One system – described by conventional physiology and medicine – can be termed the physical body. Its laws are closely related to the laws of physics and chemistry. The second represents a higher stage of biological organisation and functioning. It is particularly connected with the processes of differentiated growth, tissue repair and self-healing. The third system relates to sentience, instinctive drives, emotions and the more fixed aspects of psychological functioning. The fourth system is more connected to self-consciousness, as opposed to mere sentience. In transpersonal psychology it is referred to as “the true self”. This is the emergent core of the human being. It has to do with those aspects of the “I” that can be self-reflective and bring about transformative changes in the psychological functioning of the third system.
Human life offers the possibility of individual development and evolution as well as social development.
Understanding and treating illness needs to take account of all four systems, not only to optimise therapeutic outcome but to facilitate personal growth and development. Developing an awareness of treatment options within each of the four interrelating systems may facilitate the self-healing and includes the active participation of the patient. Exclusive concentration on the first system has an inherent tendency to encourage passivity, dependency, chemical consumerism and associated iatrogenic hazards.
In practice, patients mainly present with physical symptoms and are concerned about the possibility of serious organic illness (level one). The physician’s first obligation is to make an accurate diagnosis. This should never ignore pathology at the physical level but should also explore to what extent disturbances at higher levels may be aetiologically implicated. There is a sense that where successful therapeutic intervention and change can occur on a higher level of this hierarchy, the greater the significance for the patient’s long-term health and personal development. For example, if symptoms can be relieved or a positive therapeutic outcome achieved through the use of herbal or homoeopathic medicines, which work via the second level, self-healing is strengthened. This improves the chances for maintaining future health and incurs less danger of chemical dependency and of inducing significant side effects.
If positive changes occur in the third or the fourth levels, the patient has been consciously involved, owns the changes, is likely to have developed as an individual and his future insight and self-management has a greater chance of being health promoting.
Antonovsky linked his concept of Salutogenesis to the individual’s “sense of coherence”, an awareness that life and its difficulties are there to be engaged with and that this can be creative and meaningful. The greater the extent that the patient can be involved in the healing process, the greater is his autonomy strengthened and the less the danger of medical dependency.
The capacity for freedom is a core element of the human condition and of human development. The respect for personal freedom and the patient’s right to make choices is enshrined in medical ethics. A deep respect for freedom of choice must be particularly emphasised in an approach to medicine which aspires to facilitate personal development as well as physical healing.
In consequence, offering patients the opportunity to make genuinely informed choices is essential. This includes their right to choose a more passive chemical approach to their treatment as well as the option to choose approaches working on higher systems levels. The physician needs to regularly monitor the level and nature of his or her therapeutic mandate, which can itself evolve and change over time. He needs to be able to accomodate to situations in which there is divergence between his or her therapeutic recommendations and the patient’s wishes.
This medical discipline was inaugurated in the early 1920’s through the collaboration between Rudolf Steiner and Dr Ita Wegman and is part of the world-wide anthroposophical movement, which also includes, Steiner Waldorf Education and Biodynamic Agriculture. Anthroposophic medicine recognises the validity of the findings of natural science and sees the need to complement this otherwise one-sided approach to treatment, if medicine is to develop into a science and art integrating knowledge of body, soul and spirit.
In continental Europe anthroposophic medicine is widely practiced, with a number of District General and University Teaching Hospitals and by over 1,000 General Practitioners. The training includes a module in an Anthroposophic General Hospital in Berlin and a Unviversity Teaching Hospital Herdecke in Northern Germany.
In the UK anthroposophic doctors work as NHS general practitioners, in private practice and as consultants to Steiner Waldorf Schools and social care institutions such as the Camphill Communities.