Self Help and Holistic Medicine

Modern Ayurveda

Ayurveda the Science of Life

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During the 1950s, when scientific hospital-based medicine became widely accessible (and freely used the new wonder-drug penicillin and a whole range of new antibiotics), many people had thrown out their array of home remedies with apparent relief.39 After 1945 in Britain and elsewhere, what had remained of the old medical categories of the 'Institutes of Hygiene' were split administratively between scores of different government and university departments and sciences. Public health problems were now largely tracked by epidemiologists and social welfare analysts;welfare agencies were hived off into separate departments of Social Services;and layers of hospital-based regional and district health authorities were put into place. Other so-called 'ancillary' body services such as dentistry, chiropody, ophthalmology, midwifery, diet and nutrition, psychology, and physical and occupational therapy, slowly reorganized their professions and expanded their publicly funded work in separate niches within the hospital system.40

But by the 1970s patients were starting to vote with their feet again, in both Europe and the United States. The complaint voiced by 1970s radical authors such as Ivan Illich, Fritjof Capra, and Rene Dubos was that orthodox medicine was still too uncaring and 'invasive', too narrow and mechanistic, and still far too drug-based. It was failing to cope with chronic disease, and it was certainly failing to deal with the 'whole person': the six- to seven-minute average consultation time was a particular complaint. At the same time women's liberation groups were pioneering medical 'self-help' through feminist medical advice books, self-help videos, classes, and communal group analysis;which all proved very effective in launching the widespread natural birth movement (which included the use of massage and warm-water birthing pools, a throwback to ancient Methodist techniques).41 Progressive doctors responded quickly to these critiques. In the United States a pressure group of doctors working within the profession, the American Holistic Medicine Association, was set up in 1978;the British Holistic Medical Association followed in 1981 (its motto: 'Physician heal thyself'). Fringe medicine was often now more gracefully called 'complementary medicine', with the idea that it should work alongside orthodox medicine—or better still, change it. In Britain consultation rates with 'lay' holistic practitioners rose steadily during the 1970s at a rate of 10-15 per cent per year: by 1983 there were an estimated 28,000 self-trained therapists of hypnosis, herbalism, homoeopathy, manipulation, yoga, acupuncture, and other alternative therapies, in addition to 2,000 or so associate-trained therapists. This was in total almost as many as Britain's 29,000 general practitioners combined (and in one sample no less than 80 per cent of GPs wanted to learn their techniques). These consultation rates certainly increased during the 1980s-2000s.42

The grass-roots revival of self-help strategies attracted the attention of late twentieth-century sociologists, and gradually forced a revision of state health policies. In Britain the fragmentation of public medical services came under criticism, and was to some extent reversed in new multidisciplinary departments of 'health policy, biology, and environmental science'. Moreover, the old sociological model of overlapping medical 'sectors' radiating out from a professional 'hub' was found inadequate to describe the real, anthropological parameters of welfare: localized, decentralized, professionally based, cross-disciplinary 'primary care' became the new buzzword in health administration. So little was known about the history of domestic medical care generally that it came as something of a surprise for medical sociologists to discover that professional medical help is normally only sought for roughly 1 in 10 medical episodes—or even less (for depression 1 in 74;for headache 1 in 60;backache 1 in 38;sleeplessness 1 in 31;muscle and joint aches 1 in 18; cold or flu 1 in 12;a sore throat 1 in 9). By the 1990s popular medical self-help groups covered almost every condition and ailment, meeting and communicating and sharing common experiences of self-diagnosis, new techniques, and remedies, a process made even easier by the Internet. With medical self-help groups apparently becoming a permanent feature of the medical scene, patient power moved up the political agenda and entered government health policies on both sides of the Atlantic;helping citizens to help themselves is now thought to be very cost-effective. In Britain the small Health Education Council (originating in the 1920s) became the much larger Health Development Agency, with a brief to raise health awareness, change health 'risk' behaviour, and ameliorate health inequalities.43 New Internet technology was also used to set up a new government diagnostic and advice service, and the first page of NHS Direct online (one of the last in our long list of health advice texts) opens thus:

• Want to find out more?—our health encyclopaedia covers a wide range of topics.

• Not feeling well?—try our self-help guide for advice.

• Want to stay healthy?—we have advice in the healthy section.44

The healthy section, of course, contains most of the old positive precepts of hygienic care, but never uses the word 'hygiene'. But a modern terminology of need has slowly been devised. We find that while industrial executives, advertisers, health administrators—and the public—may know nothing about the philosophy of hygiene, they know all about the new 'well-being sector'. The well-being sector (organic products, vitamins and minerals, spas, beauty salons, and gymnastic products and services) is a recognized late twentieth-century market phenomenon.

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