Are you looking for a fresh perspective on healthcare and healing? In this episode, we delve into the historical shift in medicine’s focus, from healing as the primary goal to the modern emphasis on diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and billing. Dr. Cohen argues that true healing is a biological phenomenon inherent in all living organisms, emphasizing the importance of supporting individuals in enhancing their overall well-being.
The distinction between healing and curing is a central theme, highlighting the transformative power of embracing life’s journey, scars, challenges, and all. Dr. Cohen challenges the traditional definition of healing and discusses the limitations of the current healthcare system, particularly regarding access to care and the financial burdens it imposes. Tune in and discover a new way of approaching your own well-being.
Meet Ed Cohen
At thirteen, Ed Cohen was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease—a chronic, incurable condition that nearly killed him in his early twenties. At his diagnosis, his doctors told him that the best he could hope for was periods of remission. Unfortunately, they did not mention healing as a possibility.
In his book, On Learning to Heal, Cohen draws on fifty years of living with Crohn’s to consider how Western medical practices turn from an “art of healing” toward a “science of medicine” deeply affects both medical practitioners and their patients. He demonstrates that although medical sciences provide many seemingly miraculous therapies, it is not solely the way to enhance healing. Exploring his own path to healing, he argues that learning to heal requires us to desire and value healing as a vital possibility.
As a therapeutic process, Ed’s practice, Healing Counsel, encourages us to embrace the potential for healing embedded in even our most traumatic experiences. From his sessions, people can expect to gain clearer insights about the intelligence that illnesses often reveal and to develop strategies for cultivating more healing relations to their “self” and to the world. Healing Counsel seeks to reframe illnesses and other challenges that are thrown our way as invitations for healing, thereby broadening our repertoire for living unconstrained and with greater grace.
His practice emerges from the skills and resources that he has developed while living and thriving with Crohn’s disease. Over the last 40 years or so, this experience has challenged him not just to desire to heal, but also to recognize that healing is a value.
Reclaiming Healing: Journey from Illness to Empowerment
Reclaiming healing as our birthright is a powerful concept that challenges the current approach to healthcare. Dr. Ed Cohen’s journey with Crohn’s disease serves as a poignant example of the limitations of modern medicine and the importance of embracing healing as an integral part of healthcare. Dr. Cohen describes living with a severe form of Crohn’s disease for 10 years, enduring numerous medical interventions and surgeries. However, it was a near-death experience followed by an unexpected healing event that led him to question the path he was on. Faced with the choice between continuing down a medicalized route or exploring a new way of living, Dr. Cohen chose the latter.
Healing Rediscovered: Restoring the Heart of Medicine
Dr. Cohen highlights the historical shift in medicine’s focus from healing to diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and billing. He explains that healing was once considered the primary goal of medicine, with doctors working to support and encourage the body’s natural power to heal. However, as medicine became more scientific and less artistic, healing was marginalized and eventually dropped from the framework of modern medicine. This shift has resulted in a healthcare system that prioritizes symptom management and the eradication of illness rather than supporting individuals in enhancing their overall well-being. Dr. Cohen argues that healing should be seen as a biological phenomenon inherent to all living organisms. It is not something that can be erased or reversed but rather a process of changing and growing in response to illness and life’s challenges.
Healing vs. Curing: Embracing Life’s Journey in Medicine
The distinction between healing and curing is an important one. While curing aims to eliminate illness and return individuals to their pre-illness state, healing recognizes that life is a continuous journey and that experiences of illness shape who we are. Healing focuses on enhancing the quality of life and creating conditions for growth, regardless of the presence of illness. Dr. Cohen acknowledges the vital role of medicine in acute care and life-saving interventions. However, he argues that medicine falls short when it comes to chronic conditions and the complex interplay between individuals and their environment. The individualistic and reductionistic framework of modern medicine fails to address the broader social, psychological, and environmental factors that contribute to illness and well-being.
