Thursday, June 27, 2013

Curing vs Healing In Medicine, and In Law

Tonight I found myself reading a blog post in which the author Laura, a person undergoing extensive medical treatment for a serious illness, discusses insight she gained from a workshop for persons undergoing health challenges.  One of the main insights she gained was a new perspective on the difference between "curing" and "healing."* Laura writes:

Curing is disease oriented and doesn't address the mind, heart or spirit. The word healing . . . is defined as 'to be made whole' and involves body, mind, heart and spirit. It starts from within. A key point was that healing can occur even when a cure is not achieved. A person can also be cured even though they may still require healing. ... Healing helps to restore wellness, which is defined as the highest level of physical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual wellness that a person is capable of.  [ The link to Laura's blog is HERE.]
Truly, this difference between healing and curing is a perspective that we must never lose sight of.   A "cure" gets rid of a disease, but it cannot address the broader components that are required to help a person regain a sense of wholeness.  On the other hand, even though we would prefer to "cure" a disease, in cases where that is not possible it is still preferable to help a person be as whole  -- physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually -- as can be achieved under the circumstances.  This, it seems to me, should be the highest aim of medicine.  And, as I think about it, it may also encapsulate what I view as being the highest aim of law.

The analogy in law between "cure" and "healing" is one that attorneys deal with frequently.  Namely, perhaps the contrast between what can be achieved through the means of litigation (or efforts to "fix" things), versus the corresponding reality of how that intervention pans out for the person in real life.  Nowhere is this difference more profound, I think, than in the type of law which I practice, which is all about families and relationships.  This is because, if litigation is the only tool in the attorney's toolbox, the "cure" for an ailment may be quite damaging in and of itself, and it may leave a person feeling as if their remedy were quite unsatisfactory.

Take divorce, for example.  The immediate "prescription" may appear to be an action petitioning a court to divide property, settle out parenting plans for children, and decree support obligations within the re-arranged family.  The "cure" is theoretically a divorce decree.   However, the process of legal action may itself be a bit analogous to chemotherapy in terms of how much fun it is.  The lawsuit itself may cause significant damage to the financial well being of the parties (through the cost of litigation) and also may destroy whatever relationship is left and hence ability of the parties to cooperate together to parent their children.  The "cure" in the form of a divorce decree may leave the parties still embittered and quarreling.

Yet, many attorneys feel that if their client tells them they want to sue, that's what they must do.  This is anchored in the attorney's duty of zealous advocacy, an ethical obligation to advance the best cause of their client.  And truly, if a divorce is what the client wants, that's what the attorney  will try to achieve, and on the best terms possible for their clients.  However, what if the client's real need is to achieve an amicable split, not necessarily an expensive and blown out court battle?  Is a court battle really going to result in a "cure," or is there a more "healing" alternative?

Along these lines, some attorneys will look at the client's overall goals and needs, and suggest ways to meet those goals and needs.  Sometimes this may involve litigation, and other times not.   I believe this is what gives rise to the part of the title attorneys use for themselves, Attorney and Counselor at Law.  The discernment of meeting the client needs is the "counselor" part.  Sometimes what a client "needs" is different from merely the "cure" of a court action.  Indeed, the best way to achieve those needs is often to engage in negotiation and to reach agreement within a family, rather than engaging in an adversarial battle in a courtroom.  The analogy to "healing" is when a sense of wholeness and health is restored, in the sense of being able to move on from a painful event with as little collateral damage as possible, even though there may be no hope of restoring the marriage.  (And, ideally, the parties will be given the tools they need to coparent as a team without fighting or bickering.)  Thus, focus on "healing" (meeting the needs of the whole person) as opposed to cure (fixing a particular ailment) can enable better solutions in the legal world as well as in the medical realm.

Another benefit of focusing on "healing" rather than "cure" is that it releases us from fear of failure.  No matter what our project is, and even if it is not a matter involving life or death, if we set out expecting to "cure" every ill, we doom ourselves to failure.  Sometimes things cannot be set aright.  If we set ourselves up seeking only "cure" (e.g. a courtroom "win"?) and for some reason that doesn't happen, then we doom ourselves to a feeling of failure.  It also sets us up to lose sight of the bigger picture, the overall needs of the whole person.  Perhaps if we were to look at the bigger picture of the needs of the whole person, we might choose a different course of action than the mere focus on "cure" would allow.

However, if we hope for healing, then that is a doable project.  There is always -- always -- room to make something better, even if only a little bit.  That, in itself, can make our efforts worthwhile and improve quality of life.  It is a reminder that we must never lose sight of the whole person, and that "healing" is a broader, grander, and actually more attainable goal than the more narrow focus on "cure."  

I find it to be this way in my own professional practice, as well.  I cannot always "fix" what is wrong.  When I was a young lawyer, I used to worry about what if I made a mistake.  The risk of making a mistake is a legitimate fear.  It is the reason that a professional practice is a big responsibility and requires years of training and certification.  However, the flip side to this responsibility is that we do have training, and in appropriate cases the professional is able to use their education, skill, experience, and professional judgment to design strategies and processes that procure a better outcome.  

If I were fixated on finding a figurative "cure" in every case, I sense that I would have an overwhelming fear of failure.  After all, the kinds of problems people come to see me about are not easily "fixed" or "cured."  On the other hand, when someone comes to me for a consultation, I make a judgment about whether there is a reasonable probability that I can help to make things better for that person.  (If I don't feel I can make things better, then it is not an appropriate case for me to work on.)

And then again, this is also a matter of becoming a seasoned professional.  Just as a doctor who does surgery on an "incurable" condition (and thereby causes more pain and suffering without corresponding benefit), so a lawyer who files a lawsuit with no chance of improving things for their client also causes more pain and suffering with no corresponding increase in benefit.  A narrow minded focus on "cure" in both cases does a disservice to our client or patient.  A focus on healing and wholeness, however, is always a blessing.  And so much the better when the healing corresponds also to a cure.  For, isn't that what we all hope for after all.  A healing that also involves a cure.

I feel from Laura's blog that she has already experienced tremendous healing.  I will also hope (and pray) for a complete cure for her, as well.  That is, after all, the highest goal.

*The workshop which discussed the difference between cure and healing was based on the book:  

The Healing Touch
sculpture by Tim Holmes
photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


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