The Whole Person Needs to be Treated to get Well 
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
 To "heal" means to become whole again.  In order to become "healthy," a person must become whole again in the three spheres, the body, mind, and the spirit.  Health professionals must assess the needs of a person as a whole, and make direct interventions for the physical and the psychological needs.   

Take for example, "John," a diabetic patient who frequently experiences hypoglycemia, the low blood sugar problem.  During the course of the diabetic illness and resulting medical complications, he begins to dwell on the possibilities of developing foot ulcer leading to leg amputation, getting into a coma or, becoming blind.  Due to his nervous temperament and constant worrying, John has begun to have panic attacks.     
John is getting all the required medical treatment for his diabetes.  His physician, cognizant of his worries and panic attacks, has even prescribed him "nerve pills."  In spite of receiving the necessary medical care, his visits to the doctor and hospital have increased.  Each time he receives the required medical care and goes home, only to come back again.  

The reason is that John can't tell the difference between a panic attack and the symptoms of hypoglycemia.  Both have deceptively similar symptoms.  No health professional has closely worked with him, one-on-one, to help him differentiate the two.  As a result, whenever John experiences sweatiness, anxiety, tremors, heart racing, and mental confusion (which are also the symptoms of a panic attack), he thinks that his blood sugar has plummeted down.  Promptly, John loads himself up with sugar to avoid a blood sugar crisis and coma.  
However, excessive consumption of sugar causes further medical complications, such as excessive insulin reaction causing discomforting symptom.  This problem can be prevented if health professionals, insurance companies, government, and the society truly recognize that major medical illnesses afflict not just the body, but the person as a whole.  Therefore, the whole person needs help.  Furthermore, if we help the whole person, we may reduce personal suffering and significant medical costs.  

It is short sighted to view psychological support as luxury, an unnecessary cost that that we can ill afford. The fact is that there are over two hundred studies that indicate psychological support reduces medical costs.  The average medical costs saved by psychological support not only pays for itself but, on average, saves 14% of medical expenses.  Medical costs are reduced because patients make fewer visits to their doctors, need fewer hospitalizations, recover faster, have fewer complications, and exercise better self-care.  

Long-term or medical illnesses have serious impact on persons and their families.  Frequently, such medical illnesses lead to abandonment of careers, break-up of marriages, and loss of self-esteem and personal worth.  People are faced with destruction of their personal ambitions and hopes.  These changes have profound psychological effects on a person.  Anxiety, depression, anger, hopelessness, loneliness, and fears can become full-time engagements.  These emotions have significant effect on the body and its capacity to cope with illness and to heal.  
To illustrate this point, let's continue with John's example.  Due to the abnormal swings in blood sugar, John has become depressed, withdrawn, and incommunicative.  He exhibits drastic mood swings.  When his wife tries to comfort him he snaps at her.  Divorce seems inevitable.  This increases his emotional stress resulting in further isolation and loneliness.  

 Emotional stress has profound effect on blood sugar.  Therefore, emotional equilibrium and sense of personal well being is important in a medical illness.  Illness happens to a person and a family rather than to a "patient."  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications

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