The people who participated in this research saw alternative healing techniques as informed by two key concepts: self-healing and healing energy. For these informants, self-healing comprises self-treatment, harnessing the body's ability to heal itself, and the power of the mind to effect healing.
Most informants saw the ability to heal oneself as a major defining criteria of an alternative approach to healing (Furnham 1994; Lowenberg 1992).5 Brenda put it this way: "Self-healing, the complexity of our bodies, the way it's all put together. And our minds, the complexity of our souls must be billions times greater. So I think only people themselves can truly heal themselves because of the complexity." Similarly, Marie told me this: "I had decided that it was time to get back to natural ways and looking inside for a lot of the answers to health questions, doing my own healing." For a few of these people, self-healing means to self-treat. As Laura said, "You can self-prescribe homeopathic remedies." However, for the majority of informants, self-healing involved using the body (Furnham and Bhagrath 1993; McGuire 1987) and the mind (Furnham and Kirkcaldy 1996; Lowenberg 1992) to effect healing.
For almost half of these people self-healing meant mobilizing the body's ability to heal itself. In Lindsay's words, alternative healing means "Do[ing] the stuff so you can let the body heal itself." And Scott said, "I think that homeopathic medicine can be very effective in bolstering your own body's process of trying to heal all the time." For some, this means maintaining and balancing a bodily system that is naturally designed to heal itself (Pretorius 1993). For example, in describing his experiences with massage therapy, Randal told me his therapist said, "I'm doing a massage on your lymphatic system. I'm draining out the toxins that are clogging it so your lymphatic system can deal with the disease a little bit better." Similarly, Greg said, "The idea of feeling better over all, and treating yourself well, and maintaining yourself, and giving your body a chance to do what it's able to do. You have to get your body up to a certain maintenance level so that it can do what it's naturally able to do." And Hanna told me this: "When you can, you then try and bring the body back into balance. And the only way you can really do that it by exercise and good nutrition to put the body into a situation where it can help itself."
For others, allowing the body to self-heal meant bolstering the immune system. For example, in talking about how she treats her husband's colds, Laura said, "I'll give him Echinacea or suggest he use some vitamin C or garlic to boost his immune system." Lindsay also believes in the value of strengthening the immune system to allow the body to heal itself: "I wanted to find if there was a way that I could strengthen my own body constitution so that it could fight off the infections more. So when I'm starting to feel sick, hopefully my immune system will kick whatever it is off sooner."
Self-healing also means using the power of the mind for healing. For instance, Lorraine said, "If you can get into this thinking pattern there's nothing that you can't heal in your own body," and Betty told me, "The human mind is a pretty powerful thing and I think even just with our mind alone, I think we can basically heal ourselves with our attitude or our thinking processes." Harnessing the power of the mind over the body to bring about healing can mean anything from general bodily maintenance through pain relief, to destroying tumours and cancerous cells. For instance, Jane visualized a video game character eliminating substances in the body not conducive to good health: "If I'm not feeling well when I go to bed, you know Pac Man? I just visualize it. I turn on my brain and I say: 'Okay, send them all out,' and they can chomp up anything in this body that's not good for it." Trudy also used visualization as a means of enabling the mind to engender healing:
They had found early stages of cancer of the cervix and I believe, to this day, that if I had had more time to really work with it, that I would have been able to cure it without any kind of operation. I truly believe that, and the reason why is because with visualization work, cancer is something that is in a physical spot, so it's easier to visualize on one spot and to do all the healing stuff on that one spot.
For Lindsay, using the mind to self-heal means having more of an overall awareness of her body rather than using visualization techniques: "I can be lying down and be having some muscle tightness or some pain and I feel like I can send my awareness down in my body to smooth out those muscles, and run it like a pulse of energy, and smooth them out as if there were hands smoothing them out, and I feel better." Finally, for Natalie, harnessing the power of the mind to heal requires faith: "I really think you can get rid of tumours. I think that you can open up you blood vessels if you have arterial sclerosis, but this takes a lot of believing in order for it to work."
