Integral Medicine & Psychiatry – A Critical Model

The disaster of modernity was that it reduced all introspective and interpretive knowledge to exterior and empirical flatland: it attempted to erase the richness of interpretation from the script of the world. (Wilber 2000, p. 162).


The field of medicine is in disarray. Like all disciplines it has passed through a period of differentiation and extension and is in desperate need of re-integration. This has been part of the involution and evolution of humanity. Involution is to involve. Evolution is to evolve. To involve is to extend further into the point of contraction, density, and substance – the direction of yin. To evolve is to expand into the possible, the infinite, the overview. The difference between “East” and “West” geo-culturally comes down to a matter of historical time in that what began in the West during the time of the Greek empire and has continued into modernity is now quickly catching up in the East – while in fact the West is already at a turning point in the Tai Chi into the other side. Ultimately though it appears that global synthesis will render these geographical points moot, while the same dialectical balance will come to be maintained in each locality – in each human being.


This possibility is built in to the human body through bicameral balance of the organs – most specifically the human brain itself. This fact has already been recognized through the transformation of man in Greece where Homeric – traditional, primitive, prehistoric – man was known to receive an intuitive collective and transpersonal consciousness which had come to be replaced by a rational localized focus. This may be described as a shift from right to left brain thinking. The East has not gone through this shift at the same rate and has thus retained more of its holistic right brain thinking and its spiritual contact – though perhaps also certain aspects of prejudice and blind belief that come to be tested in left brain thought.


After a long struggle in the church throughout the middle ages, the extension of this thinking reemerged through the renaissance and enlightenment eras where rational thought and empirical science began to extend material knowledge and experience to further degrees. This reached a high point in modernity when the failure to restore this analytic differentiation of knowledge to a larger picture gave way to the recognition for new complex relational and integrative thinking. This is now under way. The twentieth century was unprecedented in developing this paradigm in the West – while in the East a rapid modernization through communist revolutions and capitalist marketing is bringing it quickly up to the same point.


Critical intellectual revolutions were waged one after another in disciplines and institutions during the past century yet the field of medicine remains one of the least critiqued, politicized, and historicized of all. It is long overdue for the same transformations that have rocked the fields of race, gender, art, science, government, and education. The practice of medicine must be situated in and around that of philosophical thought and scientific practice as it has developed culturally in human history. The development of medicine has paralleled these other fields and unfolded in similar fashion, yet at present it is still ignorant of its own development – caught in the hopes of scientific objectivity and paternalist salvation in a materialist fundamentalism based solely on the survival of the body.


Our goal is both to trace the roots of medicine back to its integral core and to extend the present collection of disparate fields and practices into a new integral understanding without losing any of this complexity. In fact, as has been shown before, one leads to the other. By historicizing the development and construction of human knowledge and practice we can divorce ourselves of the ignorant belief in the fundamental truth of what passes for same in the present – enabling us to think and practice new modes for the future.


What we have increasingly to day is eclectic medicine – a diverse group of practices unable to be reconciled, understood or translated amongst each other. The fantasy of one medicine was more completely shattered over a decade ago when the orthodoxy reported in its own journals that the people consumed more “alternative” medicine than orthodox medicine. At best what exists today is a pseudo-integrative medicine – disparate practices and therapies existing side by side while being (often unconsciosly) subjected to the orthodox model. This is seriously problematic in that the orthodox model views disease from the bottom up – from the perspective of its detailed material findings rather than any comprehensive theoretical or ethical overview. This has usefulness for treating aspects of disease but is disastrous for understanding health and medicine in general. Truly integrative medicine exists in few places. China is a rare – though large – example. After the people’s movement took over China they mandated that traditional Eastern medicine would be developed and integrated side by side with modern Western medicine and today this largely exists in the state hospitals and medical schools.


What we are aiming for however is even more ambitious. We seek a truly “integral” medicine. This means demonstrating how all of the different forms of medicine and diverse therapies fit into a larger picture. A truly integral medicine must be integral on several continuums – simultaneously traditional-modern, East-West, and mind-body at least. To do this we will have to strip away form from content and leave behind the dogmatism of medical religions in search of true knowledge.