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When Healing Becomes Educating, Vol. 2 - Waldorf Research Institute

When Healing Becomes Educating, Vol. 2 - Waldorf Research Institute

The Psychosomatic

The Psychosomatic Concept in Anthroposophic Medicine* MARKUS TREICHLER The psychosomatic approach, which takes account of psychological factors in the genesis, evolution and treatment of physical illness, has enjoyed a long tradition in western medicine. Its most beautiful formulation, unsurpassed to this day but seldom achieved in medical practice, goes back to the physicians of ancient Greece and indeed Socrates as its forefather. In the dialogue with Charmides we find: “When a person’s eyes are sick one may not endeavor to heal the eyes without healing the head, nor the head without the body, nor the body without the soul... for, so he said, all that is both good and bad for the body and indeed for the whole person emanates from the soul... Therefore, he said, one must first and foremost treat the soul if the head and the body as a whole are to be well. The soul, however, O fortunate one, he said, must be treated with certain healing sayings, and these healing sayings are good conversations. Through conversations of this kind thoughtfulness arises in souls, and where thoughtfulness has grown and is present it is easy to bring health to the head as well as to the body as a whole.” ... “Then, O Socrates, (said Charmides) the young man’s headache must be a boon indeed, if he is thus constrained to improve himself in his spiritual life for the sake of his head!” “Indeed it is so,” replied Socrates. This concept, philosophically and anthropologically founded in the humoral pathology of Hippocrates as well as in the theories of the elements and the temperaments, was not always adequately observed even by the Greek physicians of antiquity: “That the physicians (in ancient Greece) fail to come to grips with so many diseases is due solely to the way they treat the eyes but not the head, the head but not the body, and the body but not the *Dedicated to Walther Buehler in honor of his 80th birthday, from the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, Art Therapy and Eurythmy Therapy at the Filderklinik. Original title: “Der psychosomatische Gedanke in der anthroposophischen Medizin,” in Merkurstab 1993: 46: (2) 168-76. English by Johanna Collis, MIL. 20

soul, for they do not know that it is the whole person they should be caring for...” Despite all the great changes that have taken place in the history of medicine and therapeutics, little has changed in this particular respect Although all able physicians in all ages and cultures have found that psychological factors play a part in sickness and health, this has not been sufficiently taken into account in medical theory and practice, in pathology or therapy, to the detriment of patients and medicine alike. In the early part of this century depth psychology and its successors began a counter-movement by stressing the psychological aspect. A wave of speculative interpretations linking body and psyche laid particular stress on the unconscious side of psychological experience and factors playing a part in the pathogenesis of neurotic and so-called psychosomatic illness. A characteristic mixture of speculation and dogmatism in the understanding and interpretation of psychosomatic connections led to the popular spread of the ideas emanating from depth psychology. Psychosomatic interpretations are all too easily taken for granted and can be quite superficial. They can easily take us unawares if we fail to bring an alert and unprejudiced attention to bear on them. The psychoanalytic interpretation of the genesis of a gastric ulcer, for example, states that it is an expression of an unconscious desire to be fed, in other words of a longing to be pampered and cared for in an unconscious regression to the oral phase of the early years of life. This interpretation culminates in the assumption that the stomach reacts to the unconscious wish to be fed by behaving as if it has something to digest and thus begins to digest itself, which then leads to the ulcer. The anthroposophic image of the human being and of medicine takes an entirely different approach to the relationship between body and soul. Walther Buehler’s convincing formulation of the “body being the instrument of the soul” illuminates one aspect of the relationship between body and psyche. The soul uses the body as a musician uses an instrument: It plays upon it and as a result of its individual interpretation a (musical) work of art arises. The body serves the soul and as a result nonphysical (i.e., psychological) processes come to physical realization. However, the body as an instrument or a tool can also put obstacles in the way of some of the aims or needs of the soul. Depending on how suitable or unsuitable an instrument it is, how well cared-for or neglected, how well-tuned or wrongly tuned, the body can spoil many a good intention or turn many a beautiful melody into an ugly disharmony. Conversely, the soul can despise its instrument, treat it badly, misuse it, tune it wrongly or play it badly... 21

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