Understanding the roots of medical dysfunction

Friday, March 25, 2011 by: Larry Malerba, DO
Tags: modern medicine, dysfunction, health news

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(NaturalNews) Aside from the obvious fact that modern medicine has devolved into an industry that markets products to medical "consumers," there are a number of more basic problems that must be addressed if the system is ever to be healed. Since those medical products tend to create more sickness than health, it virtually guarantees an endless revolving door of sick consumers in need of more care. The impetus for meaningful medical change must ultimately come from a general public that has become increasingly aware of the dysfunctional nature of health care. The medical system itself cannot be expected to initiate such changes without external pressure from so-called consumers.

Even if we could mitigate the profit motive in medicine, it remains constrained by a number of false assumptions regarding health and healing that must change if it is ever to transcend its limited worldview. But effective change will not be possible unless we first identify some of the shortcomings that prevent Western medicine from attaining a truly holistic perspective. The following broadly constructed categories describe some of the most prominent flaws in Western medical philosophy that, in turn, lead to inappropriate and often dangerous strategies in the actual practice of medicine.

The parts versus the whole:

Of necessity, medical science has historically taken a reductionist approach to investigating issues of human health. It breaks the physical body down into its component parts - including a vast universe of microscopic parts that can't be seen by the naked eye - in an attempt to understand the way things work. Much valuable information has been learned in the process. However, when taken as the only approach, the end result is a fragmented array of body parts, bits and pieces of scientific data, and specialized fields of medicine all of which are increasingly dissociated from one another.

As a consequence, each medical event in the history of a patient is seen as discrete and unrelated to all other events in that patient's history. This accounts for the legions of walking wounded who take, for example, one pill for headaches, another for arthritic pain, a third pill for insomnia, and another for depression. The system is in desperate need of a more holistic perspective that can put all of the pieces back together again.

Fortunately, that is precisely what most green healing practitioners are trained to do. Naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and many others are busy connecting the dots where conventional medicine has failed to do so. More often than not, most holistic practitioners are generalists that view human health in its totality. They see the big picture that medical science fails to take into account. 

Rational analysis versus experience:

Modern medicine relies heavily upon the rational faculty of the mind. This is essentially a left-brain trait that places a premium upon a quantitative approach to human health. It places excessive value upon lab results and the statistical abstractions of research studies while it downplays the reality of patient's first-hand experiences. It is the lopsided overly analytical legacy of 2000 plus years of patriarchy. While this may be a useful approach when applied to some of the hard physical sciences such as geology or mechanical engineering, it is woefully inadequate when it is the dominant or exclusive approach to healing.

This predominantly rational worldview is a breeding ground for a mentality that, for example, can so casually excuse "X" number of deaths caused by drug "A" as the necessary "risks that come with the benefits." Such a mindset allows medical professionals to actually believe their own rhetoric when they proclaim that it does not constitute "conclusive evidence" when a parent reports that their normal child decompensated into an autistic state within days after having been vaccinated. It amounts to an eggheaded form of logic that has no grounding in the reality of patients and their actual problems.

It is the same mindset that dismisses a patient's report of his or her own symptoms and experiences as "merely anecdotal." Objectivity is worshipped while subjectivity has become a bad word - as if to say that one's own self-assessment is inferior to what the medical literature and lab numbers tell us. This is why patients frequently come away from a visit to the doctor feeling unseen and unheard. This overvaluation of rational thinking results in what can most accurately be called rationalizations - like the ones described above.

Another erroneous rationalization is that one size should fit all. The very foundation of most medical research, therefore, is grounded in the notion that it is possible to develop a synthetic drug that can be applied across the board to many people with the same condition. This tendency to generalize runs contrary to a holistic understanding of the need to individualize treatment for each and every person. All cases of arthritis, so the logic goes, are considered the same and should respond to the same drug. This fails, however, to take into account the experiential reality that each and every case of illness is unique and while some will respond to one particular therapy, others will respond best to a different approach, and still others will benefit from another.

Real and lasting healing must also make use of the right brain. Many green healing methods value a more direct, empirical, experiential orientation to the patient. It is a qualitative approach that also involves intangibles like intuition, feeling, meaning and subjective assessment. These tools form the missing complement to the analytical mode of scientific medicine. This is not just a call for doctors to be more compassionate. It is a practical matter that often has a very real impact upon patient outcomes.

Mechanism versus bioenergetics:

Western medicine's mechanistic bias is another of its notable shortcomings. The human body tends to be seen as an automobile that periodically needs its parts repaired, removed or replaced. This mechanical bias predisposes medical scientists to believe that technological solutions are superior to the innate and natural healing power of Mother Nature. Mechanistic thinking is closely allied with the cause-and-effect mode of perception that tends to dominate conventional medical thought.

When a person taking a pharmaceutical prescription for migraines subsequently develops an arthritic knee, the two phenomena are considered to be unrelated because there is no anatomical or logical connection between the two - according to the conventional medical worldview. Events, therefore, must have a clear and logically explainable connection in order to be taken seriously. "Coincidences" are easily dismissed as such because they cannot be assigned any logical reason for their existence. A greener perspective, on the other hand, takes it as a given that the migraines and knee pain are almost always related.

