Health Care Crisis
by Dr. Bernie Siegel
Published in Transformation, the journal of The American Meditation Institute, Sept-Oct 2010
and here with gracious permission of Dr. Siegel
We need to rethink the practice of modern medicine. At present, medical journals (which are supported by pharmaceutical advertising) do not print articles that would give doctors information about alternative therapies. Mind-body medicine should not be an "alternative." Complementary and integrative medicine should be part of a doctor's training. When patients are diagnosed with an illness they should be given more than just a pill. They need instruction about how to enhance their immune function and how to act as if they were already someone with an immune-competent personality. Psychiatrist George Solomon saw the benefits of such deliberately adopted behavior early on when working with HIV positive patients, and I see it in cancer patients and others. Yes, mind and body definitely do communicate. The patient's beliefs affect the outcome of therapy. So we doctors need to be taught how to communicate in order to enhance our healing potential.
We need to humanize the system for both the doctor and the patient. Doctors need to know how to deal with their feelings of loss so they won't have to emotionally separate themselves from their patients to avoid feeling pain if the patient dies. We need to reach out and touch each other. We need to listen. Studies reveal that when a patient states that their doctor really listened to them during their office visit, they are far more likely to take their medication and follow the doctor's advice.
My life as a physician changed when my patient with breast cancer said to me, "I feel better when I am in the office with you but I can't take you home with me. So I need to know how to live between office visits." I started support groups to help her and other patients learn how to do that. I was amazed at how few came to the groups even though I was offering them a longer, better life if they attended. I learned that those who grew up with guilt, shame and blame (learned from parents, teachers and religions) are afraid to participate in their own well being. I learned that when you help people to live they derive physical benefits from their new, joyful life and don't die when they were supposed to. The best hospices have graduations and drop outs too.
If I were in charge of health care I would reward people and companies who document the benefits of treatments that they can't patent. A tax deduction or some other financial reward could motivate them to investigate more natural therapies and treatments rather than automatically rejecting them as unproven.
In every moment we give messages and instructions to our genes; our thinking, lifestyle and the habits of our personality all affect our vulnerability. It's well known that bacteria, viruses and plant life alter their genes to survive antibiotics, vaccines and the environment--and so can we. We need to be strong and positive. When we see disease as the enemy and only focus on killing the disease we empower our enemy. As Mother Teresa said, "I will not attend an anti-war rally but if you ever have a peace rally, call me."