The Fundamental Concepts of Healing and Curing

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love
Hubert H. Humphrey

Healing and curing are related but not equivalent concepts that should not be confused. Curing is the province of the physician in an acute medical care setting. Physicians are trained to cure disease and alleviate pain. A good patient is patient; he/she is a passive recipient of the physician's art and skill. Healing is something quite different, for healing is something a physician can't do for a patient. Healing can only come from within the human individual. Healing is the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual process of becoming whole again. Michael Lerner describes the two concepts as follows:

"Biomedicine is interested in curing the disease and alleviating pain. Bio-psycho-social-medicine is interested in healing the illness and alleviating suffering. Curing and alleviating pain and healing and alleviating suffering are two linked but different things. The difference is that mind-body medicine focuses on the human experience of the disease, because what we actually experience is not the disease itself but our experience of the disease."

At the Center, our best efforts facilitate an individual's ability to profoundly change the human experience of his or her illness. In optimal situations, the process of healing not only can have a transformative effect on a person's quality of life, but, as recent studies have shown, can also affect survival as well.

Our experience at the Center demonstrates that the same disease entities (i.e. Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington's Chorea etc.) are experienced very differently by different individuals. The same is true of stroke. Strokes affecting the same areas of the brain and causing very similar initial impairments are experienced quite differently by different individuals. And the nature of these individual experiences has a profound affect on an individual's process of healing and on his/her degree of perceived disability.

The process of healing is complex and mysterious. Healing can take place without curing, and diseases can be cured and the consequences of stroke reversed without healing taking place. But when healing takes place, it is as real and observable as the absence of disease or impairment.

The essence of healing was perhaps best described by Victor Frankl in his descriptions of survival in Nazi concentration camps. The survivors were not necessarily the strongest or the most educated, but were those who had a core of meaning that the Nazis could not touch. Those who survived were those who could find meaning in the question, "Who am I under these new conditions?" Those whom medicine cannot cure, but who nevertheless experience healing are those who can find meaning within themselves that is not touched by their disease or their impairments. In Frankl's words:

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—
to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

An extension of the concept of healing, as described above, is reflected in the recent trend toward measuring success in rehabilitation settings in terms of outcomes. Health outcomes are not only based on observable and measurable benchmarks, but also are based on patients' perspective of their day-to-day functioning and well-being. In certain outcome-based measures the patient's experience of his or her level of disability has become the central defining factor in determining the success of therapeutic intervention.

We are grateful to Congressman Sam Farr and the US Department of Education,
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation for the funding support that made this website possible.