Self-appointed "skeptics" frequently point to practices such as mine, claiming that I'm engaging in nothing but voodoo witchcraft, preying on those so ill and so without hope that they will grasp at any straw proffered them, ante up any outrageous fee desired, and dearly pay for the false hope which I and my colleagues allegedly peddle.
My patients, of course, know the reality is far different. They know me as a hard-headed pragmatist, whose foremost rule is "Find it, fix it, and get out of the way." They know me as a doctor who will rather unflinchingly -- though I hope not unkindly -- point out how they have contributed to their own ill health, while also finding ways they can repair the damage. And they know that my fees are modest; I am unlikely to bathe in gold coin anytime soon from the revenues of my practice.
What they don't know, unless they ask, is that each discipline that I practice, whether it is chiropractic, acupuncture, or herbal/nutritional therapy, is supported by a wealth of scientific research that supports every modality that I use.
When I have used acupuncture to treat children with Tourette's syndrome -- usually successfully, I might add -- I can point to not just one, but several studies that support and guide my intervention.
When I blend a custom herbal formula for a patient suffering from a cold or urinary tract infection, I am relying on studies which show me that the herbs in question are more effective than anything in the MD's formidable arsenal. Though of course, the FDA would have the fantods were I to be so foolish as to make the claim that herbs can actually kill the bacteria causing the infection, even though studies exist demonstrating that very fact. So I won't make the claim that herbs can help cure the common cold, even though substantial research exists supporting that statement.
And when I explain to an acupuncture patient that Qi is a life-force running through their body, and that the flow of this Qi can be altered by placing needles at certain points along that flow, I know that I am using a time-tested analogy for a phenomena that we are only beginning to touch upon in Western science. It is likely that this Qi is actually a form of intercellular communication, and that acupuncture alters the nature of that communication. When you begin to change the body's command and control systems, your results are going to be powerful and intersystemic, which is why both acupuncture and chiropractic have such profound effects on people. Chiropractic adjusting, through its influence on neural communication, and acupuncture, through its alteration of intercellular ionic flow, are both acting on a meta level, thus their widespread effects.
With all of that said; with all of my adherence to the logical discrimination of disease and therapeutics, and my hard-headed emphasis on results, I cannot ignore the power of my patient's spirits, nor their immeasurable will to survive, improve, and in some cases achieve a level of health they never thought possible. Where does this will come from, and how does it manifest its results? Most importantly from my perspective, how can I help my patient harness that power?
Multiple studies have shown that intercessory prayer have little effect on disease outcome. Nonetheless, it is often through their religion or spiritual beliefs that people harness that powerful exercise of volition which dramatically alters the course of their disease.
Despite increasingly frequent forays into this domain, the realm of the spirit remains largely opaque to the otherwise piercing lenses of science. There is some evidence that our brains are hardwired, as it were, to engage in spiritual practice; to "believe" in unquantifiable, unmeasurable forces which help to direct our lives. And those familiar with the work of Carl Jung and subsequently Joseph Campbell will recognize the hero myth as the unifying essence of almost all religions. Neurological research has shown how the regular practice of meditation, independent of the specific religious tradition of the meditator, can create long-term alterations in our brains. Nonetheless, these scattered breadcrumbs only beg the question of how these beliefs unlock such potent personal power that the course of a disease can be radically altered.
This is a question worthy of consideration, particularly today, when much of Christianity celebrates the birth of its central figure. And as I drove home from a family gathering last night, I could not ignore the beauty and tranquility exuded by the churches I passed, all decked out for their celebrations and lit with candles for their midnight services. There is a compelling power there, not just in Christianity, but in any religion as it expresses the majesty of its office in our affairs. From the miraculous birth of Jesus to the transcendental satori of Gautama Shakyamuni to the revelations of the cave-dwelling Muhammad, there is a common thread from which has emerged some of the most beautiful expressions of art, literature and music of which humans are capable.
To that I would add religion's ability to give us the power to manifest our ideal selves in the physical realm as well as the sphere of ideas. While I cannot explain it, I would be a fool to ignore it, though it is clearly not in my scope to harness it. That is more truly the realm of the priest, the roshi, the imam. As a doctor, I must remain ecumenical to best serve my patients.
To me, this day marks both a beginning and an end. It is the end of the work year for me, and over the next week of "vacation," I lay the foundations for beginning the new year. I am looking forward to the changes I hope to bring about, both personally and in my practice. And I know that this question, the role of spirituality in health, will be one which will invite me back to ponder its challenges throughout this year. I am looking forward to the conversation about to ensue.
And I am also, as always, incredibly thankful to my patients who continue to be my most influential teachers. Thank all of you for your trust in me, and thank you for permitting me to join you down the short segment of your path that we are traveling together. I hope my guidance has not led you astray, but assisted you to become more of who you want to be.
And to all of the readers of my blog, thank you for your attention and your feedback. You encourage me to continue these public musings and consider new topics and new approaches.
Happy Holidays to all! I look forward to seeing you in 2012.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.