The medical profession has been slow to accept the belief that
our mind influences our bodies. In your travels and various talks
and workshops, would you say that a greater number of health
care professionals are beginning to accept this idea and use
it with their patients?
I see it in a mechanical way, that lets me know this is happening
- meaning who invites you to speak. Years ago, if you got invited
to, lets say a major hospital, by the social worker, a lot of
the doctors would say, "Why are you inviting him here? He
is a trouble maker." Now the doctors are the ones inviting
me and listening as well as the medical students. So, I see that
kind of shift. I see that I am not so controversial in the sense
that you don't get invited to a program and at the same time
have people invited to fight with you and argue with you over
whether it is scientific or not, or you're making patients feel
guilty if you say that they can accomplish something.
Now, I am more often invited for
information and to give people that information, rather than
people arguing. I'm not saying that occasionally, like the other
day, somebody doesn't still call up and argue with you, sighting
statistics to fight with you but avoiding all the statistics
that would support you. And some of it is how we are trained,
that we are very diseased oriented and truly in a sense medicine
is a very mechanistic, depersonalizing training in many institutions
still. A lot are changing, and that is really one of my goals
- to change the medical education so that when physicians come
out they are open to all of these things and are not afraid of
new information and looking at new things.
But right now, I'd say most physicians
see new information as criticizing them, as saying, look what
you don't know, look what you are not doing right, rather than
saying, thank you for the new information. It's your telling
me that I don't know something, or that I am doing it wrong.
Doctors, since they themselves (again this is a generalization)
have a great deal of difficulty with feelings and emotions because
we are not trained in how to deal with them and all that we are
going to see and run into in our practices, including the death
and the disability, and so we bury our feelings and really try
to get our patients to do the same thing, so we don't have to
deal with the emotions of the patient.
Do you think more and more doctors are actually asking the patients
what is going on in their life?
think more are, not as many yet, as I would like, and that's
why one of my goals is to humanize medical education so that
we will have doctors who understand that we are taking care of
people, not just diseases. I do think more and more are and part
of that is because patients are now getting empowered and are
willing to speak up and say, "I don't want to be treated
like a room number or a disease, I want to be treated like a
You also say in your book How to Live Between Office Visits,
that most physicians would not be physicians nor want their children
to become physicians and others are becoming so specialized that
medical care will be affected adversely. Could you explain that?
you just interview doctors, and ask them if they would do it
again, become a doctor again, the majority, in many studies,
would say no, they would not, and they would not tell their children
to do it either. Some of it is political and economic, in the
sense of how difficult it is getting to practice and enjoy practicing,
but you see my point again is, if you don't get any joy out of
people, then there really is very little reward in medicine.
The money doesn't make up for the
time and the pain and the difficulties that you encounter. You
could do something else that is far less traumatic and a nice
living and so if the physician looses that sense, which I think
many physicians have, that I am here to care for people and let
the people restore me and let me restore them, and there will
be a reward here. Then, I think you would tell your children,
this is wonderful, a wonderful thing to do, go be a doctor, because
you will love it.
But since we are not feeling that,
we say don't, because what we are feeling is, the forms you have
to fill out, being on call, at other peoples demands, the emotions
that come up when you can't cure somebody, you feel like a failure
and not knowing how to deal with all of that. It is a lot easier
to say, I would never do this again, or let my children do this.
And again, what it gets back to is, that somewhere in the process,
we have to say these things are going to happen. How will you
deal with them? Let's talk about it, lets talk about your feelings,
let's share them, not hide them, not cry in stairways or empty
conference rooms, but let's talk to each other and to the people
we are caring for!
What are some of the ways in which the medical system of education
and practice could become more humanized?
Well, on a practical basis, number one, we want medical students
to meet patients when they first get to medical school, not spend
a couple of years reading books and forgetting the books are
about people, so that when they meet a person, they don't just
see the disease, they see the person. I think if we told these
students in the first week or so of medical school, you will
meet people, you will interview patients, or you will have some
90 year olds or people with chronic illness come and lecture
to the class about their lives and about what they want from
the medical profession.
I've always said I would have doctors and nurses who have been
sick talk to the students about what it was like to be the patient.
I would make sure the students spent a week or so in bed in the
hospital and again share that experience or make them walk with
a walker or blindfold them or plug up their ears so they couldn't
hear, you know, so they understood what it was like to have these
various disabilities. And in some sense, to be what one woman
said, to become natives, to have some sense of experience of
illness so that we are not just tourists in this process.
Like in that movie, The Doctor?
Yes, I think that movie took a lot of the things I wrote about,
but didn't give me credit, because it wasn't in the book, The
Doctor. There, a doctor got sick, and then they made the movie
much more elaborate, but it is exactly that kind of thing, using
some of those techniques and allowing them to become part of
the doctor's teaching and then as I say having sessions where
you sit down and say: a five year old dies of Aids, a five year
old is hit by a car, a forty-five year old is dying of cancer
or some other disease. You can't cure them. How are you going
to feel? What are you going to do when the child dies? Are you
going to help the family? Are you going to run away from them
because you can't deal with the loss? What are you going to do?
Those are things I would sit down and talk about as well as why
you became a doctor. Because, if you became a doctor for healthy
reasons, that's wonderful, that you like and want to help people,
but if you became a doctor for what you might say, psychologically
unhealthy reasons, then we need to look at those now, so that
you don't destroy the patient with your attitude and words.
