During the 1970s, when alternative medicine was still little more than an entry under "Q" for "quackery" in most doctors' books, neurosurgeon C. Norman Shealy was among a handful of trailblazers who defied the medical status quo. While Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil were still finishing high school, Shealy founded the American Holistic Medical Association to create a framework for studying unconventional means of healing.
What sparked Shealy's interest was his work with chronic pain patients, a group for which conventional healing practices had little to offer. His quest for a way to help them launched a career that reads like an encyclopedia of alternative medicine. He studied acupuncture, biofeedback, and behavior modification. He pored over the writings of clairvoyant Edgar Cayce and body psychotherapy maverick Wilhelm Reich. He did pioneering research on prominent energy healers and people he calls "medical intuitives" who can diagnose from a distance, and hewent to the Philippines to watch psychic surgeons.
Shealy concluded that for all these intriguing techniques, healing comes down to one key element: the patient's alignment with the the life force of his or her body,body, which Shealy considers sacred.
In his most recent book, "Sacred Healing: The Curing Power of Energy and Spirituality" (Element Books. 1999), Shealy contends that genuine methods of healing compel us to embrace the higher aspects of our nature: forgiveness, tolerance, joy, acceptance, patience, optimism, and love. Yet he is far from starry-eyed.In fact, this pioneering advocate for alternative medicine is also one of its most unblinking critics. Alternative medicine needs quality control, he insists, if it is to endure as a credible and beneficial discipline in years to come.
The cornerstone of Shealy's work is his clinic, the Shealy Institute for Comprensive Care, which he founded in Springfield, Missouri, in 1971. According to a 1997 report by the American Academy of Pain Management--the largest organization of clinical pain practitioners in the world--the institute is among the most successful pain management clinics in the country. Using techniques such as biofeedback, acupuncture, and electrotherapy, the institute has been able to help some 70 to 80 percent of patients with hard-to-treat disorders ranging from migraine and chronic pain to depression, infertility, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Exactly how do practitioners--and patients--tap into the sacred aspect of medicine that Shealy describes in his new book. Here, he discusses his latest findings on what works to facilitate healing, what doesn't, and how to discriminate among the many healing techniques.
You titled your book, "Sacred Healing." What do you mean by that phrase? A:
There's a divine process involved in any type of healing. We might assist it with drugs, surgery, or other techniques, but healing is a process beyond scientific description. Life, health, and healing are all part of the divine. Healing comes from the mind-body itself when it is optimally attuned to the sacred.
That said, in my experience, healing is triggered by three specific factors: the faith of the patient; the intent, or willpower, of the patient; and grace--or a combination of all three.
In general, the patient's belief in the physicians is the single most important factor in the healing process. This belief activates the willpower of the patient and gets him or her more involved in the treatment. The vast majority of the time, these two factors alone are the key features of healing. However, occasionally you come across a miraculous healing without any apparent intervention. Those are the ones I call grace.
In your book, you describe a number of healing techniques that have consistent, scientifically verifiable results.
At our institute we have had remarkable results with a number of therapies that might be considered as "alternative." Biofeedback, for example, helps 84 percent of people with migraine headaches. By learning how to regulate the blood flow to the head, patients can redirect blood from the head to the hand, which helps them turn off the pain of the headache. With acupuncture, we can return fertility to two out of three men who are infertile. And we can get 85 percent of people out of long-standing depression without using drugs by employing music and photo-stimulation, in the form of flashing lights, to activate serotonin and beta endorphin production in the brain. Helping people understand how health and mood are related is also an important component of helping people overcome depression and other chronic illnesses.
Another technique that is extremely useful is a very faint electrical stimulation of specific acupuncture points. Through this method we can markedly improve some 70 to 80 percent of cases of migraine, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy.
Do you consider these healing techniques aspects of sacred healing?
Absolutely. To me it's all about working with the subtle energies of the body. With very subtle electrical stimulation, you are tapping into the life energy of the body, which is definitely part of the sacred. There are many ways of tapping into or stimulating the body's vital energy. It can be done through changing one's attitude, exercise, or optimal nutrition. It's always a question of determining what is going to help reduce stress and allow the body to heal itself.
How does your concept of vital energy relate to the Chinese concept of Qi?
To me Qi (or "chi"), orgon, and prana are all terms for vital energy or life force--what makes a body alive instead of simply being an inanimate object. It is that energy that I consider sacred. And what is that spark of life energy but a connectedness with what we, for want of a better term, call the soul? I have to assume that the soul is a form of energy that we can't see or measure.
Will all these types of sacred healing be part of medicine in the future?
Yes. I think we have reached the limit of what we can accomplish medically with technology. Radical surgical procedures and drugs can do wonders for conditions involving acute trauma, but they are not the cure for most things. The cure for most diseases is some form of sacred healing at a subtle level. I think the many different types of healing that seek to stimulate or activate the life force of the body are going to be part and parcel of 21st-century medicine.