In American culture, the predominant healing system is biomedicine. We view the human body as a machine that needs to be fixed, and health is viewed merely as the absence of illness (Lecture 3.1). We don’t like to entertain the notion of spiritual or mental influences on our health because they are neither tangible nor are they easily diagnosed and treated by biomedical science (Lecture 3.1). The Western world also fears death and sees dying as something that must be prevented, rather than as a natural part of living, because it forces us to question our own mortality, as well as existential questions we can’t easily, or even possibly, answer with science (Puchalski, Dorff, and Hendi, 2004: 689-690). Because we do our best to separate the spiritual/mental body from the physical body in the West, many people in our culture believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive, however, that isn’t necessarily true (Lecture 3.1). Sometimes, a patient may have physical symptoms that biomedical physicians are unable to explain with science. These outcomes may be affected by the mental and emotional well-being of the patient, which was shown in Dr. Berga’s study on ovary function. According to her study, cognitive based therapy (CBT) “resulted in a higher rate of ovarian activity (87.5%) than did observation (25.0%) (Berga et al., 2003: 976).
To diverge even further, many societies believe illness can be caused by the supernatural or social issues such as selfishness (Lecture 3.1). Evil or malicious spirits try to steal the souls of the living, so that they can join them in death (Lecture 3.1). In these societies there exist shamans who do battle with the spirit world on behalf of the patient and heal them via special rituals known as “healing dances” (Bushman, 2012 and Lecture 3.1). Healing isn’t always done by a single authoritative entity, such as a doctor or shaman, but can be done collectively by the whole group (Lecture 3.1).
Science, religion and healing have always had an interesting, and often conflicting, relationship. I would argue that there are as many people who believe in religion and the healing power of the supernatural as there are biomedical healers who believe in the power of science. Both disciplines have their own respective benefits to society in regards to healing, and many people use a combination of both science and religion to find comfort and recovery when one system, such as biomedicine or traditional healing practices, isn’t providing the relief they desire (Fritzsche et al., 2011). When recovery isn’t possible, religion or spirituality may allow the dying to find peace and meaning in their existence and provide a healing process for those left behind. “Spirituality is fundamental to the dying process and to the care of dying persons” (Puchalski, Dorff and Hendi, 2004: 690).
Puchalski, Christina M., Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and Imam Yahya Hendi. “Spirituality, Religion and Healing in Palliative Care.” Clinics in Geriatric Medicine 20, no. 4 (November 2004): 689-714. Accessed July 18, 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/science/article/pii/S0749069004000655.