The rhetoric of healing

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Texas Tech University

The Rhetoric of Healing examines the interface between biomedicine and alternative medicine from the perspective of rhetoric. Further, this dissertation explores the challenges of integrating alternative and biomedicine by investigating rhetorical issues that guided the construction of biomedicine, examining rhetorical aspects of alternative medicine, and elucidating primary issues that should be important to any effort to integrate medicine.

Positing that knowledge is socially constructed, the discussion addresses the rising popularity of alternative medicine by analyzing how the tenets of biomedicine were established in relation to rhetoric. Once marginalized and perceived as quackery, alternative medicine has entered the arena of biomedicine carrying with it terms like "integrative medicine" and "complementary care."

Many who oppose alternative medicine point to its ideological connection to postmodernism, its New Age mysticism, and its flagrant attempts to align itself with the emerging theories in quantum theory. However, describing what alternative medicine as merely an oppositional movement may not be the best approach to understanding alternative medicine. Neither is championing alternative medicine simply because of its esoteric opposition to the ideological narrative of science.

In an effort to understand the popularity of alternative medicine and the effective integration of two very different approaches to medicine, this discussion takes a broad scope, exploring medicine from a number of different angles, including the shift from oral to literate culture and the contributions of several key philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, and Descartes. While it is reductive to assign the underpinnings of the complex biomedical model to a mere handful of individuals, these individuals contributed significantly to the creation of the current scientific paradigm wherein the biomedical model is situated. Further, in negotiating a system of "truth," these philosophers considered the role of rhetoric and, as Perelman suggests, redefined it in a reciprocal relationship to the degree of "truth" that seemed available. The influence of these four individuals is clear in the model of science, in the field of medicine, and in the delimited the role of rhetoric.

Even though Hippocrates moved medicine away from the realm of superstition, he claimed that the healing was an art comprised of three basic factors: the disease, the patient, and the physician. The reductive framework of modem medicine, however, along with the advances in diagnostic technology distort the triad, thus, emphasizing and reifying disease, attenuating the role of the patient, and authorizing the physician. The biomedical model favors tight, causal maps, complex taxonomies, statistical approaches, "clean'" categories, objective language, and visually based diagnostic tools. Because of the elite training that physicians receive, they are granted an authoritative voice in pronouncing illness, prescribing its cures, and even defining the boundaries of "health" and "sickness." Trained to employ value-free methodologies in isolating the mechanisms of disease, physicians often view the patient in isolation from social or cultural contexts.

While medicine has made progress because of its alignment with science and its distance from rhetoric, biomedicine has lost some of its persuasive appeal to alternative healing modalities that do not share the same scientific foundation. Although allopathic medicine has a strong sense of logos and ethos, it lacks pathos. Efforts to integrate alternative medicine tend to focus on alternative medicine as a curative measure to the more sterile aspects of biomedicine, yet integrating marginalized practices in an effort to simply restore balance to the biomedical model is problematic because the foundations of holistic and allopathic medicine are seemingly incompatible. Alternative medicine is a loose collection of practices that resist standardization and lack cogent evidence of its efficacy.

If integrating allopathic and alternative medicine were a simple matter of restoring pathos to an ailing model, obstacles such as common terminology and methodologies might be easy to resolve, but the issues are much more complicated. Biomedicine and alternative medicine seem to be built around different ways of knowing, and even though all forms of medicine are bonded by an interest in health and healing, methods used in arriving at this goal and the theoretical considerations that inform those methods are not easy to resolve. Whereas biomedicine proceeds in a linear manner, canceling out irrelevant variables, and seeking empirical proof of illnesses, alternative medicine is characterized as holistic. Complex interactions and interrelationships are valuable in alternative approaches to medicine; thus, linear approaches and empirical methodologies are difficult to apply and may not serve to prove the efficacy of alternative practices. Consequently, it is very difficult to approach alternative medicine on its own ground. Nevertheless, attempting to understand the theoretical differences between alternative practices and conventional medicine is extremely important if we are to have an integrated system wherein biomedical and alternative practices truly complement one another. Employing alternative medicine to simply shore up the perceived inadequacies of biomedicine or to capitalize on the out of pocket dollars that the public is willing to pay for alternative care will not truly serve the best interest of medicine.

The increasing popularity of alternative medicine evinces a persuasive appeal that brings rhetoric into the realm of medicine in spite of the painstaking efforts to create a realm free of the art of persuasion. Even though rhetoric has long been distanced from the discipline of medicine, rhetoric and alternative medicine share many similarities, and this dissertation attempts to show how rhetoric can provide a way for opening meaningful discourse between various approaches to healing, for offering heuristic approaches to healing, and even for facilitating healing itself

In an effort to consider fully the interface between alternative and biomedicine, the rhetorical analysis offered in this dissertation addresses a broad range of considerations, including quantum approaches to medicine and healing, theories of the interconnectivity between systems in the body emerging in hybrid fields such as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and neurolinguistic programming (NLP), psychobiological theories of the interlacing of mind and body in the arena of healing, the metaphysical aspects of alternative healing, the postmodern aspects that are associated with alternative medicine, narrative-based approaches to healing, and the pervasive role of metaphor.

Plato, Descartes, René, 1596-1650, Rhetoric -- Health aspects, Bacon, Francis, 1561-1626, Rhetoric and psychology, Aristotle