What is Healing? Part 1: Healing and Curing
This is the first entry in a 4-part series. The series will have one focal question: “what is healing?” It will comprise 4 parts, this first defining healing (as distinct from curing), the second discussing pain and suffering (the things that lead people to seek help or health care, generally!), the third on self-care and its role in illness prevention, health maintenance, and human growth and evolution. The final part of this series will conclude with a discussion of the importance of sustainable health care practices, both on a national scale and on a personal, day-to-day level.
With no further introduction, then, here is part one:
Healing and Curing
-James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games
Before beginning a discussion about what healing is, it seems appropriate to craft some definitions; the definitions I offer may differ from standard use, so please bear that in mind.
1. Curing is the process by which the functions of a person (animal, living system) are restored to full function.
You are cured of a broken bone when the bone has knit together enough that normal activities can be resumed. You are cured of a disease like cancer when the functions of the body, disrupted by the presence of the cancer, are restored (generally by the elimination of the cancer cells).
Curing means that, so long as there is some reduction or limitation in function from a previous state (or an idealized “normal” state), you need to be cured.
Curing is done to you.
2. Healing is the process by which all of the parts of a person (animal, living system) are brought into balanced expression and free use.
You are healed of a broken bone when it does not negatively impact your ability to live your life, and when you employ your will to recover the strength and mobility that has been lost. You are healed of cancer when it no longer stops you from loving your life and living it fully, even if the limitations caused by the cancer are still present.
Healing means that, despite the limitations you have acquired due to your pain and symptoms, you feel free to be yourself, express yourself, love your life, and enjoy yourself.
Healing is something you do.
So, with that distinction made, you may be asking the very reasonable question: why does this matter?
American Health Care is flat out broken. It’s too expensive, time-consuming, and in many cases, dangerous: one of the most common places to acquire a staph infection is in a hospital. One of the many reasons for this is that western medical science has, for most of its history, been an entirely curing-focused discipline. The assumption is that if the patient is in distress due to some pain or symptom, then removing that pain or symptom will restore the patient’s health and well-being. But health isn’t the absence of disease; health is the presence of a feeling of vitality, aliveness, and freedom to act according to our natures.
When curing is used where healing is more appropriate, people with depression are given drugs to manage their symptoms instead of being offered a regimen of exercise and gratitude journaling, two interventions that are clinically shown to improve depression symptoms at least as well as drugs, and with only positive side-effects.
When healing is used where curing is more appropriate, people with severe staph infections use homeopathic remedies or meditation instead of antibiotics.
Both healing and curing are necessary in a fully-realized model of health care and well-being. Curing takes you from dysfunction to function. Healing takes you from wherever you are, functional or dysfunctional, to loving your life and freely expressing yourself. Curing leads to the end of pain, healing leads to the end of suffering. The important thing to recognize is when to use which tool. Healing models, in my experience, better alleviate chronic pain. Curing models don’t have a lot to offer for chronic pain sufferers beyond drugs and surgery and similar interventions, and typically fail to take into account how thoughts and emotions play into our pain. Contrarily, curing models are typically better for helping acute and severe conditions.
Pain and suffering, by the way, are the topics of the next article. Come back next time and see how I try to make these heavy topics a light read!