There are apparently two aspects of mind-body-spirit medicine that need to be understood. First is the hidden reality of mind-body-spirit medicine working through the body's built-in mechanisms of healing as brought out in the article 'Improving the quality of health care from within'. 1 Briefly, faith is essential for healing to take place regardless of the kind of treatment that is actually given. Without faith the mind is active and restless. This has repercussions on the immune system. Where there is faith, the feeling is positive and this helps the body's built-in mechanisms of healing.
The second aspect of mind-body-spirit medicine is the power of prayer or prayerful attitude to effect healing, in a non-local manner. This has been proved in numerous scientific studies and first brought to light with clarity by Dr.Larry Dossey, M.D. 2 He calls this aspect of 'mind-body-spirit' medicine as the Era 3 medicine, Era 1 being 'body medicine' and Era 2 being 'mind-body medicine'. Dr. Larry points out that the key aspect of prayerfulness is empathy, caring, compassion or love. The experiments do not work well if there is no empathy, caring, compassion or love for the subject they are trying to influence.
The key to the patient developing faith is the empathy of the physician for the patient. The body's built-in mechanisms respond to the empathy or compassion of the physician. And Dr. Larry points out that empathy or compassion works in a non-local manner even if the patient is half way across the globe. Thus empathy is central to mind-body-spirit medicine and it works in both the ways mentioned above. Those who naturally have the feeling of empathy towards patients and people in general, are at an advantage with regard to practicing mind-body-spirit medicine.
Interestingly the concepts of body, mind-body and mind-body-spirit medicine reinforces our understanding of ourselves. The development from Era 1 to Era 2 medicine emphasizes that we are not the body alone; we are mind-body entities. Era 3 medicine indicates that we are not confined to our mind-body. We are mind-body-spirit entities not bounded by distance. Our influence is trans-personal, non-local as proven by the studies on the effect of prayer.
As is the belief, so is the practice. If the physician believed that his own basis was merely the body, he would practice mostly Era 1 - plain mechanical medicine. If the physician believed that he was a mind-body entity, he would be practicing aspects of Era 2 medicine by giving importance to positive thinking. If the physician believed that he was a mind-body-spirit entity, he would include Era 3 medicine in his practice by giving importance to the attitude of 'prayerfulness' by whomsoever is concerned with the patient.
Thus the three eras of medicine, though defined as starting from 1860, 1940 and 1990 (by Dr. Larry Dossey), must have been existing for a long time depending on what the physician (and the patient) believed himself to be -- whether he is predominantly physical, mental or a spiritual entity. In the present day, most physicians probably practice all three eras of medicine to varying extent since each complements the other. The type of patient (his predominant belief) and the circumstances of treatment may influence the physician to move between different eras in a given case.
The practice of 'mind-body-spirit medicine' or 'mind-body medicine' is not something that is contradictory to 'body medicine'. Awareness of the three eras by the physician leads to meaningful use of available approaches and more comprehensive patient care. While it makes assimilation of positive aspects of alternate medicine quite natural, the pure 'body medicine' approach to medical practice appears artificial and unnecessarily complicated. All three eras of medicine will continue to coexist as long as there are physicians (and patients) with differing awareness of themselves.
1. Improving the Quality of Health Care from Within
2. A Conversation about the Future of Medicine http://www.dosseydossey.com/larry/QnA.html