A Biopsychosocial Perspective on
Michele S. Hirsch
St. Francis College
How is it that the majority of humans seeking relief from disease and illness improve their health status after being treated? This question requires a complex answer given the diversity of healing methods that are employed across different cultures. Perhaps some underlying mechanisms are operating in these various treatments. If not, the many healing traditions that have been documented across the world would have been abandoned long ago.
In order to fully comprehend how healing occurs, a multidisciplinary approach encompassing the fields of anthropology, psychology, biology, and sociology is necessary. Although each of these disciplines has contributed to our understanding of health, illness, and healing, the knowledge that each has obtained, until fairly recently, has remained largely compartmentalized and pigeonholed, with little dialogue occurring between disciplines.
It is the goal of this chapter to provide an interdisciplinary review of the mechanisms and processes that scientists understand and believe play a role in illness, health, and healing. You may notice that the flavor of this chapter is distinctly different from the others in this volume. It is not possible to present what are believed to be the underlying, interrelated key systems and mechanisms in the healing process without discussing the latest developments in biomedicine. A brief medical history and introduction to biomedicine are given from a traditional, Western perspective in order to give you an appreciation of the progression of our current scientific working knowledge on the healing process (you will note that Western medicine has provided its fair share of obstacles). Specific cross-cultural healing philosophies and techniques are presented in the following chapters. Hopefully, this chapter will provide you with a deeper biopsychosocial conceptualization of the more nontraditional (non-Western) healing approaches that exist in our world today.
Hippocrates has been described as the father of medicine, or at least of Western medicine as we know it today. His work that focused on how the body and mind work in concert is cited as being one of the earliest of what today we would call holistic thinking about the mind-body connection. One major contribution for which Hippocrates is credited is his thoughts on the four humors (yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm), or the fluids that he believed circulated in the body. Hippocrates stated that