A mechanistic view holds that our thoughts and emotions are by-products of the physical brain with its neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters. A more enlightened bioenergetic model views the human body, brain and nervous system as the most complex receiver, transducer, and transmitter of energies in the known universe. Many green healing practices are grounded in the notion of the universe as a vast interconnected sea of particle-waves and energy fields. Just because the physical senses can only detect a narrow spectrum of visible light and a small band of sound waves does not mean that the comparatively vast remainder of energies along the electromagnetic spectrum do not have an impact upon human health and behavior. A variety of known and unknown energetic influences are continuously affecting the health of individuals, groups, societies and the ecosystem. Such a vast unexplored field of "invisible" energetic interconnections constitutes a potential goldmine that stands ready for serious scientific inquiry.

Materialism versus non-physical reality:

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Western medicine is its inability to come to terms with issues of non-physical reality. It tries to force the multidimensional nature of human health experiences into a strictly materialistic framework. Those who subscribe to this worldview "believe" that the physical is the only reality of relevance, or that even exists. The related illusion that science is an amoral endeavor is a serious error in judgment that has far-reaching practical implications for health care. Medicine is so uncomfortable with the non-physical dimension that it artificially excludes it from the medical equation with the justification that it is unscientific and unworthy of investigation - yet another unfounded rationalization.

Most green therapeutic modalities accept the energetic, psychic, and spiritual dimensions of human existence as fundamental realities. They do not dismiss them because they cannot be measured by scientific instruments or verified by rationalist standards of proof. One cannot dissociate one's personal spiritual principles from one's quest for health and healing and, at the same time, expect beneficial and lasting results. The spiritual dimension is an experientially confirmed reality "known" by millions, and "believed" to be the case by many millions more. This constitutes a form of knowing very different from, but equally valuable to, a rationally constructed logic of knowing. My personal spiritual experience is something that I may "know," or it may be something that I "believe," but it can never be proven to the scientific skeptic. This does not render it unimportant to issues of health and healing. In fact, it is a vital component without which genuine healing often falls short.

Suppression versus healing:

When we indiscriminately combat symptoms we run the risk of suppression. The body in its wisdom often causes a symptom to recur in spite of our attempts to eradicate it. Each dose of migraine medication, for instance, dulls the pain temporarily until the next one occurs. However, when the migraines fail to recur, that is when we may be in for trouble. There is no free medical lunch. When a symptom or condition is successfully squelched, the bioenergetic source of the original disturbance simply seeks the next best avenue for expression. Thus, the migraines may "mutate," for example, into fatigue, arthritis or colitis. Furthermore, the consequences of such inappropriate treatment are not limited to physical maladies. The same migraines can just as easily mutate into insomnia, depression, or an anxiety disorder. This is not mere speculation; it is a phenomenon repeatedly observed by thousands of green healing practitioners. The possibilities are endless and depend upon each individual case.

And when symptoms do mutate, regular medicine usually fails to connect the dots. Medicine pursues its ill-advised strategy of symptom suppression largely without realizing what it is doing. The sequelae of suppression are just considered random occurrences that have no connection to the previous history of the patient. When we consider that almost all conventional medical treatments are essentially suppressive, the implications are staggering. Thus, an endless cycle of chronic disease is generated. It is no coincidence, and no wonder then, that we are seeing such dramatic rises in the incidence of many chronic diseases, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric illness.

Treatment focused on symptoms has no larger purpose or conscious goal that leads toward greater health. This strategy is emblematic of a war against disease mentality that views symptoms as the enemy rather than as the manifestations of the body's innate healing mechanism. Green healing is not congruent with such a misreading of the nature and intent of symptoms. True healing recognizes the self-healing capacity of the bioenergetic life force and seeks to work with it rather than against it. Green medicine takes into account the whole person and the connections between symptoms even when they occur in seemingly unrelated parts of the body and even when they are separated by time. Real healing leads to greater health, vitality, maturity and self-awareness.


Each of the aforementioned opposing viewpoints does not have to be at odds with each other. An appreciation for the whole is complementary to an understanding of the parts. Empirical observation and rational analysis are most effective when they work together hand in hand. A thorough knowledge of mechanics is necessary to set a bone, plug a leaky vessel, and remove a diseased appendix, just as an understanding of human bioenergetics can lead to the resolution of chronic disease. It should go without saying that body, heart, mind, and soul are inextricable aspects of the one whole. And even suppression may come in handy in a pinch when faced with life-threatening illness. Once things are stabilized, more enduring methods of genuine healing can then be employed. Real green healing utilizes the best of all medical worlds.

Recommended reading:

B. Alan Wallace and Brian Hodel, Embracing Mind: The Common Ground of Science and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala, 2008.

Edward C. Whitmont, MD, The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1993.

About the author:
Larry Malerba, DO, DHt is a physician, educator, and author whose mission is to build bridges between conventional medicine, holistic healing, and spirituality. He is the author of Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. He is writes for Huffington Post, Natural News, and the American Holistic Medical Association. He is board certified in Homeotherapeutics and is Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Medical College. He is a board member of The Healers and past president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. Dr. Malerba is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland and has a private practice in upstate New York.

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Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. North Atlantic Books, 2010.

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