The Holistic Approach to Healing…Body, Mind, and Soul

After years of experience I became aware of the need for a program that teaches the doctor his/ her true role as a holistic healer. Only then can the doctor regain the title of “Al Hakim”, meaning the wise.

 The human being is made up of a body, mind, heart and soul. Healing of the patient not only requires but necessitates that all of these dimensions are taken into account.

Contemporary medicine has confirmed that this concept is indispensable in order to achieve healing. It is with this holistic approach to healing that our ancestors and great Muslim scholars practiced medicine and laid the foundations of medicine hundreds of years ago. Ibn Sina wrote his famous book at the age of 18, “The Canon of Medicine”, which was used as the main textbook, taught in European medical universities for over 500 years.

However, during the last century, emphasis was placed on the physician’s job to treat the physical body only. In fact, while I was studying medicine at George Washington University in the United States in the mid-eighties, the physician was discouraged from addressing the psychological, emotional or spiritual needs of patients as that was considered unprofessional. This one-dimensional approach contradicts the fundamentals of health care and was the result of the West’s movement to a distinction and separation of religion and science.

This separation of religion and science dates back to the trial of Galileo and other scholars in the middle Ages. During that period, the church briefly took control of all aspects of life and marginalized the role of science. Later on, science triumphantly dominated the scene in Europe and separation of science and religion was enforced. Subsequently, science including medicine became confined to dealing solely with the physical. In medicine, the focus turned to treating the body, while the roles of mind and soul in the treatment and healing process were neglected.


Emphasis on holistic approach

However, in the past decade, and in the late eighties and early nineties, research and studies began to indicate the role of mind and soul in the treatment and healing of patients. Among these leading institutions was the Mind & Body Institute at which I had the opportunity to take an intensive course in holistic healing. This institution, a division of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and conducts studies on the role of mind and soul in the treatment of diseases and illnesses on the basis of sound and accurate scientific principles. Certain practices that can aid in healing are subject to clinical trials in compliance with the precise conditions customary to standard scientific research.

At Mind & Body Institute, all practices that contribute to the healing process are emphasized and studied. For instance, according to Dr. Benson, the founder of the institute, the act of performing Tasbih (supplication) by Muslims, which involves the repetition of words exalting God, has a positive influence that he calls the Relaxation Response. This form of deep relaxation has many positive physiological and psychological benefits, which include:  reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, relaxing muscles, and reducing brain activity. As a result, such relaxation techniques can decrease the risk of many stress related diseases, such as angina pectoris, stroke, irregular heart rates, hypertension, and other chronic and lethal ailments.

Leading medical colleges in the West are now advocating the importance of dealing with the patient as a whole: body, mind and soul…

As for the body, its treatment requires implementing the highest international standards of medical treatment and training health care providers which includes doctors, nurses and other caregivers. As for the equipment, the acquisition of advanced medical equipment and the most modern technology that enables accurate diagnosis and treatment is of great significance.

With regard to the policies and procedures in place, endorsing laws that ensure the safety of the patients will enhance the overall quality of care provided and can minimize the likelihood of human error.

The hospital should be fully equipped and designed in the best way possible, from the operating theatre, emergency rooms, intensive care unit, and other facilities. There should be no tolerance or leniency for negligence, and the health care provider must seek all means possible to help achieve treatment and facilitate healing.

As for the mind … the mind of the patient must be respected and utilized as an integral part of the treatment process. This should be done by explaining in detail the nature of the disease, methods of diagnosis, treatment options and the pros and cons of each of these options. The patient should be well informed and should be actively involved in the decision making process. The patient’s decision should be respected since he owns his body, has a thinking mind, and he is the one who will live with this decision and its consequences and outcomes.

Educating the patient about the disease is an integral part of the role of the doctor. It is equally important to also educate the patient’s family about the disease and how to support and assist the patient during illness and recovery. The family should be taught how to prevent recurrence of the disease or occurrence of complications during the course of treatment. In the case of young children, parents are the decision-makers and should receive adequate education and support.

Investment in raising health awareness of the patient and family entails providing educational materials in the form of simple, easy to read and understandable booklets. These booklets should also be comprehensive and harmonious with the environment and cultural, social, ethical, and religious background of the society. Likewise, educational and training courses should be made available to the patient and family on the premises of the hospital.

In addition, the medical staff should qualify to properly deliver information and trained to improve their communication skills. The patient and family should be welcomed as part of the medical staff’s learning process. The ability of doctors and nurses to teach and educate patients and their families should be major criteria for their periodic evaluation, which determines the degree of their ranking and promotion.

As for the soul … the key factor in this regard is the ability of the physician, regardless of specialization, to meet the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient. An ever growing amount of research and studies are confirming the importance of the emotional aspect in achieving recovery. In the past, we used to refer to the psychological factor with the term placebo effect, which is known today as the faith factor. This is an important, effective and key factor in maximizing the impact of treatment on the patient and inducing recovery, God willing.

The patient’s faith in the doctor’s ability and competence in treating the illness and in the effectiveness of the medication is the primary factor for the successful treatment of the patient. Above all, the patient should have faith in God and a strong conviction that God will cure the illness through the given doctor and medication. It is this belief in the Higher Power that allows the patient to take the first step towards recovery.


