Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Person Centred Medicine

I met up with Professor John Cox recently. He was in Geneva to attend a conference on person centred medicine. John has a distinguished background in psychiatry in the UK, and is currently Professor of Mental Health at the University of Gloucestershire. He knows Geneva well since he was for a time Secretary General of the World Psychiatric Association. He has been involved in the movement for person centred medicine for many years and kindly introduced me to this line of thinking.

In reaction to medical reductionism, person centred medicine seeks to look at the wider picture of the person. This provides considerable space not only for the psychological and emotional, but also for the spiritual. It encourages physicians to take the time and energy to look at the deep rooted causes of illness and not simply to treat symptoms. The famous Genevan physician, Paul Tournier, is closely associated with this movement and made a major contribution to the understanding of the spiritual within the psychosocial approach to the person.

There is inevitably a tension running through the practice of medicine. The body, mind and spirit are complex systems with their own emergent properties. This is what makes each one of us unique. And being unique requires personalised approaches to the pursuit of health. Medical specialties focus on certain parts of the body in order to become more effective in treatments for the heart, the liver, the brain etc. But in the process, the systems thinking required to look at the whole becomes ever more complex. Can medical generalists still maintain the extent of knowledge required to look at the whole system of a single person? Perhaps this is where team work is required.

I would at this point refer to the pioneering work at Burrswood Hospital in the UK. This is a small Christian facility that has emerged from the healing ministry of Dorothy Kerrin. It has traversed the boundaries between spiritual, emotional and physical and offers a uniquely creative approach to the discipline of medicine. It utilises the skills of physicians, physiotherapists, counsellors and chaplains to allow patients to address their health from all angles. These work together and consult on the basis that most patients will need multiple interventions. For more information, take a look at their website: http://www.burrswood.org.uk/

However, with more complexity and greater attention to the person comes higher expenditure for the cost of skilled care. This is no easy tension to confront and may require fresh thinking about how people are supported in their pursuit of health. Perhaps you have some experience you can share? Do please offer comments.

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