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I have raised a number of questions about how we perceive our health and well-being and how we define health. Each of these questions is interrelated and consideration of the same is not possible in isolation. On the other hand each of these questions also deserves focused attention.

The first question that I asked was: What if we have been led to believe that our health is only about our physical health?

Now on one level it is difficult to believe that we see health as only being physical health however if we look at the health care system we begin to see evidence that this is actually what we focus on. Or at least that is what the system does. The current western medicine model is based on the concrete examination of the physical body. The emphasis is on finding what we refer to as invaders: germs, viruses, even cancers as something that happens to us, to our bodies rather than assessing the overall picture and overall function or dysfunction or our possible contribution to that dysfunction.

Through the examination of the physical body it may be determined that there is disease in the material body. This is reliant on laboratory or other tests that indicate concrete physical signs of dysfunction or imbalance.  The system has many techniques and tools at their disposal for diagnosis of disease but in general this process leads to a focus on a fairly narrow area of the body rather than looking at dysfunction as a body system or even broader system issue and treating it as such. Sometimes this process is straightforward: a problem is identified; an intervention fixes the problem and things are good. However this is not always the case. Usually by the time a person enters the health care system with symptoms that can be categorized as disease, the dysfunction or imbalances within their body are usually more pervasive than in the most obvious location of disease.  The dysfunction is also not usually restricted to the physical body.

Based on the results of diagnostic tests decisions may be made regarding treatment that is if it is clear what the issue is. Again it is not always that simple. Many “health” concerns defy diagnosis. They defy diagnosis because they do not fit within the narrow parameters of the materialistic approach to physical health of the body. I should say physical disease of the body. This is based within the belief that physical problems/disease have physical causes or origins.

a little narrow


Regardless treatment of disease continues the focus on the concrete material world providing options such as surgery, radiation, drugs, and other physical interventions. These are done to the patient and do not usually view the patient as a partner in the process. These options are aimed at symptom control or elimination and not on causal factors or the broader involvement of say the state of mind of the patient, or their emotional or spiritual health. Social context rarely makes it on the table for discussion. In most cases the treatment modality is focused on the particular body part that appears to be the home of the disease and the remainder of the body is not usually considered to be part of the puzzle and therefore of no concern in the solution. Essentially it is not about health per se but really about managing or controlling the specific disease.

What about the emotional, mental and spiritual parts of the equation? Do they not also deserve attention? The answer is yes, of course but the system is ill-equipped to take this on. Thus attention remains on the material body not on these other areas. As currently designed the system is not even able to properly address mental illness again focusing on the diagnosis and the physical manifestations and leaving the rest up for grabs for anyone who might show the least bit of interest in dealing with it. Families, when they stick around and social/community agencies are left to handle the bulk of the needs and concerns of individuals with mental illness.

Does this leave those we access the system with “health issues” under the impression that their personal emotional, mental and spiritual health are irrelevant? The answer is yes. Does the current health care system focus on physical health as the expense of the other components of our being? Again the answer is yes.

We are left with a very narrow definition of health (on disease really) and little attention to our entire complex being.

What if we had a broader perspective?

Irene McDermott © 2012