Boston Women’s Journal - December 2002/January 2003

History of Alternative Healing

Where We Came From: Some Thoughts About the Future

Do you know what the origin of the barber shop pole is? It originally stood as a sign that the local “barber/doctor” was available to serve you. The familiar red, white, and blue stripes stand for bandages, arterial and venous blood. This doctor, who also was the barber, was the man who would cut your hair, trim your beard, take out a tooth that ached, or cut off your leg if it was infected. The barber usually worked in one, unsterile room, with chairs for haircuts next to saws used to amputate limbs. It was usually an open space for all to walk in and out of, and services were often performed with neighbors and friends around watching the procedures. This multipurpose office often came through inheritance, father trained son, and so on. There was no formal training and skill level was varied at best. Truly we could call it medical arts, as science had little to do with it.

This traditional barber role continued well into the nineteenth century in America, and later in other areas of the world. Only the very wealthy had their own private physicians. These gentlemen were university trained and used methods such as leeching and bleeding to cure a variety of ills. Often they trained in philosophy and religion as preparation for their role as physicians, and believed that sickness of the soul was the problem. It was considered unseemly to dissect a human body, and anatomy was usually not even part of the course of study. Most people were safer with the barber.

Midwives existed, although their primary role was in the service of pregnant and nursing women. These women were often forbidden to treat men, or children. If they were caught doing so during some of the less enlightened times of our past they were considered witches. Women who fooled with the natural order of things and intervened in the flow of illness and wellness were sometimes seen as meddling with the will of a higher power, and punished, often severely. Many worked using the plants and flowers that they found in their native surroundings and used what we now call herbal or natural medicine.

The more current, more scientific piece of the history of modern medicine is much more well known. Pioneers came up with vaccines for horrible illnesses, antibiotics for previously incurable ills, often with herbal medicine at the root, pun intended. Then medicine moved to the laboratory. Synthetic formulas that were cheaper and less difficult to create came to be curing millions of people. People with severe trauma could be stabilized and saved, organs replaced. Polio was fought and conquered. Many amazing things happened and continue to do so. As we moved forward medicine became a mechanized science of precision with practitioners that were “scientists” rather than “healers.” But we left behind the knowledge of the barbers, and midwives. And now we are paying the penalty, and it is often severe.

No one, regardless of competence, can get to know a person’s history and life, and their state of wellness in fifteen minutes. That is the allotted time given to most general practitioners by the insurance industry. Doctors want to be healers, but often are not being allowed to do so by the so called “system.” I am certainly not dismissing Western medicine. It is vital to our health and well being. But there is the other side.

Alternative care practitioners, medical empaths like myself, healers, Asian medicine practitioners, etc., try and complete the cycle of health by viewing each person in their wholeness. We take all the parts of their history and health and seek solutions that are long term and speak to the whole body, and often the spirit of a person. When I meet with someone for the first time I usually speak with them over the phone for twenty minutes, then meet with them for an hour and a half. Often I speak with them after the session to see how the suggested courses of treatment are going, and if we can assess how things are going, and adjust treatments accordingly. Hours of time are what is required to really know someone, and that time is well spent. Sometimes it takes a few months before someone will come back to my office and have a “check-up.” I work with gentler, more natural, and often slower acting remedies to create a cure for the whole person, not just a part of them that as seen as the ill part. Often I ask people to see other natural practitioners, so we can all work together to help an individual heal all the aspects of their dis-ease.

It is time to put people back together, to see them in all their aspects, physical, emotional and spiritual and effect healing that can work toward lifelong wellness. We are living longer lives. It is important to make them healthy and happy lives as well. We all deserve it.