Remake Remodel Pt. 2: Why can’t we all just get along?

October 19th, 2015




True life happens when tiny changes occur


-Leo Tolstoy



Several years ago I was asked to attend a World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) conference at Karolinska hospital in Stockholm. Dr Xiaorui Zhang, the Coordinator for the Traditional Medicine Department at W.H.O. was heading the gathering to look at low cost, traditional medical solutions to health issues in poorer countries.


Western medical drugs for diseases such as malaria are prohibitively expensive for citizens of these countries. Dr. Zhang, herself both a medical doctor and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, gave a presentation illustrating how traditional medical practices have been employed in some areas to provide lower cost solutions to these problems. Her intention was to stimulate awareness and cooperation between different medical approaches to create the most effective and cost-effective solutions.


When my turn came to speak I began by asking the assembled group of three hundred guests exactly how many practicing alternative therapists were in attendance. As it turned out, I was the only one. I asked whether they found it odd that a conference on alternative medical solutions only included a single alternative practitioner. The question was met with collective silence and an air of indifference.



 Modelled reality check




The above is by no means an isolated example. Last week, in part one (click here) we looked at the concept of models and medical models in particular. We saw how we used logic-constructs (models) to represent and navigate a far more complex universe. Of course, that meant arbitrarily leaving out swathes of information and just focusing on some aspects of reality at the expense of others.



Now, that is OK – as long as we remember the following:


  • A model is only one, inherently limited representation of a greater, more multi-dimensional reality


  • There are many possible models and therefore ways to understand and interact with reality


  • If we identify with a particular model and mistake it for representing all possible realities, we will limit our understanding. Moreover, we will view other models and their approaches as ‘not real’ and defend our model while attacking others.


The solution to this of course is to become multi-modular in our approach. We do not have to be experts in every model, merely be open to them. It may even benefit our understanding of the model(s) we currently use as we are stimulated to share and cross-pollinate ideas with other approaches. This can lead to discoveries not possible through any single model alone.



Nobel or ignoble?


nobel prize


As it turns out, this year’s Nobel prize in medicine was given to Youyou Tu “For her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria”. Though a research scientist, her discovery was in no small part due to her study of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) – in particular, herbal formulas used for centuries to treat malaria and other febrile diseases.


One would think then, that this year’s Nobel prize in medicine would be celebrated as a triumph and proof of concept for further integration of medical models for the benefit of all, right? Err, not quite.


Urban Lendahl of the Nobel prize committee seemed at pains to play down this aspect saying “But we haven´t awarded the prize to traditional Chinese medicine”. Maybe not but to deny any connection is at best disingenuous and at worst, actively hostile to any future possibility of medical collaboration.


Colleague and medical journalist, David Finer, was sufficiently moved to make the following post criticizing this negative attitude by the committee and the Karolinska institute (KI):





A little humility and credit where its due, Karolinska institute? Yes, as an erstwhile student at KI and a medical journalist of some 40 years, I am quite familiar with purification of active substances, synthesis and all the marvels of modern drug development. Of course, the prize winners have used this arsenal, and of course they have deservedly been awarded the prize for these developments.


But that doesn’t take away one iota from the fact that the knowledge in this case emanates from TCM and it is pathetic that KI feels bound in front of the whole world to pointedly deny that debt of gratitude, without which the modern drug would not have been developed – at least, not then, and at least not in that way. Unfortunately, this is tantamount to a slap in the face of TCM and of traditional, complementary, alternative and integrative medicine altogether.


One could hardly imagine that there is actually an Osher centre for integrative medicine at KI itself. Integration, not denigration, is urgently needed in the world, and it is sad that on this prime opportunity to stress the interdependency and collaborative potential between the various therapeutic traditions, KI and the Nobel Committee instead choose to sow distrust and division.”



Perhaps a little respect is in order then…




Identification check


So what stops us being more respectful and collaborative in our approach? Identification. When we identify with an idea – or collections of ideas like a model – we insert ourselves into the equation. Suddenly we find we are justifying and defending ourselves as much as the model we are using because our ego has told us that another idea is ‘not us’ and therefore a threat.


ego defence


This can include a whole collective of people – like a profession – identifying and defending the model they use while attacking other models. In medicine this means defending our medical model while denigrating others as irrelevant or even ‘dangerous’.




Silver linings and clouds


A decade ago a research group of which I was a part published a study (under the Karolinska banner) on integrative medicine.[1] Research project leader, Torkel Falkenberg later set up a grant application on behalf of the Karolinska institute to establish an integrative medical centre. The Osher Foundation responded with a grant of over 40 million Swedish crowns. (For more about the Osher Foundation’s work in integrative medicine click here) Wonderful. Well, it seems even silver linings can come with a cloud or two attached.




The integrative medical centre at Karolinska is one of three such centres around the world. By all reports the other two centres are thriving, encouraging integration between medical, complementary and alternative medicine.


To begin with, none of the research team to make the only Karolinska approved study into integrative medicine and successfully apply for the grant money were made part the new centre. The small room they had occupied was taken over and shut down. A neurophysiologist with a history of public criticism of alternative medicine was installed to head the new team. The lack of positive action in this area by the centre has prompted alternative groups to contact the Osher foundation and alert them to a possible misuse of funding.[2]



blue footed boobie


 The sun still shines




There is nevertheless great potential for different medical models to work together. One of our potential futures could include an integrative medical ward in each hospital along with private centres in each community. The patient would be in the centre and a new ‘specialist generalist’ would be created to coordinate the doctors and therapists using different medical models: A ‘GPI’ or general practitioner of integrative medicine.


Beyond their own medical competence, a GPI would have a good working knowledge of other models. Each case could be workshopped and one or more practitioners from various models would be assigned as the initial contact. This is not ‘pie in the sky’ idealism. It is something in which I have already participated and the results were very successful and rewarding – not only for the patients but the therapists and doctors as well.


By way of a map in the medical model jungle here is a small sampling of models and the therapies that use them:









Therapy / Medicine







Anatomical/   Physiological


Western medicine



physiotherapy etc.)





Traditional (Swedish)

and  therapeutic massage




Energetic *






Chinese herbal med.

Qi Gong

Tibetan medicine




  Psychology and related therapies







Anatomical/ Emotional




Rosen method



* It is worthwhile noting that this model group incorporates religious and spiritual aspects in health and disease. In the context of ’energetic’ medicine, the spirit might best be understood as the most profound and subtle energy; one that underlies, catalyses and animates all others.




What’s going on?


Today there exists many initiatives to further our understanding of each other. One I am directly acquainted with is the Integrative Care Science centre (for those on Facebook, click here ) There are many more around the world.


With just a little openness, curiosity and understanding we can do more than just get along. We can thrive and share our knowledge with each other. Our collective effort will always be more than the sum of individual parts. That’s a model worth building.





Till another Monday brings us all together to start a new week,



[1] For those interested you can check the link about it here 

[2] Swedish readers (or those that trust Google’s translation skills) can click on a link here . It is only one of many articles critical of what is happening in this field in Sweden



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