Barbara Dossey - Health and Healing. Part 1: At the Crossroads of Intgeral Healthcare
September 02, 2009 18:08

Health and Healing. Part 1: At the Crossroads of Integral Healthcare
Barbara Dossey and Ken Wilber
Written by Corey W. deVos


"It's a very exciting time in nursing," says Barbara Dossey at the very beginning of the dialogue. She's right, of course—for weeks now, mainstream news has been flooded with stories around America's latest foray into healthcare reform, and what is typically a fairly dry and boring policy debate has become something of a media sideshow. It is unfortunate that the national healthcare conversation has devolved so far into tabloid sensationalism, as the most important debates around human suffering, healing, and social conscience have taken a backseat to town hall riots, burning effigies of Congressmen, and images of Obama with a Hitler mustache.

This is exactly what makes this discussion so alluring. Barbara offers an inside view of some of the greatest opportunities and obstacles faced by a healthcare system that finds itself at a very real crossroad between the 20th and 21st century. Many people are unaware of the internal pressures that have been building within the healthcare system for years, often originating from a wide network of nurses who are passionately devoted to dramatically raising our standards of care. It is an often-cited (and often-overlooked) fact that nurses are responsible for nearly 80% of the healing in the healthcare system, and that some of our most radical developments in treatment have been pioneered by the full-hearted efforts of nurses and healers around the world.

Barbara Dossey's work is a stunning exemplar of Integral theory and practice being taken into the world in very practical and enriching ways. Her deep love, wisdom, and commitment to compassion and the relief of suffering is unmistakable. Her clarity, intelligence, and sophistication shine through like a thousand suns. Barbara is one of our most respected and beloved Integral pioneers, helping to pull Integral theory out of the clouds of abstraction and bring it right where it most belongs—in the bowels of human suffering, reflected in the hearts, minds, and souls of healers everywhere.


What is Health? One of the most intriguing developments in healthcare in recent years is a concerted effort among doctors, nurses, and healthcare specialists to actually define just what we mean by the word "health" in the first place. There are almost as many definitions of "health" as there are descriptions of disease—some focusing on physiological factors, some on psycho-spiritual factors, some on interpersonal and cultural factors, and some on environmental and circumstantial factors. Only now have we begun piecing these many different interpretations into a single mosaic of understanding, an Integral vision of health that seeks to treat the whole person—that is, treating body, mind, and spirit as revealed in self, culture, and nature.

Modelling Healthcare - Barbara describes the momentous reverberations Integral theory has had upon her own work, her own field, and her own practice. She and Ken discuss several health organizations that are already dealing with matters of Integral concern, trying to find ways to integrate a wide array of health-related factors—including family counseling, mental and spiritual health, preventative care, nutrition, education and access to information, different needs and values in the patient, different kinds of treatment modalities for the patient, and even the actual architectural design of the healing environment. All the pieces of the puzzle are already on the table, and all we've needed is an image of wholeness on the front of the box to help us begin putting them together.

Illness vs. Wellness - Barbara and Ken discuss one of the central obstacles to Integral healthcare reform: a cultural preoccupation with "illness" and a medical paradigm that tends to define health as the "absence of disease." They make the point that there is a positive metric that is just as crucial an indicator of our overall health, what we might call a feeling of "well-being". In many ways this has become a pivotal issue in our cultural dialogue about healthcare, as many proponents talk about moving from an "illness" model to a "wellness" model of health.

Life and Death - Some have recommended that perhaps the best litmus test of spiritual development can be seen in our relationship with death—whether it be fearful or accepting. Working from this definition, we can see that American society is suffering from extreme spiritual malnourishment. We are for the most part kept quarantined from the reality of death, viewing it as a mortal enemy at the end of the road rather than the natural completion of the life cycle. There are psychological gaps that exist between the abject fear of death and the intuitive recognition of our own existential nature, forming a fertile crescent for nearly every neurosis afflicting the modern man and woman—neuroses that can ironically worsen our condition and hasten our ultimate deliverance. An integral vision, Barbara insists, would begin working with this schism directly, opening the door for a spiritual renaissance in health and healing.


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