You see, if you go in to be a psychotherapist,
you'll spend time learning about yourself. If you go in to be
an oncologist, or a surgeon, or an internist, we don't concentrate
on what you will say to people, we concentrate on teaching you
how to operate and write prescriptions and make a diagnosis,
but your words are even more powerful in some instances, than
the medicines and the operations. We can kill or cure people
with our words too and those are things that doctors need to
be trained to understand, how to communicate. We need a course
in communication. How do you tell somebody something so that
you don't kill them with words and statistics and to realize
people are not statistics and you don't know the future for individuals.
So, we'd better learn how to communicate, how to give news and
how to help people to live with what they are learning from us.
Would you recommend a person diagnosed with a serious illness
try an alternative method of treatment, such as consulting a
Reiki practitioner, or someone like that, in addition to seeing
I would recommend that they do everything they wanted to do,
because part of it is responsibility. When you say to me, would
I recommend, my answer is, I don't prescribe for people, because
I don't want them to do what I'm telling them and then to have
more side effects, so I call life a labor pain. What I am saying
is that I don't want you to have pains that I impose upon you,
I want you to have your labor pain and give birth to yourself.
So, if you said, I want to travel to Germany to get a treatment,
or I'm going to Mexico, or I'm going into Reiki, or I'm going
to eat vegetables, or I'm going to have chemotherapy radiation,
that is fine, that is your choice. I will help you by laying
out all the things that I think are good for you and then let
you say this is what I choose to do. That is where I would like
to empower patients, I don't think it is proper for me to say,
you must do this, here is your prescription, now go and do it,
because what I know is, if you don't want to do it, you will
have lots of trouble with whatever treatment it is, and then
I'll say, all right, I guess you 'll have to stop that.
So, I like to lay things out in front
of people and say, all right now, let's talk about what you would
like to do, what you want to do. What are your choices? What
are your feelings? And we will go at it. I also work with drawings
a good deal, so that I know the inner feelings of the person,
meaning that if you said: like for Reiki, draw yourself having
Reiki therapy, draw yourself having chemotherapy and then let's
look at the picture. So, if the picture looks wonderful, terrific!
If the picture looks horrible, we'll talk about where that is
coming from and if your are going to get it, then maybe you will
have to change your feelings and beliefs about it, before you
go and receive it.
Would you do that for each alternative that is available?
If someone's having conflict over a choice, I would say, draw
the choices and lets see. If you said, I don't know who to marry,
I'd say well, if you have several people in mind, draw yourself
with them, and lets look at each picture. So, it's the same kind
of thing. Understand this, it may sound nice to say I'd rather
eat vegetables than have chemotherapy, but I've seen the drawing
of the kitchen looking worse than the drawing of getting chemotherapy.
Because the man hates vegetables, so for him, that's a worse
treatment than chemotherapy. He said, I prefer chemotherapy,
because I would like to eat all these other things, and you and
I might laugh at that saying, I wouldn't have said that, but
that is his statement, so that is why it is not fair for me to
impose vegetables on him, when he prefers chemotherapy.
if he drew a beautiful picture of a Reiki session or some other
form of treatment and it looked really peaceful, then that would
be a good indication that this kind of treatment might be right
Yes, then I could say to him, "Look at how beautiful this
drawing is, there is an intuitive part of you that knows this
is good for you - go!" And it often takes away people's
fear of a new treatment, because they know they did the drawing
and they say: "Yes, it looks beautiful!" I'd say yes,
that's right, and it is coming from you, so don't be afraid,
don't let your intellect get in the way, don't think about it
so much, go with your feelings.
Why is there so often a remission of cancer and then a recurrence?
cancer is a tough disease to cure and it often exists in many
parts of the body, so that you can remove or treat it, and it
may come back later. Now, that has a lot to do with physical
reasons, as well as psychological reasons. This is where I often
talk to people about the role in their lives and a simple example
may be 'a man is his job'. If you said who are you, he tells
you he is a lawyer. When he quits being a lawyer, his cancer
comes back. You see, he retires. A woman is a mother, and she
says I'm a mother of nine so I can't die. Well, when her ninth
kid marries and leaves home, her Cancer comes back. Now, I don't
think that is an accident either because it is like these people
suddenly have no meaning to their lives and there is a certain
amount of depression and despair that comes with that, which
also can lead to the disease reappearing, because the immune
system is no longer fighting it or suppressing it. And there
are also people who live fully in love and die also when the
disease comes back, but they are still helping themselves live
a longer, healthier life. And that is something we have to remember.
We are all going to die, so dying isn't a failure, it doesn't
mean you did something wrong. We are fighting certain diseases
and changes in the body. What I always say is that if you show
me a lover versus someone who isn't, the lover, if they both
had the same disease at the same time, the lover is going to
live a longer, healthier life. Matter of fact, one study just
showed that if you take an optimist and a pessimist who have
the same Cancers, the optimist lives longer than the pessimist.
So, helping people in group therapy and stress sessions and training
and teaching helps them resist Cancer literally and live longer.
But, what you have to remember is that it is not a failure, if
the disease comes back. That's why a lot of people are afraid
to participate in any of this because they have grown up feeling
like failures, so they don't want to draw pictures, join groups,
fight a disease, because if it doesn't go away, it means they
did it wrong and they are so afraid of being graded.