The Medical Model Jungle

October 13th, 2013


“Two men say they’re Jesus. One of them must be wrong.” [1]      


One of the biggest challenges facing anyone looking for help in the health care jungle is the amount of seemingly conflicting advice we are likely to encounter. We may even be bullied or coerced into making decisions about which treatment we should receive.


Fear plays its part in this. We are warned about making a mistake by choosing a ‘wrong’ therapy. We will hear about proven or scientific evidence based methods versus quackery and false claims. From others we will be told we have been lied to and it is the corrupting, economic influence of the medical pharmaceutical industry that is behind the push for certain medicines or vaccines.


In the meantime everyone is claiming their reality is the only true one and warn us of the dangers and foolishness of worshipping false gods in our quest for health.



“The Tao that can be stated is not the Tao”


Taoist saint


This pithy statement by the early Taoists neatly summed up the problem we face when trying to both understand and communicate our perception of reality to one another.


As language is but a representation of the reality we are trying to convey it is always at least one step removed from that reality. A menu may describe a meal but it is not the same as the experience of eating it.



“Like the finger pointing to the moon: Do not worship the finger or you will miss all the Heavenly glory” [2]


When we are trying to convey more complex, unified groups of ideas we will usually rely upon a conceptual model. This brings us to a few points on models worth considering:


  • Problems arise when we forget we are only using representations of reality. Although a model can illustrate a truth, we may come to see this as the only truth. Such a view excludes the possibility of other, equally valuable truths.


This is probably the most common reason people get stuck in their model:


They mistake their model of reality for reality itself



Copyright Matt Gröning. All rights reserved.

Copyright Matt Gröning. All rights reserved.


The identification with an idea, ideal or model and the aggressive exclusion of others is what causes so much of the misery in our world.


A rigid identification with “My country/religion/race/’proof’/philosophy/medicine or therapy/way of life/political system” and the like blinds us to the possibility of any alternative and makes us defensive and aggressive towards them.



Medical Models


A medical model provides a way to define our observations regarding the human body and its functioning in health and disease. It is developed by extracting laws and principles from observed phenomena and applying these to diagnosis and treatment in a reasonably consistent and predictable way. How a medical model takes shape is therefore determined by a number of factors:


  • How phenomena are observed.


Is it internal or external phenomena we are observing? Are any special tools involved? The invention of the microscope for example profoundly changed the nature and focus of our observations and the medical focus that followed.


The rise of technology in our culture at large has only served to amplify this focus. If we spend our day looking at biochemistry through a microscope it is not surprising that we will formulate biochemical based solutions like patent medicines.


  • The ranking of importance that is placed on each observation.


What we take for granted as being important may be very subjective. That is, based on what is the currently ‘accepted wisdom’ (model) which in turn has its roots in what the culture recognizes and accepts as valid.


  • The goals we have set for the model. This can profoundly affect what significance we place upon our observations.


In other words, before we even get into the differences between ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ medical choices[3] there is already room for enormous subjectivity in the roots of our own medical systems.



Navigating the medical model jungle


mini jungle


Let us compare and contrast a few therapies and the models that inform them









               Therapy / Medicine


Anatomical/ Physiological
  • Western medicine (pharmacology, surgery, physiotherapy etc.)
  • Chiropractic,  Osteopathy
  • Traditional (Swedish) and therapeutic massage
Energetic *(Qi/Ki/Chi)
  • Acupuncture
  • Shiatsu
  • Acupressure
  • Chinese herbal med.
  • Qi Gong
  • Tibetan medicine
  • Psychology
Anatomical/ Physiological/ Psychological
  • Psychiatry
Anatomical/ Emotional
  • Rosen therapy
* It is worthwhile noting that this model group incorporates 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, catalyzes and animates all others.



The observant reader may note that even some ‘alternative’ therapies like massage and chiropractic may share the same medical model as Western medical treatments. It will come as no surprise then that these have been among the first to be accepted into the mainstream.


Another way of seeing


There is one potential future when all these different approaches can work together for the greater good of those who need help and our collective knowledge. Our medical system could become far more open-ended and useful to a greater number and variety of people than it is today. We only require another way of seeing. It can be summed up in few simple steps.


  1. No one ‘owns’ reality. It is too big to fully understand or be explained except in somewhat arbitrary, bite-size pieces. These pieces are called models.
  2. To identify with our model as the only reality is a form of insanity and will lead to conflict, suffering and wasted opportunities to expand our pool of collective knowledge.
  3. While no one model can represent the whole truth (see point 1.) they are however useful for discovering and working with certain practical truths and communicating these to others.
  4. The gray areas of one model, where it cannot explain an observation (like a symptom pattern for example), may be the ‘sweet spot’ of another where the observation is well known and can be worked with.[4]
  5. We need to develop the subtle measuring tools to support those models that are currently not supported by existing technologies.
  6. We also need to have both the humility and the curiosity to become multi-modular in our approach, realizing the potential to cross-pollinate ideas from each model and strengthen our total knowledge and effectiveness.


We have already, between us, vast resources to improve our world. We just need to pool them together and work unselfishly to realize our potential.


Till we rise to meet that challenge one Monday at a time,


[1] Industrial Disease by Dire Straits. All rights reserved

[2] Traditional Buddhist saying. Adopted by the Wing Chung school of kung fu. It served as a warning to students not to become too rigid or attached to any one technique or form (fighting model)

[3] And of course what is mainstream and what is alternative differs between cultures

[4] There are no great therapists, just those who have seen it before…



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. 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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