THE practice of Western medicine is changing. Slowly, inexorably, treatment paradigms are moving from “one size fits all” to a tailored approach: towards person-centric, holistic therapy.
Dr Jeff Rediger, a psychiatrist based at Harvard Medical School, is a herald of this change. His book Cured takes the non-expert on an absorbing journey, revealing the interaction of mind and body in health and illness through the lens of individuals who have overcome incredible odds to conquer incurable disease.
The book is written with an informality that makes complex concepts accessible without undermining scientific validity. His work is based on 17 years of research into spontaneous healing and recovery. This interest was prompted by a visit to a holistic Brazilian healing centre, which he identified as a hotspot of spontaneous healing.
Inspired by the environment and testimony of patients, he spent years trawling the medical literature and hospital case-notes for similar cases. He has documented astonishing examples of healing and remission of incurable diseases which defy medical science. His thesis is that common factors can be identified that contribute to these instances of healing.
The resulting work is inherently anecdotal. The argument is that many single-subject studies can build a meaningful pattern of cause and effect. Acknowledging that spontaneous healing is not merely completing a list of tick boxes, he found strong associations, but also confounding factors and paradoxes. What works for one person may not for another.
Dr Rediger identifies diet (nothing new there), and adopting anti-inflammatory, pro-immune lifestyles that embrace love, connectivity, and faith. For all patients, this involved conscious decision-making, action, and response at their own initiative, sometimes at odds with conventional medical advice. For most, remission or healing was a long process.
While it is a fascinating read, I would have liked to be reminded of the rarity of such phenomena. While spontaneous healing is never formulaic; he does not really address the issue of the 99.9 per cent of patients who may seek to change lifestyle and attitudes but who do not experience physical healing — and, indeed, may experience psychological trauma and guilt as a result. Ironically, by adopting holistic practices societally, the health of a population could be improved dramatically.
But this book is not about society. In line with Western individualism, it is self-centric. I fear for a future in which personalised medicine is only for the few.
The Revd Nick Goulding is Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Cured: The remarkable science and stories of spontaneous healing and recovery
Penguin Life £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30