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Healing EEs/EHEs/Healing Process
Record Type: Review   ID: 962

Remarkable Recovery: What Extraordinary Healings Tell Us About Getting Well and Staying Well

Hirschberg, Caryle, & Barasch, Mark Ian

This book builds a good foundation for investigating spontaneous remissions, or recoveries from life-threatening illness, especially cancer, in inexplicable ways, when allopathic medicine has not succeeded. Spontaneous remissions appear to be "medical miracles," but the medical profession ignores them because thus far there is no way to control and therefore study them. In fact, medical scientists often go to irrational extremes to deny the value of anecdotal reports of spontaneous remission. Remarkable Recovery is filled with case studies and interviews with remarkable survivors as well as with physicians. Hirschberg and Barasch have outlined a new field of investigation and logically sectioned it into potential components for detailed study. They have devoted a chapter to possible biological explanations, one to a possible mind-body mechanism, and another to a mind-body-spirit equation, which takes into consideration the role played by belief (and also, in the role of physicians and scientists, doubt). Next they zero in on the patients themselves, marshaling the evidence that may indicate that there are recovery-prone personalities. Here they arrive at the same hypotheses I have in studying the exceptional human experiences (EHEs) that seemingly enable people to heal themselves. Hirschberg and Barasch discovered that spontaneous remission occurs across all personality styles, thus suggesting that "it may be more a matter of finding an individual ‘right path’ than having the ‘right stuff.’" My broader hypothesis is that EHEs, our dreams and visions, are the primary means by which any human finds his or her individual path or vocation. Along the way they integrate their personalities and then whatever ails them, whether it involves body, mind, or spirit, also tends to be healed as part of the process of becoming more whole.

This is underlined by the authors, who write: "In the process of remarkable recovery, the organism’s longing for wholeness is nowhere more evident; so is the equally self-evident fact that no two people’s wholeness looks alike" (p. 178). The next chapter is on how people cope with traumatic illness. I have designated a class of various types of EHEs Desolation/Nadir Experiences, which includes disaster, trauma, and life-threatening illness. These situations of extremis often trigger EHEs, which in turn provide clues to recovery. The authors present portraits of several patients and how they found their unique paths to healing and wholeness. A common denominator is that they found new meaning in coping with their disease—meaning that at first is primarily personal, but that subsequently can become social. Although the presence of EHEs could be implied in some accounts, they are not described. However, when you get right down to it, meaning is commonly mediated by or becomes conscious through an EHE. What is needed is a study of the presence or absence of EHEs in cases of remarkable recovery.

Another chapter is devoted to the important role in healing played by a sense of connection with other another person or persons. They note: "Even those who attributed their recoveries to powerful inward experiences [what could these be but EHEs?] seemed to feel a deep personal connection with the imaginal figures or spiritual presence they encountered" (p. 211). From my study of EHEs of any type, this is to be expected. A major—perhaps the major—aftereffect of EHEs is a sense of connectedness, not only to other people but to rejected aspects of self, other species, the Earth itself, the cosmos, the divine. One remarkable recoverer quotes Joseph Campbell’s admonition to "follow your bliss" (bliss, of course, is a type of EHE and also a concomitant of several types). He also notes that at base, remarkable recovery is rooted in "the ability to love, to discover that your center is love, that everything is love" (p. 221). [The experience of love also is an EHE, and it contains large quantities of the glue of connectedness.] They also note that at some crucial point in finding and taking their unique paths to recovery, in the case of those who recover, a medical director, Dr. Rosy Daniel, says "something will happen, whether it’s a significant dream, an event in their life, or a breakthrough in communicating with their husband or wife. And you can see they’ve suddenly chosen life" (p. 239). Such breakthrough experiences are also a form of EHE. Daniel summarizes the key components in the healing process. I have documented all of them as primary aftereffects of EHEs. She lists "love, self-expression, communication, contact, faith, the rekindling of the individual spirit, the transformation of core values to the values of heart, a general connectedness to life" (p. 240).

The next chapter is a very important one. In it the authors outline what they call "the healing system," and they glimpsed it through the many interconnecting lines of connectedness to life, the major gift bestowed by EHEs. In this chapter, as the title suggests, Hirshberg and Barasch take a systems approach to healing. They propose that it is the healing system that is responsible for remarkable recoveries. They point out that "the study of remarkable recovery leads us, inexorably, to what Gregory Bateson once called ‘the pattern that connects’" (p. 245). As an aside, they note that three-quarters of the cases they themselves studied were proficient in artistic activities. And nearly three-quarters of these "also responded affirmatively to our question concerning ‘unusual experiences’ that could not be rationally explained" (p. 268). This indicates that a significant portion of remarkable recoverers have had exceptional experiences, of which, those that were at least partly responsible for healing, were EHEs. Their concluding hypothesis about the healing system is congruent with my own about EHEs: "Perhaps the healing system is not just mediated by our selfhood, but in the most fundamental sense, is our selfhood—the urge, stemming from our deepest nature, toward wholeness; our yearnings for self-congruence" (p. 275). In the terms of EHEers, this yearning would be toward self-congruence of the self we know ourselves to be with the Self that is all things.

The last chapter is about a new medicine, which "is emerging in large part through the grass-roots activities of the ill themselves, who are demonstrating a felt need for individualized treatment to stimulate the healing system" (pp. 300-301). I find this exciting, because I have documented several such cases in EHE portraits I have written. I am constantly amazed as I discover countless books, magazine articles, on interviews in which people from all walks of life today are recording the way they discovered their personal meaning, which often leads to social, global, and cosmic meaning, through honoring and paying attention to their EHEs. EHEs, I propose, are not only the door to healing and self-integration but to the discovery of vocation, through which each individual becomes one with all that is.

Hirschberg and Barasch conclude with a prescription for the new medical system that is sorely needed. It would be one that is "sensitive to the genuine needs of patients," and it would "base health care as much on the individual’s intangible values and beliefs as on tangible pharmaceuticals and operations. Therapeutic outcomes would also be measured in individuals’ feelings about themselves, their connections to others, their sense of purpose, and their conviction that they have a unique place in the larger scheme of things. Only then can we hope to have a medicine that heals as well as cures" (p. 303).

Publisher Information:New York: Riverhead, 1995. Pp. xvii + 363. Appendix One. The Remarkable Recovery Registry: 305-316; Appendix Two. The Remarkable Recovery Case Report: 317-319; Appendix Four. Psychosocial Characteristics of Remarkable Recovery: A Pilot Study: 324-334; Chapnotes: 335-355; 6 charts; 7 figs; Ind: 357-363
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