Why alternative medicine actually could work.

Via Clare Polencheck
on Aug 23, 2011
get elephant's newsletter
image via yogaartandscience.com

 A case for holistic healing.

Fellow writer and Yogi Ben Ralston refocused my interest in secondary gains, a concept in the medical community that, according to his article, is defined as a hidden benefit that is derived from the problem’.

In his piece, Ben outlines secondary gain as the idea of underlying psychological “advantages” one may gain from an illness, disorder, or disease. He also suggests that, as a reason for why they may be less effective than medical treatments, alternative therapies and medicines haven’t “woken up to” this concept. While I cannot speak to the effectiveness of alternative therapies in and of themselves, I would like to offer that alternative healing approaches, including Eastern medicine, spiritual practices, and meditative disciplines, can offer a great, if not greater “chance” for a patient to move into a self-explorative attitude and thus awareness of their secondary gains.

Unlike many medical treatments, alternative therapies often encompass a relationship between mind, body, and emotions: holistic healing. The fact that the patient has embraced this offers a greater chance for them to become aware of their emotional or psychological holdings, and the possibility of secondary gain regarding their condition. The term “secondary gains” might not be present, but the concepts are, with words such as awareness, self-inquiry, and mindfulness, among others.

My personal experience with a naturopathic doctor led me to observe my own secondary gains. As my doctor investigated my situation and worked with me through chiropractic care, acupuncture, and herbal and natural digestive support, he brought to my attention the possibility of my emotional response being strongly linked to my digestive woes. After reading Deb Shapiro’s Your Body Speaks Your Mind, this mind-body relationship was brought to a convincing light, and I explored in myself what Shapiro terms “Fringe Benefits” when asking her suggested questions:

“Illness can give you permission to avoid a difficult situation or to offload responsibilities. Does your condition distract you from dealing with other situations? Does it provide a way of avoiding your feelings?”

“Is your illness an unconscious cry for love, a longing to be looked after and nourished?”

(But, what are the fringe benefits of a healer who fails to suggest the possibility of secondary gains to a patient? Well, they would have a greater chance of keeping their patient, and their income! Yikes. Maybe this is an insight into why some healing practices don’t seem to “help” a patient progress?)

image via Wikipedia

In an example of alternative medicine practices, the concept of secondary gain is embodied in in a model coined by Dr. Roger Callahan called psychological reversal. Callahan offers alternative treatments incorporating energy and meridian work, Eastern medicinal principles, kinesiology, and psychotherapies to help patients overcome a gamut of psychological, and in turn, possibly physical, maladies.

Hypnotherapy is another method that guides a patient to uncover secondary gains. Although now recognized as a valid medical procedure, hypnotherapy is probably still considered more of an unconventional method of healing. Hypnotherapy has been recommended for treatment of chronic pain (cancer related, fibromyalgia), anxiety and addiction, weight control, IBS, tinnitus, and other conditions. It is also presented as an avenue to awareness of psychological holdings for the conditions being treated.

While not directly designated as “alternative medicine,” spiritual practices have been pivotal in promoting healing for centuries. From this spiritual study perspective, Eckart Tolle approaches the concepts of secondary gain in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purposes. Tolle’s study, regarding, is framed around the ego and its attachment to identity. An illness, Tolle suggests, could provide a secondary gain for an ego needing attention, sympathy, pity…basically a “self.”

He writes, “You may receive a great deal of attention from doctors and others who constantly confirm to you your conceptual identity as a sufferer or a patient. You then unconsciously cling to the illness because it has become the most important part of who you perceive yourself to be.” He continues, “Not infrequently, the ego in search of a stronger identity can and does create illnesses in order to strengthen itself through them.

The concepts of ego and moving beyond it are present in many spirituality structures, including Yoga, Buddhism, and contemplative Christianity. When one moves into these practices, the possibility of moving into an awareness of secondary gain becomes greater.

In conclusion, it is my opinion, that a range of alternative healing possibilities can be very effective in the realm of recognizing secondary gains. I can, on a personal level, speak to their effectiveness to healing otherwise, and I would not discourage anyone from exploring alternative healing while co-currently examining their inner person through spiritual studies, Yoga, or psychiatric routes.

What have you gained…”secondary” or otherwise, from alternative healing approaches?


About Clare Polencheck

Clare L. Polencheck is a yoga instructor who strives to live and write from a Christian-Yogic spiritual perspective, and is humbled to share tidbits of her lessons as a teacher of asana, a student of her students, and a pupil of Universe. Learning to go with God’s flow is her dharma code.


8 Responses to “Why alternative medicine actually could work.”

  1. Dace says:

    The holistic approach treats the whole body, ignites the body's internal healing force and stimulates the body's natural abilities to heal itself.

  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    This fascinates me! I have been analysing this point of view for many years as I started to experience migraines from a very young age (when life was quite stressful as I experienced the death of my primary caregivers, etc, etc). After many years of reading and trying different things, I found that migraines are not only a 'food' thing or necessarily something that is inherited but relate directly to the emotional state that I am in – which includes feelings that have been harbored in one way or another for a very long time (things come up and out in every way, shape or form). I've observed my thoughts when experiencing a migraine and they are often of hurt and anger. So, hmph, this is interesting indeed!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Clare,
    I just want to clarify something:
    I don't say that alternative therapies are less effective than medical treatments. I have no idea as to the effectiveness of medical treatments, but i wouldn't compare the two because I believe that the placebo effect is much, much more powerful in medical treatments…
    Also, my opinion about alternative therapies in general is not that they are not useful. I am a practitioner (and teacher) of an extremely efficient alternative healing method! However, I do believe that there are many alternative healing modalities (and practitioners) that are inefficient, and that one of the main reasons for that is that they don't clear secondary gain.
    Small points maybe, but I just wanted to point em out.

  4. drbinder says:

    "I would not discourage anyone from exploring alternative healing while co-currently examining their inner person through spiritual studies, Yoga, or psychiatric routes."

    This is a clutch statement, Clare. When there is something blocking someone's self healing pathways it can be mechanical, energetic, genetic, psychological or however many other archetypes we can name. Healers are holding the space to remove those blocks. Sometimes that unblocks the ultimate medicine, Self Actualization.

    Posting to Elephant Wellness on Facebook

  5. […] like a gateway drug into healthier food choices, self-care and alternative medicine. Even if you aren’t the most adept or enthusiastic herbalist out there, there are a few herbs you […]

  6. If the practitioners cared about the public they would perform such tests so that the public will know one way or another, but I suspect most of them care more about making money than they actually do about the public. They don't care enough about the public to learn about real science to figure out what is best for patients, let alone learning how to test things to see what works. http://www.lucypostolov.com