There are a lot of different terms for describing therapeutic approaches that think differently from a conventional, Western-medicine approach. For a long time, they were considered to be “alternative” therapies—meaning something completely different and separate from usual medical practice. Then the term “complementary” therapies became popular—suggesting something still different from usual practice, but which could perhaps be used alongside standard treatment and enrich it. In the last few years a newer term, “integrative medicine” has come to the fore with the understanding that we need, more and more, to weave different therapeutic perspectives and healing streams together. This change in language reflects our evolving understanding, and broadening recognition that wisdom comes in many different forms.
Where does Anthroposophic Medicine fit into all these terms? Well, it has some aspects of all three. Anthroposophic Medicine began its development almost one hundred years ago, but from its beginning has been practiced by physicians who have already done a conventional medical training and are licensed to practice standard medicine. In Europe it is has been successfully incorporated into a variety of large regional hospitals with emergency rooms, intensive care units, and labor and delivery wards; it is also the medical system for multiple rehabilitation, cancer treatment, and psychiatric care centers, plus thousands of small private medical practices worldwide. So it is actually one of the most successful models for trying to “integrate” diverse therapies together.
Anthroposophic Medicine also incorporates a wide range of herbal and homeopathic treatments, as well as unique nursing, massage, movement, counseling and artistic therapies, which are quite different than what you will find with your average provider. These give broad treatment options, all of which can be individualized for each unique situation, yet they do not require that one to stops or abandons conventional treatments. This allows a practitioner to have a foot in several worlds: allopathic, herbal, and homeopathic. We find that all these tools fit well together, “complement” each other, to create a deeper therapeutic support.
Is it an alternative medicine? This really depends on how you understand and define the human being. For if we stick with a commonly prevailing view which lumps illnesses into either a physical category or mental/psychological category, then Anthroposophic Medicine brings in all kinds of alternative approaches. But they are not all that crazy! For example, if you come in for a psychologic problem like OCD, Anthroposophic doctors want to know an awful lot about your physical health and past medical history in order to treat you properly (realizing that soothing the body will help support and quiet the mind). The reverse is also true: Anthroposophic doctors want to know a lot about your experiences, successes, traumas, and emotional patterns as part of general support for something like a colon cancer (realizing that the mind and emotions can also help heal the body). So really, it’s not alternative medicine, it’s just more expansive. Mind and body weave together all the time.
What are the specific parts of our humanity that Anthroposophic Medicine is trying to see? There are four foundational aspects. Let’s consider them by continuing with the example of a colon cancer:
As a basis we need to understand what has been physically measured and understood about the illness (with things like labs, x-rays, biopsies). How is the physical body? Where do things stand? What physical treatments–like surgery or radiation–are being recommended? What are the benefits and risks of those treatments?
But also, as an additional step, how are your forces for growth and regeneration, for healing? Are those forces available, or are you totally tapped-out? Are daily physiologic rhythms in balance (activities like sleep, digestion, energy and activity)? Do they nourish you? Would an alkaline diet support you? How to best detox? How to recover from the strain or trauma of physical treatments?
Then, we need to recognize the importance of the content and patterns in our emotional and sensory life (what many traditions describe as our “soul” life). How are we reacting to the world? What resonates on inside of us? Are we overwhelmed, stuck, angry, fearful, courageous, disconnected? How do those patterns imprint into our physical and functional life?
Finally (or firstly), who are we as unique individuals? What parts of our experience are completely our own, or is this illness just like everyone else’s? What parts of us are changing when we go through an illness process? What do we do with the new perspectives and priorities that commonly emerge? What needs to be claimed and what can be cast away? How can I physically, emotionally, and spiritually know what is me and what is not me?
This kind of fourfold approach stands at the heart of Anthroposophic Medicine. It’s not always possible to incorporate all of those aspects into a single office visit, but they should all be worked with over time. In Anthroposophic Medicine these four levels are referred to as the physical, etheric (life), astral (soul) and “I” (spirit) parts of the human being.
That is what Anthroposophic Medicine is striving for—to offer whole-person, integrative, optimistic medicine with natural treatments, and to look to see you at physical, functional, soul and spiritual levels.
Be well, be thankful for your blessings,
(Please note: Dr. Blanning is only able to offer mistletoe therapy, one of the primary Anthroposophic supports in cancer therapy, for patients who come and do a face-to-face visit at the office in Denver.)