Almost half of the people who spoke with me said the use of healing energy as a therapeutic modality is a distinguishing characteristic of alternative approaches to healing. These informants told me that everything on earth, as well as in the universe, is composed of energy that can be mobilized to heal. "I believe," said Betty, "and so many others believe, that we can, well, everything's energy, all life is energy. I believe that you can give energy to others, you can actually send it to others." Similarly, Hanna said, "It's in the air that we breathe, it's energy, in the food that we eat, the vital life force. I've found that with yoga and reflexology and therapeutic touch, they all work, whether the person believes in them or not, because it comes from the practitioner trying to direct energy." For some of these informants, healing energy originates in the earth (Coward 1989; O'Connor 1995). For example, in describing how crystal therapy works, Jane told me, "It's drawing energy from the power within the earth and it's used for healing." Similarly, Lorraine said, "I use a lot of earth energy. I bring that up and pour it over the person. I ask mother earth to give us that. And a great part of all of this is acknowledging where these energies are coming from. I give thanks to mother earth for supporting us." For others, the source of healing energy is the universe of which all things are a part (Glik 1988; McGuire and Kantor 1987; O'Connor 1995). According to Marie, "Reiki is channelling of universal energy through hands to you, and you do with the energy what you need to do, wherever the healing needs to take place."
Finally, for others, healing energy has a spiritual dimension (Glik 1988; McGuire 1987; McGuire and Kantor 1987). In Jane's words, "Using the crystals for healing is spiritual. You have to believe that there's this power within these rocks and that the power comes from another source and it's a living thing, so that's a part of my spirituality." It is important to note that while I spoke to a variety of people from different age groups, religious backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and so on, I found very few relationships between types of people and beliefs about alternative healing. However, I did find a connection between participation in alternative spirituality and beliefs about a specific alternative healing technique. To be precise, it is not that people who participate in new age or non-mainstream spirituality are any more likely than those who do not to believe in the concept of healing energy. Rather, the distinction lies in what they believe to be the source of this energy. While most of the people who took part in this research believed in the concept of healing energy, informants who participated in new age or non-mainstream spirituality were more likely to believe the source of this energy to be metaphysical, originating in God, spirit, or the universe. In contrast, those informants espousing mainstream religious beliefs drew on scientific paradigms in attributing the origin of healing energy to the fact that the earth, and all things on it, are composed of energy.
In the end, these people define alternative healing by comparing it to, and differentiating it from, allopathic healing. In doing so they use a variety of distinguishing criteria comprising three broad categories: the focus and purpose of therapy, the nature of the client/practitioner relationship, and alternative healing techniques. While different informants focus on different distinguishing criteria, they all use allopathic medicine as their reference point in defining alternative healing. For example, whether or not an informant's emphasis is on attitude, caring, or time is not as important as the fact that what defines the nature of the alternative client/practitioner relationship is that it somehow differs from the negative standard of the doctor/patient relationship. Holism, a key component of these informants' alternative model of healing, also figures prominently in their alternative model of health. Like many concepts associated with alternative health care, holism is a complex, and at times ambiguous, term. In the following chapter I examine in more detail the concepts, including holism, that make up these informants' alternative model of health.
1. However, this does not mean that these people see nothing distinct about alternative therapies, as is plain from the meaning they give to their model of alternative health. See chapter five for further discussion of this issue.
2. See also Dunfield (1996); Furnham and Bhagrath (1993); Furnham and Forey (1994); McGuire (1983); and Pawluch et al. (1994, 1998a).
3. See Saks (1997b) and Coward (1989) for a critical assessment of the argument that holism is exclusive to alternative health care.
4. See also Campion (1993); Fulder and Munro (1985); Furnham et al. (1995); Furnham and Forey (1994); Furnham and Smith (1988); Hare (1993); Sharma (1992); and Taylor (1984).
5. See also Fulder and Munro (1985); Furnham and Smith (1988); Glik (1988); Goldstein et al. (1987); McGuire (1987, 1988);
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