Anthroposophical medicine (AM), or anthroposophically extended medicine, is a system of healing based on the spiritual science that was developed by Rudolph Steiner.
Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) was a philosopher and teacher who founded anthroposophy (anthropos meaning human and sophy meaning wisdom), which is a worldwide spiritual movement that seeks to apply a scientific approach to spiritual perception. Steiner, from Austria, believed that everyone has spiritual powers that can be activated by exercises in mental concentration and meditation. During his lifetime, he was an active teacher, attracting many followers to his spiritual ideas. Steiner founded several schools, wrote nearly 30 books, and gave more than 6,000 lectures around the world on subjects including education, medicine, agriculture, social issues, science and art. His ideas have remained influential. The Waldorf school system, which he began, educates thousands of young people each year. Many health food stores carry products produced by Steiner's system of agriculture called biodynamic farming, which considers the health and purity of the soil, water, and air to be of central importance.
Anthroposophical medicine is based on Steiner's concept that spiritual awareness is the foundation of individual health and of the health of society. Steiner believed that many of the oldest systems of healing, such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and Tibetan medicine, were based on a spiritual perception of the world that modern science has lost. Steiner wanted medicine to get back in touch with spirituality, and at the same time keep and use wisely the gains that science and technology have made. Thus, conventional medicine needed to be extended beyond physical science to include a holistic spiritual science.
Steiner formally began application of his philosophy in a series of 20 lectures in the early spring of 1920 to the medical community of a town in Switzerland. It was the first such course for physicians and medical students. He and Dutch medical doctor Ita Wegman co-authored a foundational work for physicians wanting to expand their practice according to anthroposophic principles.
Anthroposophical medicine is still in its early stages. Steiner believed that it would take many years for his medical ideas to be fully applied. There are thousands of anthroposophical doctors and researchers practicing in Europe, where the main school was founded. In America, practitioners can be found in several large cities, but the overall number of anthroposophical physicians is very small.
Anthroposophical medicine can be used to treat any health condition. It is particularly recommended for preventive care, infections, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and the treatment of cancer and chronic degenerative diseases associated with aging. It is also recommended for pediatric (child) care, with its avoidance of toxic drugs, and is beneficial for children's conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and developmental problems.
The anthroposophical concept of the body
Anthroposophical physicians have a different view of the body and health than the conventional scientific model. Human beings are made up of four levels ("fourfoldness") of being. The first level is the physical body. The second level is the life or etheric body, which corresponds to the Chinese idea of chi and the Ayurvedic idea of prana. The third level is the soul, or astral body, and the fourth level is the spirit. AM doctors believe that all levels of being influence a patient's health.
The physical body is made up of a three-fold system, including the "sense-nerve" system that comprises the head and nervous system, supporting the mind and the thinking process. Second is the "metabolic-limb" system that includes the digestive system for elimination, energetic metabolism, and voluntary movement processes, all supporting aspects of human behavior that express the will. Finally, the rhythmic system that includes the heart and lungs in the chest, is responsible for balancing the head and digestive systems. According to AM, these systems tend to oppose each other in functioning and characteristics, similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. For instance, the digestive system is associated with heat and helps to dissolve elements in the body, while the head system is associated with cooling and helps in the formation of elements in the body. Illness is caused when the systems of the body become out of balance. AM involves a broad understanding of the three bodily systems, and the illnesses associated with each system and its imbalance. This model provides practitioners a means for therapeutic insight now recognized as mind-body relationships in health and disease.
In anthroposophical medicine, illness is considered a significant event in a person's life, and not just a chance occurrence. One role of the doctor is to understand, and help the patient understand, the significance of the illness on all levels of being. Conventional medicine tends to suppress illness, using drugs to block the symptoms. AM doctors believe that true healing must first bring an illness out in order to heal it, and that healing requires change and development in the patient on several levels.
