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What is Anthroposophical Medicine?

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At the beginning of the last century a group of doctors, mainly but not entirely from a homeopathic background, took a particular interest in the philosophy and work that was emerging at that time being developed by Rudolf Steiner, who named it "Anthroposophy". This literally means "wisdom about the human being" but a more free translation would be "an awareness of our humanity", an awareness of the implications of our humanity for the body, the soul and the spirit.

A significant amount of literature had been developed already in terms of general anthroposophy and how it could help with renewing science, art, education, architecture and agriculture. Doctors were among groups of professionals who also felt that it could do much to enhance medical practice. What then emerged was really the first attempt of the 20th century in the direction of holistic medicine.

We have to remember that this was the time that the works of Freud and Jung were also on the ascendant, the science of psychology was awakening then, it had not existed as a science before this time. Steiner was among a small nucleus of people who were very clear that the small part of us that we experience in our ordinary selves and our ordinary waking day consciousness is merely the tip of a much deeper iceberg.

The basis of that picture we are familiar with, in the work of people like Freud and Jung - the different levels of the unconscious, the sub-consciousness, the collective unconsciousness and so on. Steiner used slightly different terms but they are very much in parallel, but one thing that Steiner really was able to do was to link these areas of consciousness to different strata of functional systems within the body itself, so for instance the psychical body holds within itself the wisdom of the collective unconscious, what he called "the life body". It perhaps receives more of the personal unconscious. The astral body is the realm between the deeper layers and the waking day consciousness, it belongs more to the realm that we experience in our dream life.

By linking consciousness to body and then being able to elaborate, for instance, how the different organs of the physical body have their own contribution to the foundation of our life and soul of our consciousness, Steiner was able to do important work in overcoming this unnatural division between mind and body, right down not only to the different functional systems of nervous system, heart, blood circulation and metabolism but also to the organs themselves, heart, lung, liver, kidney and so on.

Thus Steiner was the first to really speak of health in terms of body, soul and spirit and has in the last 30 years become a byword within the holistic field generally. One thing all holistic approaches have in common, perhaps the most important thing, is that the body is not regarded as an autonomous mechanism, but rather that the way the body works, the way the physiology actually ticks over is intimately connected with the way our consciousness is working and the way our spirit is working into our body.

The main difference between anthroposophical medical practice and, let us say, an attempt to work holistically by having a health centre with a homeopath, an acupuncture practitioner, a reflexologist, an aromotherapist, maybe a counsellor, all operating within those four walls is that there is no basis for assuming that in such a set up those therapists are going to be working with a common picture, either of health or of illness. They will probably all have diverging diagnostic and therapeutic modalities and although ostensibly they will be cooperating for the well-being of the patient, the degree to which that cooperation can be realised in practice is limited. It is a good first step but it has its limitations.

On the other hand an anthrophosophical doctor working with an artistic therapist, an eurythmy therapist, a counsellor, possibly a music therapist and a nurse, if in a residential setting, will all have something like a core curriculum training in common which will include a picture of the human being as a soul, a spiritual entity evolving in time. It will also include the differentiated picture of how that arrives at bodily expression. There is therefore a common aim, a common impulse, a common vocabulary that goes a little bit further than simply a common will to help.

This article began by saying that the doctors who were particularly interested in what anthroposophy may have to offer by and large had a homeopathic background. It was quite clear in the way Steiner addressed them that he regarded homeopathy as a very significant medical discipline. Far from dismissing it, he in many ways extended it. He also was able to make suggestions as to how or why the higher potencies, which ostensibly do not have any physical substance, actually in the bottle, actually work, in ways which stand up very well today despite the new possibilities that science has at its disposal to address that question. He was also able to suggest other ways of potentising or even preparing medicines that would qualitatively enhance the therapeutic possibility of the substances, so there is in fact a whole Anthroposophical pharmaceutical culture that has grown up around his work which includes the more straight forward homeopathic potentising methods but does a lot more besides.


By The Park Attwood Clinic
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