
This morning a new patient, whom I’ll call Helen, told me that her doctor of 23 years, with whom she had a close relationship and who had delivered her three children, replied to her questions about alternative therapies with, “Oh, come on Helen, get a grip!” She told me their relationship ended right then and there. I find this situation tragic.
I know how hard my colleagues work, how compassionate and dedicated so many of them are and how accomplished they are at the fine art and science of family medicine. So why is there this huge resistance to embracing the healing modalities that so many of their patients are actively seeking out and benefiting from?
ON THE BANDWAGON
In 1998, the American Medical Association (AMA) dedicated an entire issue of their journal JAMA to alternative medicine.1 Their editorial literally gushed with the promise of alternative medical procedures. The question was raised as to why this bastion of conventional medical, which has vociferously opposed alternative medicine in the past, suddenly jumped on the bandwagon?
According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, a well-known US practitioner and spokesperson for alternative medicine, the answer is simple: “It’s because the public is deserting conventional medicine and flocking to alternative health care providers by the millions.”
THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE
While reliable statistics in developing countries such as South Africa are hard to come by, the figures we see in the first world indicate a growing trend towards integrative medicine among educated, high-income social groups. In 1991, Dr. David Eisenberg, MD, published a groundbreaking study on the extent to which the public had adopted alternative medicine. His follow-up study was the lead article in JAMA, entitled, “Trends in Alternative Medicine Use in the United Sates, 1990-1997”.2 Dr. Eisenberg reported that 46.3% of Americans visited an alternative practitioner in 1997. This is a substantial increase from the 36.3% he reported in 1991, with the American public making 427 million visits. By 1997, the number jumped to 629 million, exceeding the total visits to all conventional physicians.
We know that 3.8 million Canadians consult alternative practitioners, spending about 1.8 billion dollars in the process.3 An additional two billion dollars are spent on herbs, vitamins, supplements, books and courses. A Statistics Canada 1998-1999 National Population Health Survey showed that 19% of women use alternative health care versus 14% of men. Some observations have shown that users tend to have post-secondary education and are high-income earners.
One finding of the study, which must surely be alarming to the medical establishment, was that 60% of people who consulted alternative practitioners didn’t discuss it with their doctors. I have found that this lack of consultation is not because people don’t want a conventional doctor’s professional advice. But most people know in advance what their doctors will say, and thus decide to spare themselves the embarrassment of an unpleasant interview.
Patients want more from their doctors. Not only do they want them to be informed about the latest research on supplements such as saw palmetto or glucosamine sulfate, they also want them to recognize issues more commonly addressed by alternative practitioners. My advice is not to let any doctor get away with comments such as, ‘There aren’t enough studies to recommend their use,” as there are many good quality studies done on a multitude of non-medicinal therapies that just aren’t published
in journals sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, which doctors usually read. Patients are also expressing a profound need for their family practitioners to hear their concerns about the mind-body connection and all that it entails.
Patients are no longer tolerant of alternative medicine being regarded as light medicine. They are taking their worldviews seriously and are expecting their health care providers to assist them. People are realizing that they are more than just a physical body with a set of symptoms. They’re aware that physical disease is often the end expression of long-ignored minor symptoms, which is why they are searching for advice before the minor symptoms manifest as major diseases.
A QUESTION OF COLLUSION
I suspect that some of my colleagues’ resistance to this new medicine my be due to a genuine distrust in what they see as entrepreneurial zeal on the part of alternative practitioners who exploit the gullibility of a vulnerable and ill-informed public. Some of these colleagues may also genuinely believe that alternative treatments are without scientific merit.
But there seems to be more at play here. Unwittingly, I believe that doctors and patients unconsciously collude in an archetypal relationship whereby doctors see themselves as all-healthy and the patients as all-sick. This model blinds both doctors and patients to the reality of the inner physician, that part of within ourselves that activates healing. The medical perspective often depersonalizes the patient, while treating the disease.
I also suspect that my colleagues are afraid of this new medicine because they have not been adequately prepared or trained to diagnose, let alone treat, the full extent of their own private suffering. Hence, they fail to recognize the full extent of their patients’ cries for help.
Alternative medicine is being integrated into mainstream medicine by a patient-driven, educated consumerism, whether the medical profession likes it or not. Viable alternative solutions for virtually all medical conditions will continue to grow in popularity into the next century. As a result, the entire face of medicine will change dramatically. My colleagues had better be prepared, or face the disappointment of ever-increasing patient dissatisfaction. Or worst yet, extinction.
By Dr. Bruce Hoffman