There has been a revolution in medicine over the past century. Enormous successes can be heralded, from advances in public health to the recent developments in molecular biology, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, and pharmacology. Of course, not all the changes have been good. Indeed, there are many indications that medicine in the 21st century is in crisis. Millions of Americans are without medical coverage and the costs associated with health care continue to spiral upward, making it harder and harder for people to get the help they need. Iatrogenic (medically induced) illness is another significant challenge with the large number of new treatments, resistant strains of microbes, and work overload of many health professionals. Economic pressures reduce the amount of time clinicians can spend with patients, which also contributes to burnout among many on the front lines.
It is clear that science and technology have resulted in vastly improved understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. But the emphasis on science and technology to the exclusion of other elements of healing has also served to limit the development of a model that humanizes the health care encounter. Far too often, modern medicine ignores the importance of the personal and interpersonal dimensions of our experience. Compassion is rarely a selection criterion for medical training and bedside manner is not featured in the core curriculum of most academic health care programs. Physicians are often taught to avoid or suppress the emotions that are connected to states of disease and healing--the patient’s and the physician’s. For patients and professionals alike, the biomedical model often fails to offer a system that embraces the vast potentials of healing--ignoring or negating completely the possibility for human growth and development in the face of illness.1