This article was published on ON LINE Opinion, Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, as Melbourne Integrative Medicine Conference Points to Holistic Future for Healthcare.
It was fun when the researcher from Sydney University Medical School used the Myers-Briggs personality indicators to divide the workshop participants into personality groups. It felt really good when my group were found to ‘use past experience in an ordered and systematic way to help organise themselves and others’. However, we weren’t so happy to hear that these types of people under extreme stress can suddenly become rigid and directive, and that this could lead down the track to health problems.
Are you the highly ambitious, rigidly organised, competitive and impatient Type A personality or the more relaxed, creative and reflective Type B personality? If you’re Type A, does that mean that you are at risk of heart disease just like the original research suggested? Well, no. It doesn’t really matter which type you seem to fit into, the original data and conclusions have been found to be flawed.
A subsequent study found that there are six types of personality, each identifying unique susceptibility to frightening illnesses like cancer and AIDS. It’s suggested there’s a type of personality that will develop cancer or a type of personality that is constantly distressed, or a type that will become neurotic or psychotic.
Whether you knowingly or unknowingly subscribe to Jung or Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram model, astrology, believe you’re extrovert or introvert, or that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus it’s helpful to realise that these are theories, not substantiated facts. The jury may still be out on the results of much of the research and the benefits of therapies resulting from such theories.
Latest research finds that behaviour and personality types are not predetermined, after all. Change is possible. And some strategies, like behaviour therapy or CBT, are proving very useful in the treatment of mental illness.
In the past we’d send a person with emotional problems to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. We’d send a person with physical problems to see the medical doctor, and for someone with a spiritual problem we’d suggest a priest, rabbi or minister. Research is divulging that these dimensions are more interwoven in our lives than such compartmentalisation reveals.
The drug-based medicine of the past has made way for advances in psychology, the introduction of mind/body medicine, and at this point holistic and integrative practices are gradually gaining acceptance both in the community and amongst medical practitioners.
This weekend, Bridging the Gap, the AIMA’s 18th International Integrative Medicine Conference will be held in Melbourne. It brings together GPs, specialists, allied health practitioners, nurses, natural therapists, psychologists, counsellors, musculoskeletal therapists, naturopaths, nutritionists, dietitians, pharmacists, dentists, researchers, medical administrators and policy makers, students, academics and many others interested in an holistic approach to healthcare. Dr Robin Youngson will share news of a new global social movement for the re-humanisation of healthcare, called Hearts in Healthcare. Leading practitioners like Petrea King and Dr Timothy Sharp, and many others, will be speaking about the importance of our thoughts and emotions on our health and happiness, and how to integrate this knowledge into successful treatment.
This new/old movement of complementary and alternative therapies that treat the whole person has revealed the importance of spirituality to our health. Last week news media reported recent research showing that spirituality is linked to better mental health. It shows that depression is really a spiritual crisis, or crisis of meaning, and that the source of depression is our inability to articulate meaning. Mental health professionals and researchers are discovering that psychology and spirituality share a common ground.
That research is just one of many similar studies. “Persons suffering from mental illness emphasize that understanding one’s problems in religious or spiritual terms can be a powerful alternative to a biological or psychological framework” suggest researchers in their paper Integrating religion and spirituality into mental health care, psychiatry and psychotherapy.
Spirituality put simply is the realisation that there are universal, positive emotions or thoughts like love, gratitude, hope, forgiveness, compassion and prayer, which when adopted connect us irreversibly to a higher all-powerful good.
Research is telling us that spirituality should be at the basis of our healthcare regime. “It’s a cultural fact, it’s a resource, it’s linked to positive health outcomes, and you can’t separate it from treatment”, says Kenneth Pargament, professor of clinical psychology at the Institute for Spirituality and Health of the Texas Medical Center. “Spirituality integrated treatments have shown promise. It’s not why we should integrate spirituality into healthcare, but what’s taken us so long?”
There’s general interest in how spiritual treatment works and who can be healed this way. Family physician, Dr Nelie Johnson answers her own question on what might be the character traits and spiritual qualities of those people who are most likely to heal – a possible Type H personality (H is for healable). Jesus was pretty clear on the subject too, in his teachings on the thoughts and actions we need to cultivate within.
We need to learn how to grow spirituality so we can lift ourselves out of problems. It’s interesting that Jesus was able to heal insane people, not by focusing on the problem, but by revealing their true spiritual nature and seeing it so clearly that the problem was gone. To be mentally healthy is to be in touch with the deeper reality of being one with the all-good God.
I’ve had fairly good experiences with health practitioners over the years, and really powerful character changing experiences that often went hand-in-hand with physical healings when I’ve engaged Christian Science practitioners.
However, it might be a while before the majority of us seek treatment for health issues through purely spiritual means. So, what will the integrated healthcare and health practitioner of just 20 years down the track look like? Here’s a wish-list that might fit with your healthcare aspirations:
- Patients are treated with the utmost love and care in practice rooms, nursing facilities, hospitals and homes;
- Ample time is given by nurses and doctors to talking about patients’ spiritual needs as well as their physical needs;
- Health professionals will have reconnected to the heart of their practice;
- Health professions provide truly compassionate, holistic, mindful and healing healthcare;
- Practitioners won’t ‘depress mental energy in their patients with dire predictions’ (Mary Baker Eddy), but will confidently see crises as catalysts for growth and understanding and as opportunities for healing and peace.
As much fun as it is to participate in the Myers-Briggs personality evaluation, don’t be so quick to type-caste yourself, with all that personality-identification and -ownership implies. It seems that growth and change are not only desirable but are more than possible, as spirituality is gradually integrated into and adopted as part of a workable, holistic public healthcare that meets the needs of the present time, and into the future.