Reimagining Health and Embracing Life’s Journey
Dr. Cohen discusses the limitations of the current healthcare system, particularly in relation to the lack of universal healthcare and the financial burdens placed on individuals seeking medical treatment. He emphasizes that true healing goes beyond simply treating physical ailments; it involves addressing the structural and administrative problems that impair people’s access to healthcare and leave them burdened with debt. Furthermore, Dr. Cohen challenges the traditional definition of healing as the absence of disease or ailment. Instead, he proposes that healing is a transformation that accepts the scars and challenges that come with it. He suggests that dying can also be a form of healing, as it is a natural part of life that everyone will eventually go through. He shares personal experiences of witnessing individuals find healing in the process of dying, highlighting the complexity and depth of the healing journey.
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Okay, if you want to do the little blurb Hello, I'm
Ed Cohen, founder of healing Council, the therapeutic practice that's designed for people interested in healing, often those with chronic and life threatening illnesses. And today we're going to talk about why healing dropped out of medical discourse and medical training, and trying to understand how we can reclaim this birthright which all of us have access to, and we can enhance if we desire and value. Awesome.
Well, hello, everyone, and welcome again to the podcasts. And I'm so glad for you to get to know today. Dr. Ed Cohen. Hi, Ed, welcome. Hello.
Thank you. Yes, yeah. So
as I start with most everyone, tell folks a little bit about yourself and how you've landed where you've landed?
Well, I, I'm a professor at Rutgers University, and Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies. But that's sort of beside the point of what I'm doing here today. My story here has to do with the fact that I've had Crohn's disease for over 50 years. And for the first 10 years of that experience, I was very acutely ill. And under high doses of immune suppressing drugs during adolescence, which I now refer to as my adolescence on steroids. And then when I was in my early 20s, I almost died. I had one of those out of body near death things. And, but I didn't, luckily, I was in Stanford University Hospital at the time. So fortunately, I had excellent medical care. But when I came back to myself in the ICU, something new started to happen, which was that I started spontaneously going into trances which nothing in my life had ever prepared before, as I like to tell people, you know, my mother was a communist, my father was a physical chemist, they were both Jewish atheists, and my family matter was all that mattered. And yet there I was, you know, obviously, on a lot of drugs, but going into these trances, and which I could somehow take this light and wrap it around the parts of my abdomen that had been or, you know, my various organs that have been taken out, and, and sort of pack them with light, just thought I was doing pain management, it seemed to kind of work that way. And then I was able to just drop into another kind of space, that was not the hospital, which, if you've ever spent a lot of time in hospitals, you know, you'd rather not be there. And, and, yeah, it seemed to do something. I mean, I didn't really think much about it. But you know, I had no intention. It wasn't, you know, something that I called upon, it just sort of happened. And then, a couple of months later, when I finally left the hospital, I had an exit interview with my surgeon. And he said, This thing to me that just sort of seared itself into my brain. He said, You were the sickest person who I've operated on in five years, who's still alive. And I have no idea how you got better so quickly. And that was shocking, both because it broke through my denial, I hadn't really been focusing on the fact that I almost died. And also, but it was really the first time a doctor said I don't know and what he said that he didn't know. It's like, how I had gotten better. And that made me wonder, why had I never heard any of my doctors ever mentioned the idea of healing before? Like, why was healing not something that, you know, was part of the way that they explained? Illness? I mean, when I am diagnosed at the age of 13, with Crohn's disease, in case people don't know, Crohn's is a an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect the entire digestive tract from the mouth to the anus, and I had huge inflammation in my small bowel. And when they finally you know, came in it with the team. I was in the teaching hospital. And so there's always a team of young doctors eager to tell you about, you know, what you've got. And I always think of it as like, it was the reveal, like on HGTV, you know, it's like, Oh, here you go. Here's your thing. They so they say, Well, we think you have Crohn's disease, and it's a autoimmune illness. And, you know, I was 13 I had pretty big vocabulary, but you know, autoimmunity was not one of my basic words. And so then they tried to explain it to me And they said, well, it's like you're allergic to yourself. Not so helpful. And then they said, it's like part of yourself as rejecting itself. Again, not really clear. And then finally they said, Oh, well, it's like you're eating yourself alive. Okay, now that I could understand. But that is not something anyone should ever tell anyone, especially known as your old who's really very ill. And then they went on to tell me that it was incurable. That Crohn's disease, like there are now 80 to 100 illnesses that are considered to have autoimmune etiology is for which not none, there are no cures for any of them. They are all treated pretty much in the same way, which are recent medical review article characterized as the sledgehammer of immunosuppression. So you know, basically, I started taking massive doses of prednisone, which again, if you've ever been on prednisone is a very