Remake Remodel Pt. One: Understanding different medical models

October 12th, 2015





“What we achieve inwardly will change our outer reality”




“What’s happening? What are you doing to me?”


These were the slightly concerned words of a client regarding his reactions during a Zen shiatsu treatment. His concerns began when he noticed he could feel a tingling and nervousness around his heart area – like a mild panic attack – despite the fact that I was working on a meridian around his ankle.



The above example is not an exceptional one in a Zen shiatsu session. It also illustrates some vital areas that distinguish its treatment logic from massage or bodywork treatments. First and foremost of these is that it is informed by an energy-consciousness model, not one based upon physical aspects of anatomy and physiology.



 What is a model?



A model is a construction of logic that forms the basis of how we choose to view and navigate our world. Because a model can never represent all of reality they filter out information not deemed important, relevant or necessary. Because of those somewhat arbitrary choices a model leads our thinking and approach to problems in very specific ways.



Here are some of the inherent problems with using models:


  • They cannot and do not represent all of the possible realities available
  • By not including these aspects they will possess both a ‘sweet spot’ (where the model can accurately explain phenomena and predict likely outcomes) and ‘grey areas’ where the model is ill-equipped to do either.
  • The problem occurs when we forget we are using a model and think the model we are using is real. This makes it very difficult to accept explanations made through using another model as we do not consider it to be ‘real’. [1]





When a medical model becomes stuck in one or more of these issues it makes it almost impossible to ‘play nice’ with other models and the modalities they inform.




 Medical models


A medical model includes (and excludes) certain parameters to explain how we function in health and disease. The Western medical model for example includes the physical ‘hardware’ of human anatomy and physiology. It does not include, in any consistent way at least, the ‘software’ of energy that animates physical functioning and gives rise to consciousness.



In this sense Western medicine adopts a kind of Dr. Frankenstein approach. The body is seen as just that – a body. Parts can be taken out or transplanted in along with essential fluids like blood. The aspect of consciousness is avoided or even feared as ‘uncontrollable – as evidenced in the terror of Frankenstein’s monster exercising its own will. That in itself is quite symbolic and something we will return to next week in part two of this short series.



All this is not to say that the Western medical approach is ineffective. On the contrary, if one were to be in an accident with broken bones and internal bleeding for example one would not choose a homeopath or acupuncturist to save their life.


acupuncture humour


As long as we stick to the sweet spot of our model we will remain effective. The challenge is when we reach its grey areas. The grey area of the anatomical model of Western medicine is the non-physical nature of consciousness and its affect upon our physical functioning.


all in the head


At best, clients are told the problem is “all in their head” and to seek help with a psychologist (or worse, suppress the symptoms with medical drugs). The limits of the psychological model of behaviour is the reverse of the anatomical one – it includes the mind but not the body to any significant degree. Time then to employ a new model whose sweet spot happens to form a bridge between these two distant shores.



 The energy-consciousness model – a bridge between the body and the mind


An energy model actively includes a ‘software’ metaphor as one of its central components. This directly distinguishes it from models that only address the ‘hardware’ of physical structures.


It may be seen as the bridge between physiology and psychology





In traditional Chinese medicine, this living bio-energy (called ‘Chi’) also includes the idea of consciousness and sentience. That is, it includes the notion of us as beings of evolving awareness. Some of the tools we employ to evolve this awareness are our emotions, intuition and the challenges of life. These challenges can and do include illness and disease.



Suddenly we have the opportunity to view a health issue as more than a stressful setback or an inconvenient set of symptoms to be repressed. We can now see those same symptoms as an attempt by our unconscious mind to make us aware of something we are ignoring. Disease becomes not some punishment by an uncaring deity or bad luck – it is a chance to listen to our deeper workings and grow in self-awareness.



 Why Zen shiatsu is not bodywork or massage


Shiatsu class 1


While there have evolved more physical styles of shiatsu over the years, the essence of Zen shiatsu is the energy-consciousness model. In an anatomy-centric medical world such treatments are usually classified as bodywork or massage. Rather than an anatomical view of the body shiatsu employs multiple meridian systems to diagnose and treat at different levels of a health issue. Its approach can appear rather odd when viewed through the filter of the anatomical model. Here is one example:



A male client presented with digestive problems that included poor digestion and bloating along with irregular elimination. When I began treating along the tibialis anterior muscle (located on the front of his lower leg) he asked: “Why are you looking at my leg? The problem is my digestion.”



Of course his concern was understandable. Anatomically, the lower leg has nothing to do with digestion so this seemingly physical pressure I was applying should have no effect on it. In the meridian system however the edge of the tibialis anterior muscle is the location of an important part of the stomach meridian containing points affecting each part of the digestive tract.



The stomach meridian system also addresses emotional correspondences that can affect digestion – like stress and anxiety states, self-esteem issues and problem solving. (for more on this click here) The effect of treating this and related meridians was not only to ease his physical discomfort but to calm and relax his mental state as well. He was suddenly aware of how tired he was. He later reported that he had slept for the better part of the next three days following our shiatsu session.




Remake remodel



This is why it important to adopt a more open, multi-modular approach to understanding our world. The client in the example at the beginning of this blog had been prescribed mild sedatives and sleeping pills for ‘stress’. He had only come to see me due to a friend’s recommendation and because he didn’t like the idea of medicating his emotions. As it turned out, he never needed the medicine.



Imagine a world where we could consult doctors and therapists from different medical models in the one place. A place where they worked together and gained greater competence from the cross-pollination of approaches from their different yet complementary models. Where there was a truly open, multi-modular system in place with the client in the centre.



Such an approach is called ‘integrative medicine’ and, by a remarkable coincidence, it is something with which I have had some experience – including (but not limited) to being among a pioneering team of researchers publishing the first research paper in integrative medicine in Sweden. It even led to the creation of an integrative medical centre to be established at Karolinska.



Of course, every silver lining can have a cloud attached to it as well so next week in part two of this short series we will be looking at some advantages and challenges that exist in this exciting new field.




Till the model of a seven day week starting with another Monday challenges our prejudices and preconceptions once more



[1] Wars are fought about just such dogmatically fixed thinking: “My religion/country/politics/race is the ‘right’ one.”



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. Images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or the original owner is unknown. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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