Blog Post

Holistic Healthcare

JM asks: "What is our obligation as Catholics regarding holistic health? People are deriving good from chiropractic, etc. Are we just to be made aware and be on guard, or is the Church saying to avoid it?"

JM was kind enough to include a lengthy quote on this subject from the document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, in her e-mail and I include it here so that you can come to a deeper understanding of Church teaching on the subject of holistic health:

"Formal (allopathic) medicine today tends to limit itself to curing particular, isolated ailments, and fails to look at the broader picture of a person's health: this has given rise to a fair amount of understandable dissatisfaction. Alternative therapies have gained enormously in popularity because they claim to look at the whole person and are about healing rather than curing.

"Holistic health, as it is known, concentrates on the important role that the mind plays in physical healing. The connection between the spiritual and the physical aspects of the person is said to be in the immune system or the Indian chakra system.

"In a New Age perspective, illness and suffering come from working against nature; when one is in tune with nature, one can expect a much healthier life, and even material prosperity; for some New Age healers, there should actually be no need for us to die. Developing our human potential will put us in touch with our inner divinity, and with those parts of our selves which have been alienated and suppressed. This is revealed above all in Altered States of Consciousness (ACSs) which are induced either by drugs or by various mind-expanding techniques, particularly in the context of 'transpersonal psychology'. The shaman is often seen as the specialist of altered states of consciousness, one who is able to mediate between the transpersonal realms of spirits and gods and the world of humans.

"There is a remarkable variety of approaches for promoting holistic health, some derived from ancient cultural traditions, whether religious or esoteric, others connected with the psychological theories developed in Esalen during the years 1960-1970. Advertising connected with New Age covers a wide range of practices as acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic, kinesiology, homeopathy, iridology, massage and various kinds of "bodywork" (Such as orgonomy, Feldenkrais, reflexology, rolfing, polarity massage, therapeutic touch, etc.), meditation and visualization, nutritional therapies, psychic healing, various kinds of herbal medicine, healing by crystals, metals, music or colours, reincarnation therapies and, finally, twelve-step programs and self-help groups. The source of healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in touch with our inner energy or cosmic energy."  (Sec. 2.2.3)

I think it's obvious from the above that the Church does not recommend New Age holism. The specific problems it causes are more than we can annunciate in a blog, mostly because it involves the use of therapies that are not only outside the realm of mainstream or orthodox medicine, such as chiropractics, naturopathy, and homeopathy, but also involve occult practices such as Reiki, applied kinesiology, the Enneagram, psychic surgery, crystals, etc.

This is why it must be understood that while the holistic approach to health care is promoted by proponents as caring for "mind, body and soul" it's not nearly as simple as that. In reality, it involves a vast and complex assortment of practices that incorporate the occult, shamanism, eastern mysticism and various pseudo-scientific practices.

In my mind, it also raises the question of why any Catholic would need to resort to New Age methods if they had access to authentic Christian health care, which has been treating patients "holistically" since biblical times.

In the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, we are told: "Since a Catholic health care institution is a community of healing and compassion, the care offered is not limited to the treatment of a disease or bodily ailment but embraces the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of the human person. The medical expertise offered through Catholic health care is combined with other forms of care to promote health and relieve human suffering. For this reason, Catholic health care extends to the spiritual nature of the person. 'Without health of the spirit, high technology focused strictly on the body offers limited hope for healing the whole person.'"

Our version of "holistic healthcare" is based on Scripture. The Gospels are full of evidence that Jesus was eager to heal the physical, mental and spiritual ailments of the people, proving that He "came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

We are encouraged to care for our mental health by "putting on the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16) and controlling our thoughts to make them pleasing to the Holy Spirit: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

We are also taught that we must care for our bodies because they are the temples of the Holy Spirit. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body" (1Cor 6:19-20).

Jesus Himself taught us that the health of the soul is the most important of all. "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). He left us with the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes as a roadmap of how to achieve spiritual health so that when we die we will be "rich in what matters to God" (Luke 12:20).  St. Paul echoes this emphasis in 1 Timothy 4:8 when he says "while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect since it holds a promise of life both for the present and the future."

The whole aim of the Christian life is "holistic" - we are to become like Christ in mind, body and soul. "May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23).

Unfortunately, too few of us put these teachings into practice; most prefer to trail after the latest New Age spirituality/healthcare combo such as the enormously popular yoga. Christianity just isn't hip enough to compete with the designer clothing lines and expensive salons of these eastern fitness fads.

Consequently, even Christian health care workers are getting involved in New Age holism by introducing physical practices that give the care of the body over to foreign gods such as in yoga and Reiki (even though the latter has been officially condemned by the U.S. Bishops) and other forms of "energy work."

Instead of relying on grace to learn how to think in ways that please the Holy Spirit, patients are taught how to induce altered states of consciousness or enter within to find their "inner divinity."

The soul is tended not through authentic prayer and meditation, but by sitting in an empty void for 20 minutes twice or day or praying to the four corners as Wiccans like to do.

This is why the Church frowns on New Age holistic care - not because she's being prudish and narrow-minded but because she wants to protect us from all kinds of quackery that is not only unhealthy but downright dangerous to mind, body and soul.