Best-selling author speaks out on Spontaneous Healing

By Gene Bukhman

Arizona Daily Wildcat

At a time of distaste for costly medicine and increasing hopelessness among many with life-threatening illnesses, Dr. Andrew Weil echoes the advice of Kristin Killops, a success story he profiles in his new book, Spontaneous Healing.

"There may be different ways to healing for different people ... but there is always a way. Keep searching!"

Killops, like other cases Weil takes for inspiration, worked with amazing confidence to heal herself even when her doctors had lost hope. Threatened with aplastic anemia, a terminal bone-marrow disease, Killops after failed treatment with toxic steroids and two rejected bone-marrow transplants sorted through countless alternative therapies until she found one that worked for her.

Weil finds stories like Killops's everywhere he looks, and he thinks others can, too. His book offers these accounts, along with research-based theories and a detailed guide to preventive care, as a portrait of the body's ability to heal itself, and as a prescription for healing-oriented medicine.

Weil, a practicing physician and the director for the new Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, began looking for improvements on Western medicine as soon as he graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1969.

Having studied botany for four years, and unhappy with the style of treatment he had learned at Harvard, Weil left for the Amazon in search of interesting plants and the source of healing. After two years of reading Jack London in the jungle, playing with jaguar cubs, and speaking with shamans, Weil still had not found the answer.

In 1973, after returning home from South America, Weil settled down in Tucson and began talking to the natives. Weil's experiences with these on-beat practitioners and patients started him on the path to natural healing. Weil finds a metaphor in his experience of travel, "I did not have to look Out There for what I wanted. Neither do people have to look Out There for healing ... healing comes from within, its source in our very nature as living organisms."

In addition to his work on natural health, Weil has written three books on consciousness and mind-altering drugs, including a reference work, From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything you want to know about mind-altering drugs.

Spontaneous Healing has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 14 weeks and has enjoyed wide success. If you call Weil's office at the UA College of Medicine, you will get a message that tells it all: "... We are unable to answer your call personally due to the overwhelming response to Dr. Weil's latest book, Spontaneous Healing ..."

The Wildcat interviewed Weil by telephone two days before he left Tucson for a book tour on the East Coast.

Wildcat: What kind of response have you gotten to this book and how has it been different than the response you've gotten from books like The Natural Mind?

Andrew Weil: My books have tended to have very long lives. They're all still in print and they have long steady sales, but I've never had one that has done so well up front. You know, it's the first book I've had that's been a New York Times bestseller.

WC: Why do you think it's done so well?

AW: I think the times have caught up with what I'm saying. I've been saying the same thing for over twenty years and I think the times have caught up with that.

WC: You aren't saying anything new in this book?

AW: I think I'm saying some new things, but the general themes that I write about have been evolving over twenty years. It's the same kind of information.

WC: In your eight-week health promotion program you recommend reducing the amount of news we watch. I think you call it a news fast. Why do you push for that?

AW: I think habitual and essentially addictive news watching is a major source of mental and emotional stress. I think it makes people feel outraged, angry, powerless and I don't think those feelings are conducive to health.

WC: Do you think there are better ways of staying in touch?

AW: Well, there have been various periods of my life when I've been out of touch, and if anything important happened I found out about it. That's just been my experience.

WC: What do you think the role of sexuality is in healing?

AW: I think it's major. I think healthy expressions of sexuality are fundamental to physical, mental and spiritual health. I think it's right in there as an expression of vital energy.

WC: Since you place such importance on everyone's ability to maintain their own healing systems, do you think that people are guilty if they don't promote their own health? Do you think that in some sense we deserve our illnesses?

AW: In general I don't think that's a useful way of thinking. Maybe if an alcoholic dies of cirrhosis of the liver there's definitely an element there of a lifestyle choice that led to that problem. But there's an awful lot of New Age writers out there that I think create a lot of guilt by making people feel personally responsible for illnesses, especially cancer. There's this idea that women get breast cancer because they bottle up their feelings, and I tend to think that that's not so. And plus the kind of guilt that people feel can only further depress immunity and predispose to illness.

WC: Isn't that a hard balance to strike?

AW: Definitely. I've written in a previous book that I think that illnesses don't necessarily mean anything, they just are. You sort of deal with the fact that you've got an illness and I think that sometimes it's not helpful to read to much meaning into it.

WC: Don't you think that people have a tendency to do that anyway?

AW: Sure.

WC: At one point in your book you say that if we would retool our medical systems around preventive strategies, that would make people less dependent on health professionals. But wouldn't your recommendations for health promotion actually make people more dependent, maybe not on health professionals, but on vitamin retailers and the like? Doesn't health promotion require too much self-monitoring?

AW: I don't know if that's any different. I mean, there are an awful lot of people who use the conventional system that way, going in for annual checkups and always monitoring this and that. I think again that that's something you have to strike a balance with.

WC: How is what your offering preferable to the conventional system?

AW: I think, first of all, that natural substances like vitamins are much less harmful than the prescribed substances. The risk of toxicity is much less. And also, if you're following a vitamin regimen, you're really working to enhance your body's natural defenses and helping the healing system rather than simply counteracting symptoms of illness. So, in general, that's preferable.

WC: Do you ever feel uncomfortable about prescribing therapies, drugs or medicinal plants where there haven't been clinical trials?

AW: Not as long as I assure myself that they're safe and if I have reason to believe they're effective. I never prescribe things where I think there's an element of danger, and, for a lot of the things that I prescribe, there is research demonstrating safety and efficacy.

WC: So, how would you recommend checking out alternative therapies where there hasn't been a lot of experimental work?

AW: Well I think the first consideration has to be, "Are they safe?" Is there any potential there for harm? If the answer there is no, I think there's latitude to experiment. You can then collect accounts of people using them, and,if there's reason to think that there's effect there, I think it's reasonable to try them out, and also work to see some research studies set up.

WC: In your book you have sections you call "The Faces of Healing," accounts of spontaneous healing. These are all very interesting, but do you really think you can make generalizations from them?

AW: Definitely. I think that if you look to your own experience and to people you know in your circle, you can find cases like this all over the place. This is a common theme. I think that what it demonstrates is that the body has a healing system, and even though we may not know the details of it, or know how to activate it, it's important to know that it's there. I'm all for people doing the research work, but I don't think that's any impediment to telling patients now that they can get better and giving them confidence in the body's own healing.

WC: In terms of confidence, you talk about medical hexing, that doctors need to be careful about the attitude they transmit to their patients. Isn't there a responsibility for the physician to be honest about what they see as the patient's likely outcome?

AW: But the doctor's view of the outcome is very warped by their pessimism which is shaped by their training and experience and I don't think that's consistent with reality.

WC: So you would be for changes in medical education?

AW: Absolutely.

WC: What kind of changes would you like to see?

AW: If you look in the last section of my book, "Prescriptions for Society," I've laid them all out and I'm really working to implement that at the college of medicine.

WC: What kind of work are you doing currently?

AW: Well we've created what's called The Program in Integrative Medicine, and the purpose of this is to plan a fellowship program for doctors who have completed residency training, to retool them. So we're really at work to train doctors differently.

WC: So you're not working on the first two years of medical school?

AW: The problem is that the first two years are untouchable at the moment because it's so overloaded with information, and no department is going to give you space to add anything else. Our plan is to work at the other end and eventually to have this filter down.

Weil will be speaking on Energy Medicine and the Practice of Johrei at Rincon High School on Sept.27 at 7 p.m. For more information, call the Johrei Fellowship Center at 299-6667.

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