powerful, very life saving drug, but has a lot of secondary side effects, some of which are psychological, anxiety, depression, mood swings, in addition to all of the physiological ones, weight gain, Kushite, face skin thinning, bone thinning, cataracts, all of it, and I had all of the above. But nobody seemed to think it was anything. Because I was an adolescent. And they just were like, Yeah, your mood swings. You're you're a teenager. Yeah. At one point, I actually asked my father, and, you know, could I go to therapy, I was like, send me to therapy sent me to therapy, because I knew something was wrong. And my father said, you've seen too many Woody Allen movies. And that was the end of therapy. So So basically, I lived with this illness, you know, a very acute form of it for 10 years, I had a near death experience, I had a radical, completely unexpected healing event. And then I had this realization, which was like, okay, I can either keep going through this process that I've been going through, which would likely, you know, require, you know, incredible medicalization, and, you know, perhaps more surgeries, because that is one of the things that happens, or I can try to learn some new way to live was like, very stark choice. And I was like, I think I'll try that. And, by just, I don't know, by virtue of making that decision, suddenly, all of these different teachers who I've never would have had any connection to or inclination towards, began to appear in my life, and they were amazing. I mean, just really amazing. So, you know, for the last 40 years, basically, I've been focused on on the first learning to heal so my book that is called on learning to heal, basically, it chronicles my learning curve. It explains the first 10 years of incredible medicalization, in which healing was not even offered. To me. Or to anyone. I mean, healing is not part of what modern medicine does it for more than 2000 years healing was medicines raison d'etre. It was referred to as the Viessmann, Atrix Natori, the natural power of healing and what doctors tried to do was to support it and encourage it. That's what Hippocratic medicine does. But beginning at the end of the 19th century, when medicine tried to become more like a science and less like an art, healing dropped out. And so now, medicine, as we understand it, basically is focused on while diagnosis, which has always been the trademark of medicine since 500, BCE. Treatment, prognosis and billing, those are the basic parameters for medical care, but not healing. Like, yeah, so yeah, so what I'm trying to do is to reclaim healing as our birthright, it's every living organism since the first cell that sprang into existence has had the capacity to heal. It's a biological phenomenon, without which none of us will be alive. And yet, we take it for granted.
Right, right. Yeah. That's amazing, amazing story. I really appreciate you sharing that. That's yeah, so As we think about the difference between the approach medicine takes now. And the difference between that and healing, can you? Can you flesh that out for us a little more?
Yes, absolutely. So I make a distinction between So firstly, I just want to emphasize, in no way do I am I trying to disrespect medicine, I would have died on a number of occasions, without mess, and I'm very happy to be here to be, you know, a success story, a poster child for you know, the things that medicine can do. Be that as it may be that there's also things that medicine could do that it doesn't do, that it's lost track of in a certain way. And so the difference between healing and curing, I like to say is healing doesn't imagine that we can erase our experiences of illness to go back to the way we were, before we got ill. I mean, in life, there is no going back. Healing represents our vital capacity as living organisms to enhance the quality of our lives, and the conditions in which we live them, whatever they may be. So it's about changing and growing. And medicine is about it. In western medicine in particular, I mean, that's what medicines is, there are other kinds of therapeutic practices, but it's really good if you're acutely ill, if you're acutely, Ill get yourself to a doctor. But especially for now, for the many, many chronic conditions that people experience, all of the autoimmune illnesses, cancers, lung COVID, you know, medicine is not equipped to do that, in part because of the frameworks that its knowledge practice is based on which are a highly individualistic, and have like this kind of assumption, that what we are as living organisms is sort of bounded by a skin envelope, and that we are these little, you know, bubbles of life that are separated from everything else. And, and that, you know, that the environment, our relationship to the environment, meaning not just the physical environment, but our social environment, our psychological environment, our spiritual environment, and literally our environment right now, like, the biosphere, like, let's face it, the planet needs healing right now. And, I mean, there's so much that needs healing, that our cultures need healing, our nations need healing, you know, our rivers need healing our oceans need healing, I mean, so, you know, what I like to suggest is that, you know, partly, you know, because of its desire to incorporate the knowledge that the new techniques of, of bioscience, in the course of the 20th century, have come up with, which are remarkable or are absolutely, you know, until the 21st century, and the things that can be done now are seemingly miraculous. And yet, the ethos is not one that is about supporting and encouraging the our capacity to live better, it's about keeping us alive. And you know, that's a good baseline. But, I mean, that seems like setting the bar kind of low. And we don't even do that super well, given that, you know, we don't have universal health care, you know, and so many people's, you know, health care is impaired by all different kinds of structural and administrative problems, you know, not to mention financial problems, not to mention, you know, the amounts of debt that people are in because they've received medical treatment, I would say, none of that is healing techniques might have saved your life. But if you end up with hundreds of $1,000 in debt, that is not a healing context
is. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So it's, it's, you know, I was just sitting here, thinking, as you were explaining that, you know, thinking about what is the definition of healing, in terms of, you know, what, what does that mean for somebody to be healed? You know, I guess initially, I think, you know, well, they're no longer they no longer have a disease or they no longer have an ailment or they no longer have those things. But what you're saying is, is really more about a transformation in a way that accepts the scars that come with it.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And Moreover, sometimes dying is healing. You know, I mean, the thing is that, you know, and again, you know, no disrespect to medicine, but you know, medicine, it's anti deaths, as if we all weren't going to die, you know. So when I tried to say that healing is about growing and changing, that includes dying, dying is a kind of changing that we will all go through. And, you know, I mean, I personally have, you know, in my, you know, like, with my father or with my friends, I mean, I've been with people for whom dying has been incredibly healing, you know, so, I mean, I'm not promoting dying as the best way of healing, but I'm just saying, yeah, it's
perfect sense. Yeah.
I mean, you know, and you often hear, like, you know, you hear people say, getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me, or, you know, that, like, there are opportunities that get presented to us as obstacles, you know, and the question is, you know, and this would be a healing orientation, rather than approaching an obstacle as an affliction, or, you know, as an indication of some, you know, kind of deficiency or, you know, the question would be, well, how can I learn to grow? And to be more who I am through this process? Because it's all life? Yeah. It's all life. Yeah, the question is, in this life, how can we become more expansive, more graceful, you know, more loving, more compassionate, you know, you know, how you know, or whatever the qualities are, that are important to you in this life? I don't know what emotions choices are. But but, you know, these things that often seem to come at us, you know, like that my book is called on learning to heal or what medicine doesn't know. But it was, originally, I wanted to call it Shit happens. The publisher wouldn't let me. But that such shit happens all the time. Right? Yeah. And those are the moments at which we have to pause and become aware of like, well, what is going on? Right now, I can't take this for granted anymore. I mean, much of the time, you know, many people operate just on kind of autopilot, you know, I mean, and, you know, which is no disrespect to me, you know, just subsistence living for many people, you know, that just takes up all of your time and all of your energy and, you know, creating a life for yourself and your family and your community. I mean, that's a lot of work. So, you know, we get we have these habituated ways of being in the world. And weirdly, illness is one of the ways that we are offered the opportunity to stop and to think about, well, what are these values that we assume are self evident? Like if we can't do certain things anymore? Or who are we are? Have we lost ourselves? Or is this the possibility that we can become something more than we were before? And you know, that I'm in and I speak about that, from my experience. I mean, I mean, I'm not advocating people have Crohn's, I'm not advocating people beyond immunosuppressant drugs for 10 years, I'm not advocating people who have near death experiences, bleed out, and you know, horrible things happen to them, none of that I would have chosen let me tell you, however, retrospectively, I can tell you that that was the most amazing, you know, impetus to changing that could have happened. And, you know, and it really, as I was saying, given my background, it just like, there was nothing in my background that prepared me to move in the direction that I then have been moving in for the last 40 years. So, you know, so as I like to suggest, you know, holding the capacity of healing, which we all have, you know, allows us to kind of entertain the possibility to act as if these things that we see as afflictions might also be opportunities, which isn't to say they're not painful, or difficult, or we would rather not have them, but they're there.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, as you are, as you were talking yet I was. I was reminded of Victor Frankel's book, Man's Search for Meaning. And just Thinking about the the horrific things that he went through in the German concentration camps and how he came out of that, in many ways, and these aren't his words, but he came out of that more hole into some degree. And that he found, he found meaning and what happened to them. And so it was like he had a better the transformation was a new, it was a different understanding of him, self and others through that through that whole experience. And I think that's kind of what I hear you saying is is that, you know, is your right shit happens, life happens. And we're all going to be faced with adversity as we're, as we're recording this, we I've, and I've shared this with a little bit on the podcast, my wife is now in hospice care. And so seeing the all of that transformation, and all of that sort of thing, and like, like you've mentioned, you know, went through my father's death, and just all of those, all of those things that are not, are not fun things they suck. It's terrible stuff for anybody to go through. But you're right, I think there is so much healing that can come from that. And then it causes us to be transformed in a way that's, it's really hard to put words to.