AM also asserts, as did the early healer Paracelsus, that every illness has a cure that can be found in nature. Paracelsus is the pseudonym for a Swiss-born alchemist and physician who lived from 1493–1541. Nature and the human body are made up of the plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms, and thus AM doctors use medicines that are made from plants, animals (usually in the form of organ extracts), and minerals. AM remedies are usually given in homeopathic doses, which are very diluted, non-toxic solutions.
Treatment by an anthroposophical physician
All anthroposophical physicians are conventionally trained M.D.s, as Steiner believed that conventional training was a necessary first step. However, a visit to an anthroposophical physician may be different than a visit to a regular doctor. Anthroposophical doctors, first of all, tend to spend much more time with their patients, particularly during the initial visit. Every patient is considered unique, and AM doctors use the first visit to get a broad understanding of patients and their medical histories. To diagnose illnesses, AM doctors may use modern diagnostic tools, but also rely on intuition and an understanding of the patient. Part of training of AM doctors involves improving their powers of perception in order to understand illnesses. Diagnosis is considered a very important process; Steiner believed that if the diagnosis of a problem is done correctly, then the therapeutic (healing) work is much easier. After a problem is thoroughly diagnosed, treatment will be recommended. AM doctors attempt to treat a patient on all four levels of being. For the physical body, remedies will be prescribed. There are hundreds of uniquely formulated medications, similar to homeopathies, as well as botanical medicines. AM doctors try to minimize the use of antibiotics, drugs, and vaccinations.
Anthroposophical medicine also uses allied therapies, which are additional therapies that Steiner recommended to heal patients on other levels than the physical. These include massage therapy and a movement therapy called eurythmy. Eurythmy is a system of movements designed to help patients give expression to inner spiritual movements. Psychotherapy may also be recommended to help heal some conditions. AM doctors may apply allied therapies themselves, or refer patients to other healers. The length of treatment with AM depends on the patient and condition. The cost of treatment varies with the practitioner, and is comparable to treatment by conventional M.D.s. AM medications are less expensive than conventional drugs. Because AM practitioners are trained medical doctors, insurance policies often cover their fees, although consumers should be aware of their policy restrictions.
AM doctors may give new patients packages of materials before treatment, which include thorough questionnaires and explanations of AM. Anthroposophical physicians encourage patients to prepare for treatment by becoming willing to take responsibility for their condition and health, and to change their behaviors and lifestyles in the interest of healing.
AM medications are safe and non-toxic. During treatment, some patients may experience what doctors call "healing crises." During these, patients may temporarily experience a worsening of symptoms as part of the healing process, including fever, headaches, nausea, weakness, muscle soreness, and other symptoms.
Research & general acceptance
Active research in AM is being regularly conducted in Europe, mainly in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and France. Several research organizations performing patient-centered research have shown promising results with the AM cure for cancer, which utilizes the herbal remedy mistletoe extract, and for other conditions. Other research has shown that AM is less expensive than conventional medical treatment, with 50% fewer illness days than when treated by conventional practitioners. Current research studies appear in the quarterly Journal of Anthroposophical Medicine, as well as in European publications.
Training & certification
Currently, there is no course for the certification of AM practitioners, although every AM doctor is required to obtain training as a certified M.D. Afterwards, physicians may specialize in AM by taking a series of courses or by interning with specialists. The Physicians Association for Anthroposophic Medicine (PAAM) is the largest association in North America. The organization for non-M.D. health professionals interested in anthroposophical medicine is Artemesia, The Association for Anthroposophical Renewal of Healing.
Bott, Victor. Anthroposophical Medicine. Hudson, New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1985.
Steiner, Rudolph. Introducing Anthroposophic Medicine. Hudson, New York: Anthroposophical Press, 1998.
Anthroposophic Press. RR 4 Box 94 A-1. Hudson, NY 518-851-2054.
Artemesia, The Association for Anthroposophical Renewal of Healing. 1923 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, (734) 930-9462.
Gilpen Street Holistic Center. Dr. Philip Incao, M.D., 1624 Gilpen Street, Denver, CO 80218, (303) 321-2100.
Physicians Association for Anthroposophic Medicine (PAAM). 1923 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, (734) 930-9462.
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