The role of the Muslim Doctor

I realized several years ago the Muslim doctor’s failure in preparing himself to meet the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient. This was during a visit paid by a scholar to one of my patients in Boston. This learned man upon entering the room, noticed how tired and depressed the patient felt.

The scholar spent more than an hour of his time, talking to the patient. What did he say? Did he preach about patience or the rewards in the Hereafter? No. He spoke to him about the virtues of being ill and the revered status of the sick person as he lays suffering on his white bed. At that moment I realized the grave need for a program that qualifies the doctor to assume again his traditional role, “Al Hakim” or the wise, by virtue of the wealth of his knowledge and wisdom.

How many of our doctors today have memorized enough verses of the Holy Quran or Sayings of the Prophet peace be upon him by heart to console and comfort their patients? How many of them know enough to raise the morale of the patient and motivate him/her to get better? How many of our physicians are able to give their patients hope and relief and solidify their faith in the mercy of the Creator? How many doctors can expel their patients’ doubts and help the patients realize that recovery is possible and near by the grace and mercy of God? How many healers remind the patient that when God wills anything, he only commands, “Be,” and it will be done? I will leave the answer to my fellow doctors.

                                                                  Elements of healing               

Meeting the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of patients requires adopting the principle of healing by design in hospitals and clinics. Certain elements are known to contribute to healing. These elements include allowing natural lighting in all patient rooms, abundance of green spaces filled with trees, flowers and gardens, having an inner courtyard which allows patients and their families to relax within the hospital without having to go elsewhere. Other healing aids include the selection of verses from the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s sayings and appropriately placing them for patients to see, after examining the psychological and spiritual needs of the occupants of these places.

It is important to ensure that the status of the mosque is preserved. The mosque should be at the center of the hospital to facilitate the five daily prayers and help patients and visitors find refuge in it whenever they feel distressed. The prayer hall becomes the place through which the hospital connects with the Heavens. All of this has a profound impact on the healing process of the ailing individual, and helps the family support the patient.

Today, the concept of holistic healing which entails attending to the patient’s body, mind and soul is no longer confined to medicine alone as it is important in all areas of life. In his book, The Eighth Habit, Stephen R. Covey talks about a new era, that he termed the Age of Wisdom. Covey explains how to meet the physical, mental and spiritual needs of individuals, employees, and family members. He highlights that such an ethical approach is at the essence of attaining inner peace and happiness at the individual, family, institution, company, and community levels. For the most part, what was written in his book is in harmony with Islamic teachings and principles.

In his book, Covey states that adopting a holistic approach in dealing with all people, taking into account body, mind and soul, will reflect an enormous increase in one’s productivity and self-satisfaction within the society.  This increase in energy and productivity will be ten times greater than the current average productivity we are witnessing in the Information Age.

Since the dawn of history, humanity has navigated through several evolutionary eras, starting from the Hunting Era, passing through the Agricultural and Industrial eras and ultimately arriving at the Information Era. Throughout this journey, moving from one era to another produced a tenfold increase in productivity. The increase in productivity that will accompany moving from our current Information Era to the future Wisdom Era is expected to exceed by far any advancement ever experienced by humanity in the past.

When the mind, body and soul of the human being are cared for and balanced, when people’s needs are met, their untapped powers will be unleashed and they will strive for excellence. Consequently, the goal of the individual in an organization – for instance – becomes achieving his intellectual, social and moral goals while acting within the objectives of the organization. This applies to all areas of life, as it is a universally divine concept.

In the transitions of humanity throughout history, there were always pioneers and leaders who served as role models. Such role models appeared during the transition from the Industrial to the Information Era, and such exceptional people will appear again to lead the way. This time, they will introduce the holistic approach to dealing with the human being as body, mind and soul in all disciplines of life.

New methods

In the beginning, it may be difficult for the majority of society to accept this concept. This is expected, due to the lack of information and clarity of vision the future on the part of most people. I still remember a lecture I attended at MIT University in Boston in the mid-eighties by one of the pioneers of our time in the Information Era. He lectured about something he called the Internet and he described its characteristics exactly as we know it today. At the time, it seemed like something from the imagination or a dream, and I still vividly remember people’s mixed reactions. The lecture was received with admiration from a few people, and criticism from most of the attendees. The source of their cynicism emanated from being confined to their existing paradigms and conforming to only what was already known in their day and age.  They failed to break free of their restrictions; they were unable to think out of the box and envision a future filled with vast possibilities.

I believe that it is time to embark on the path that cares for the human holistically, bearing in mind the three dimensions of body, mind and soul. I also believe that the field that can benefit most from this concept is the medical field. The reason is that most disciplines deal with man-made innovations, inventions, ideas and productions. On the other hand, medicine involves working with God’s creation (mankind), which is the greatest and most sacred among all. God lifted mankind and entrusted in them the glorious and overriding mission of promoting growth and prosperity on earth.

Hence, in the event that an individual falls ill, those who are involved in the noble profession of medicine should deal with such an individual as a whole. They should care for him/her as a body, mind and soul. This ensures that mankind is honored, that all means for healing are sought and that the course of destiny is followed. By striving to seek all the right means and purifying one’s underlying intention, healing will be realized, God willing.