Self-healing from “incurable” diseases

Examples of spontaneous remission, in which a supposedly incurable condition recovers without treatment, can be found across the whole diagnostic spectrum. Having seen a number of cases over the years, both among my patients and clients when I was in practice and in my personal circle, I often wonder why occasional patients recover while most others with similar prognostic features do not. In orthodox medical systems, concerned more with illness than with health, these cases are often lost to follow-up and do not attract the interest they seem to merit. They may even be dismissed on the grounds that the original diagnosis was wrong.

Some reports do get published in medical journals, and mostly relate to cases of advanced cancer which were expected to be fatal. These accounts usually focus on biological factors rather than psychological ones. Books for general readers based on a more holistic study of individual patients include Remarkable Recovery by Caryle Hirshberg and Marc Ian Barasch, and Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, and there are many online descriptions.

Sometimes the unexpected recovery takes place for no apparent reason, but sometimes the patients in question firmly believe it is due to specific factors such as a change in diet, a more fulfilling lifestyle, a spiritual awakening, the power of prayer, or cultivation of the “higher” qualities of forgiveness, gratitude and love. Perhaps what these share in common is a sense of taking control of one’s own health, the firm intention to heal, and a firm belief that healing can happen. Such things are largely beyond the scope of the statistical analysis and controlled studies required in “evidence-based medicine”.

Episodic conditions such as asthma, migraine, epilepsy and autoimmune disorders can wax and wane for no apparent reason. Again, more mainstream research is focused on what triggers a flare-up than on why many sufferers have periods of good health in between, or even recover completely. On a personal note, since I reached my mid-60s my migraines have become much less frequent and severe. One explanation is the biological one that I am finally growing out of them. The prevalence of migraine is known to be lower in older people than younger ones and some sufferers, though sadly not all, experience fewer and less severe attacks in later life. This may be because the brain becomes less sensitive with age, or a result of hormonal changes.

Another explanation is psychological. Going back to cancer, ever since reading Laurence LeShan’s inspiring book Cancer as a turning point I have been interested in the idea that self-healing from this or any other disease can occur through what he called “singing your own song” – finding a purpose and joy in life, what is sometimes called being in a higher vibrational state. This makes intuitive sense to me and looking back over the years, during periods when I have been absorbed in some truly fulfilling project – most recently, a return to my childhood passion for writing fiction (see my Amazon page) – my migraines have been less of a problem. Since LeShan’s book was written, many researchers have studied the mechanisms which might underlie mind-body connections such as this. The complex science is well explained in several recent popular books, for example You are the placebo by Joe Dispenza.

Beliefs and expectations have been shown to play a role in predicting the prognosis of coronary heart disease and the same is probably true for any other condition, so although I realise that my severe migraines could come back at any time, I prefer not to think in those terms. The negative messages so often delivered by well-meaning clinicians, such as “there is no cure for x” and “it’s bound to get worse at some stage”, can destroy hope and are not helpful. Recovery may be unlikely, and can never be promised, but as one of my teachers in the holistic approach used to say “Anything can be healed”.



Persons not Diseases: the ebook

My new ebook Persons not Diseases was published on Smashwords yesterday. It’s a short practical guide to the ‘holistic healing approach’ written for patients, clinicians, and anyone else with an interest in natural healthcare.

It began as an update of my earlier book Focus on Healing and covers a similar range of topics, but soon took on a life of its own, with new case histories, and inclusion of some references to research in the field.

There is now plenty of evidence that changes in lifestyle and mindset, self-help practices such as meditation, and use of complementary therapies can assist with coping and recovery from almost any illness. Yet these simple natural approaches are often ignored or dismissed in orthodox medical settings. I am hoping that, if they are willing to look at this book, some of those sceptical clinicians whose hackles rise when they hear the word ‘holistic’ might change their views.

Some people still prefer to read from printed copies rather than electronic devices, and I plan to publish a print version of Persons not Diseases in the next few weeks. Meanwhile here again is the Smashwords link:

Three keys to self-healing

Reports of new treatment advances, whether in orthodox or alternative medicine, come out almost every day. Some will soon be forgotten or discredited, and others will prove to have real benefits, but none will work for all conditions or all cases – as I well know from my long experience of trying ‘cures’ for migraine.

The basic principles of healing are simple and timeless. There is an old saying all healing is self-healing and though external treatments often do achieve excellent results, none can completely replace the body’s own powers of recovery. We are not consciously aware of the wonderfully complex programs of maintenance and repair continually taking place inside us, but we can help them run better with natural therapies and mind-body techniques.

In a recent interview I was asked to sum up my own approach under three headings, and  the ones I chose were Balance, Positive Outlook, and Self-Determination.

Balance: balance is important in all sorts of ways, including a balanced lifestyle and diet, achieving a balanced state of mind, finding the best compromise when faced with a conflict. The Bach flower remedy Scleranthus is indicated for a sense of imbalance, indecision or fluctuating mood. Many of the other Bach remedies relate to achieving balance in one way or another, whether balancing your own needs with those of others, or balancing your focus between past, present and future.

Positive outlook: a genuinely positive outlook helps both in coping with illness and in strengthening the body’s resistance to illness. But negative feelings also have their place at times and demand expression – forcing yourself to ‘be positive’ all the time is unhelpful. Many of the flower remedies are designed to transform negative states of mind into their positive equivalents. Examples are Mimulus to replace fear with courage, and Gorse to restore lost hope.

Self-determination: this involves taking responsibility for those aspects of your life and health which lie within your power to control, for example making informed choices about treatment. One of the flowers which can be helpful here is Cerato, which promotes self-belief and faith in your own judgement. Another is Walnut, to protect from the outside influences which may distract from your chosen path.

I have written more about this in my book Focus on Healing: Holistic Self-Help for Medical Illness (published 2009 by Papawai Press, Auckland).

Dr Edward Bach was a strong advocate of self-healing. He believed that most bodily illnesses originated with some kind of  imbalance of emotion or personality and that his flower remedies, by  ‘flooding our bodies with the beautiful qualities of our higher nature’, would improve both mental and physical well-being. When Bach put forward such ideas in the 1920s and 1930s they were largely rejected by his colleagues, but mainstream research in mind-body medicine is validating many of his intuitive insights today.

A final comment – according to several published trials, the Bach flower remedies work no better than placebo. This contrasts with the excellent results obtained by trained practitioners. Over 80% of the clients treated in my own practice respond well. I have some ideas about the reasons for the discrepancy between research findings and the clinical observations, and will perhaps discuss these in a future post.