Hutchinson and colleagues 2
distinguish “curing” from “healing”—the former being an action carried out by a health care practitioner to eradicate disease; the latter being a process leading to wholeness and relief of suffering in response to injury or disease. The roles of physicians and patients differ considerably for curing and healing to occur. A physician draws upon expertise concerning disease to bring about a cure (when possible), but must shift positions when healing is the aim.
Healing is a process involving movement toward an experience of integrity and wholeness in response to injury or disease. It depends on an innate potential within a patient 1. Hutchinson et al. 2 observe that healing may occur upon acceptance of things as they are, including the fact that change is a constant factor in life. Mount et al.1 note that acceptance of self and personal situation is not a form of resignation; instead, it is an active integration of reality that frees a person to discern and opt for that which is possible given the constraints of the circumstances.
For example, a woman who has been treated successfully for early-stage breast cancer needs to make choices about how to resume activities even though she is anxious about recurrence. By acknowledging and facing her fears (rather than repressing or escaping them), she can strengthen her resolve to live the rest of her life fully.
conducted a qualitative study that involved an inquiry by Drs. Cassell, Hammerschlag, Inui, Kubler–Ross, Saunders, Siegel, and Stephens about the meaning of healing. A distillation of the interview data led to the statement “Healing is the personal experience of the transcendence of suffering”
(p. 258). These well-respected allopathic physicians agreed that the healing process takes place within a trusting relationship. This assertion is consistent with the qualitative data reported by Hsu et al
, who conducted, with patients, physicians, and other health care professionals, focus groups pertaining to healing. A consensus that healing is both a personal and an interpersonal experience emerged. Emphasis was placed on communication, information sharing, support, empathy, and compassion. For instance, when a relapse occurs, the words spoken by the physician, the tone of voice used, the manner in which the patient is invited to integrate undesired news, the ability of both parties to explore their respective reactions, and the respect shown for the patient’s preferences and needs will influence the healing process.
posits that providing a safe place in which patients can regain a sense of integrity and wholeness is part of the health care mandate. This place is more than a hospital corridor or an examining room; it encompasses the space in which expressions of doubts, dread, and hope can be heard. Mount 6
emphasizes the importance of inviting a meaningful exchange between two equal individuals, one who happens to be a doctor, and the other, a patient. For example, by being present to and accepting personal sorrow when communicating bad news about recurrence, the physician (sometimes called the “wounded healer”7
) may be able to contain the patient’s grief.