Absolutely. Well, yes, absolutely. I definitely have had many of those experiences. Where and, and that's sort of, I mean, ironically, I mean, I guess maybe one of the joys of being alive, is surprising yourself at who you can become that until we have these opportunities, let's call them, you know, there are aspects of ourselves that remain unrealized. And they're huge resources. And, you know, for whatever reason, you know, crisis happens to be one of our preferred ways of, of addressing change. I mean, it's not the only way, it's certainly not the most graceful way, it's certainly not the most pleasant way. And nonetheless, it is a common way, you know, both at the level of for individuals and collectives, and right now, the whole world, you know, and to be able to be like, Oh, yes, I've been assuming I, I, or we are what you know, are like this. But turns out that there was something else there all the time, that I didn't have to pay attention to, because the circumstances that I was living in, didn't ask of me to question myself in such a way that I could find these aspects of who I am, that actually are quite wonderful, you know, that, you know, have great capacity capacities to help me and others learn to live otherwise, you know, and, you know, and if, you know, if we think that living otherwise might be something that we're interested in doing, because, you know, obviously, not everyone is, I mean, some people, I mean, there are a lot of people in our country who just want to go back to some thing. Before which, you know, as I like to say, there's, as I said before, there's no going back, going back, but if you're in that frame of mind, then this is not going to appeal to you. I mean, many people are, like, Doctor fix it, you know, like, like, as if it's like, you're taking your car to a mechanic, you know, like, do the, you know, it's like, if, if that's your orientation, you know, I'm, that's you, I can't do anything. And I'm here to say, that's not the only way to be.
Yeah, well, and I've got to be respectful of your time. And this has been a wonderful conversation. tell folks how they can get in touch with you and find out more about your book and that's where
so if people are interested, my website is called Healing counsel.com and it has a lot of information about my practice and my life and where I come from, and you can get my books through my website. The most recent book is called on learning to heal or what medicine doesn't know it's available also on that Amazon are blindly at bookstores, near you, and I'm happy to be in touch on my website, healing council.com There's a contact page, if you want to be in touch, send me an email, and I'd be happy to talk to you.
Awesome, awesome. And we'll have links here in the show notes and shares summary for people to get to that easily. Yeah, I'd love to spend more time talking with you just around this whole topic, because I think it's Yeah, I think it's, it's, yeah, I think, if when when someone can grasp this concept of healing, and and I've heard it put, usually, I think of this whole concept in terms of kind of a spiritual realm to some degree. And, you know, I think people follow that path in their own way in their own, you know, in their own meaning. But I think you've really hit on something that I think the more ways we can communicate this, which you've done through your book, I think the easier it is for people to grasp it.
Well, I hope so that's certainly a would be a really, that would be a really great thing. You know, that I feel like I could have contributed if, right,
well, thanks. Well, thanks, Anna. Hopefully, we'll have another conversation here saying,
Oh, that'd be lovely. And good luck to you. And you know, I hope that your wife's transformation is as graceful and loving as possible.
Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate that.
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L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT |Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person. He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook . And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.