Securing our health the spiritual way?

Sustaining security and wellbeing with good food, wine and company after the conference session

Sustaining security and wellbeing with good food, wine and company after the conference session

I have recently come back from the Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference which this year had the theme of ‘Security’. Together with colleagues I organised a session on the role of alternative spiritualities in promoting wellbeing in an age of insecurity. One of our speakers was Sandy Edwards, a volunteer healer at Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham. Sandy carries out healing in a gastroenterology ward, and the impact of healing offered by Sandy and her colleagues is currently being evaluated in a £205,000 controlled trial funded by the National Lottery. The results of the trial will be presented to the NHS at the end of the year to inform their decision around whether to introduce complementary therapy more widely in the management of conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease – with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis being the two major IBD conditions).

This is something that Good Hope Hospital and the National Lottery are clearly taking seriously; trust the Daily Mail then to dismiss it as ‘voodoo’.

Alternative treatments are popular amongst people with IBS because it is widely recognised as a condition which is stress related and responds well to dietary changes. IBD however is very different and potentially much more serious.  Whilst dietary changes can bring some relief to some sufferers, this is a disease where the bowel is inflamed, ulcerated and bleeding and it has to be managed with lifelong medication and often surgery. Not only do people living with IBD face a lifetime of very expensive medication and difficult to manage symptoms, they can also experience repeated hospital admissions to deal with acute flare ups requiring intravenous steroids, are highly likely to end up having to have surgery to remove part or all of the bowel, and face an increased risk of colorectal cancer. If they’re very unlucky they might die from toxic megacolon or bowel perforation. You can imagine this costs both the NHS and individual sufferers a lot of money – and can lead to a high degree of insecurity for patients!

And this is something I know about as I live with Ulcerative Colitis. So Sandy’s talk interested me not only from a professional point of view, but a personal one as well. If healing has the potential to provide any form of relief to help maintain remission for people living with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis then surely this is something the NHS is right to take seriously. Longterm conditions are one of the biggest burdens on the NHS and social services in the UK, and spending a lifetime on heavy medications such as steroids and anti-inflammatories is no fun for anyone. I for one am waiting with eager anticipation to hear the results of Good Hope’s trial. Voodoo or not, if healing can help to relieve the pain and distressing symptoms of living with Ulcerative Colitis I’m more than willing to give it a try and it will certainly make me feel less insecure about my future health!

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3 Responses to Securing our health the spiritual way?

  1. Bex says:

    It is not very often I agree with the Daily Mail, but as someone who lives with Ulcerative Colitis myself and is dependent on immunosuppressant medication, I’m afraid I can’t see this working – unless somehow the healing manages to have the effect of reducing the number of white blood cells. This disease is very simple for me, if my white cell count is suppressed and stays below 5 I am well, if it rises much above this symptoms return and I start to bleed due to the white blood cells attacking my colon.

    I’m not against relaxation techniques as stress is thought to be a trigger for some people with Ulcerative Colitis, I’m just interested to know how exactly she is measuring the results of the trial and balancing it with the medication side of it? And I’m sorry to say very cynically wondering why she needs £205,000 to stand in a room and waft her hands over people?

  2. Sara MacKian says:

    The mind is a powerful thing in itself Bex – as has been proven with using laughter therapy to speed recovery in cancer patients for example. I don’t think anyone is saying that healing will necessarily replace drug treatments.

    As for the £205,000 – this isn’t for a healer to stand in a room wafting her hands as you describe it – she is a volunteer and gets absolutely no payment and never has. The money is to fund a large scale control trial research programme and is a lot cheaper than most medical research programmes that often generate no positive benefits for patients. And cynics are always saying there is no ‘scientific proof’ that alternative therapies work – and the only way to get ‘scientific proof’ is to fund proper scientific research.

  3. Bex says:

    Ahh I see. Well I’ll be interested to hear the results!

    What I meant was, regarding the medication side of it, is that I know my medication is constantly being chopped and changed and the doses increased / decreased by my consultant, with a view to of course making me better, and I just imagined that she would be hard-pressed to find a group of people on a constant medication to accurately measure any positive effects as being down to the healing.

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