W. Hunter Roberts
Transformative Arts



A Holistic Approach to Holistic Healing
by W. Hunter Roberts, M.S. W., M. Div.

Once I arrogantly believed all illness was emotionally caused. I remember friends as far back as the early seventies who suffered from unidentified disorders desperately running from doctor to doctor. I was skeptical at best, scornful at worst. Then in the early eighties, while working as a therapist with schizophrenic adolescents, I read that gluten and food dyes might be a factor in hyperactivity and other learning disorders. My psychoanalytic colleagues pooh-poohed my interest in such ideas. Yet the memory of a schizophrenic girl nearly foaming at the mouth, being rewarded with the high gluten foods she craved for making her bed, haunts me still. Maybe there was something we didn't know about the mind/body connection.

Michael is a gifted practitioner of Chinese and Energetic medicine. Last year one of his clients with chronic fatigue syndrome stopped responding to treatment. He suspected emotional blocks to healing, and sent her to me. After working through some childhood emotional issues her physical symptoms began to miraculously improve.

What is going on here? Could it be that we are whole people? If so, what are the implications for what we call holistic healing? Do we all mean the same thing by it? I'm not sure.

A few years ago I went to a well known holistic MD in Marin for probable Candida and some other concerns I had about my health. The doctor was a handsome, healthy looking man of good will with gray temples and a Hollywood smile. He prescribed fasting and vitamins, and hugged me to conclude our visit. I left $150 poorer, with little more clarity about what was causing my problems than I had had upon arrival. Nothing showed up in tests except some food allergies I already knew about. The yeast tests, he explained, sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Other tests showed that in spite of years of supplements and a whole foods diet, my body had extremely low levels of certain key minerals. Why? He shook his head. "Don't worry about that," he advised, "just take the mineral supplements and see if you feel better."

This was awfully familiar. While I appreciated that minerals were likely to be more helpful and certainly less harmful than drugs, the approach smacked of a New Age version of "Take two aspirins and call me in the morning." I began to suspect there was a limitation built into allopathic medicine that accounted for this hit or miss approach of " we don't really know what's wrong or how these things work together, but let's try this and hope for the best." It did not seem very scientific.

I wanted something else, something more. I wanted treatment grounded in a theory of medicine that went beyond "natural is good, drugs are bad." I began to ask myself, what really is holistic healing? When I had first heard the term, I pictured a practitioner who would respect me as a whole person, while addressing my health concerns through multiple lenses, inquiring into a wide variety of possible causes, like: bacteria and parasites, genetics, neurology, structural issues, allergies, environmental factors, nutrition and lifestyle, bio-chemical imbalances, emotional stuckness, spiritual concerns, etc. It seemed to me that all these things and more worked together in a complex system to create health or illness. But, realistically, how can one doctor can be knowledgeable about so many factors?

None of us can know everything. None of us has sufficient skills to treat the whole person at every level of their being. Perhaps we it is time we gave up the idea that a single practitioner working in isolation can heal a whole person, as inconsistent with a holistic model. Perhaps holistic healing requires a different approach to incorporate a systemic understanding of so many interconnected factors. Perhaps holistic healing requires that we adopt a holistic model of interdisciplinary cooperation among practitioners who look not just at their own area of specialty, but how each system interacts synergistically with all the other systems affecting a person's health.

Healers contribute to the body's own healing system. Like blind people examining an elephant, I "see" the trunk and another practitioner "sees" the tail. By working together we can put together a more complete picture of a whole human being. Perhaps it is time to recognize that true healing is always a team, perhaps even a community effort, in partnership with the client. That means collaborating with practitioners who are willing to work as a team, and taking the time to confer with them. It means listening. It means including the client's community. It means addressing relationships and life purpose as vital factors in personal well-being.

I work cooperatively now, with nutritionists, various kinds of body workers, time mnagement coaches, financial consultants, Chinese docs, homeopaths, and even an occasional M.D., to provide a complete program for our clients' recovery and reinvention. It's amazing to see the results we get when we are working from all angles! A woman reinvents her life, develops new relationships, and recovers from years of colitis. A driven, perfectionaist college senior learns to meditate and sheds her life-long performance anxiety. An elderly man energetically returns to riding the bicycle he thought he had parked forever. A woman with migraines relaxes her control and feels enthusiastic about her life without medication. A depressed middle-aged man moves to Paris to live his dream, after regaining his resilience as a result of discovering and eliminating food allergies and recovering his memory of early childhood traumas.

All this takes a commitment on the part of the clients. They cannot be passive consumers, just along for the ride. They take an active role in their own healing, but that too is consistent with a holistic approach. We are learning through our collaborative work that illness and health are not simply emotional or physical, but a complex weave of many systems, emotional, spiritual, physical, and environmental; that healing incorporates body, mind, and spirit, which are not after all, separate parts of a person, but separate lenses through which to view the wholeness of a human being. Truly holistic health requires more than vitamins and herbs, it requires a holistic approach to healing and to our understanding of health.