Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dr. Victoria Sweet on "The Healing Power of Nature"

  As I continue to read God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet, an insightful investigation into the history of medicine, I keep coming across intriguing and thought-provoking nuggets. As I was reading recently, I came to a portion of the book which addressed vitalism. Oh, vitalism. While Dr. Sweet is a medical doctor and not a naturopathic one, her perspective was of particular interest to me because the philosophy of vitalism is usually the first objection critics of naturopathic medicine bring upThis is because one of the six naturopathic principles, as identified by the American Association of Naturopathic Medicine, is vis medicatrix naturae, which roughly translates in English to "the healing power of nature." The AANP's website offers a further description of this principle: "Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in the person which is ordered and intelligent. Naturopathic physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process." Critics of naturopathic medicine mock the field for vitalism, never seeming to stop and consider that this very general principle could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, quite possibly including interpretations that don't even involve vitalism. I'd like to share a short excerpt from Dr. Sweet's book, in which she describes the history of the schism between mechanists and vitalists and gives her perspective on the matter.
The mechanists believed that life was mechanical, simply a series of processes that science could eventually understand and duplicate; the body was a machine that could be fixed.  For the vitalists, the body was not a machine.  They believed that life had something special about it that science could never duplicate.  The vitalists were the romantics of medicine, and in the last decades of the nineteenth century they lost their battle with the mechanists.  By the early twentieth century, any reference to vitalism or the healing power of nature was considered heretical.  Yet vitalism did not diappear.  Instead, it dived down into the subterranean rivers of Western medicine and reappeared in the many side streams of alternative medicine.
Whether there is such a thing as the healing power of nature is, perhaps, beside the point.  What I do know for sure is that it is a useful way of looking at my patients' bodies; it gives me a way of imagining that the body's natural state is to be whole, perfect, and without blemish.  And it is what differentiates the living body from a machine: because if nothing interferes, the body, unlike a machine, will heal itself.
                                                                                                    God's Hotel, Victoria Sweet

1 comment:

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