This article was written by Antonie Peppler, the founder of Creative Homeopathy, who talks about the terms “Health” and “Sickness” and how these conditions were defined during the ages. As a result, she touches on symptom language and how our subconscious mind communicates messages through the body—what we call somatization. Also, she explains that all physical matter has a psychological imprint.
The Concept of Well-being in different Timeframes
The terms “health” and “sickness” have always been closely bound with the development of human society. If we look at the period from ancient times to the modern age, it becomes apparent how strongly the understanding of health and sickness is imprinted ideologically and socially. As we understand it today, the term health stems from Ancient Greece. It goes back to the doctors Hippocrates (460 – 390 b.c.) and Galen (129 – 216 a.d.).
Health in Ancient Times
For them, health meant living as the unity of body, mind, and spirit in harmony with nature. In this scheme of things, spiritual health was highly valued.
Today when we glance at the so-called psychosomatic illnesses and their origins, we recognize how right both these old gentlemen were. Furthermore, we have Galen to thank for uniting two conflicting medical points of view, achieving something like a combination of symptom language and anatomy for the first time.
During Middle Ages
In contrast, health in the Christian Middle Ages was imprinted with functional aspects. In the center stood the shapeliness and operational efficiency of the body. It was valid to complete this life, as a stepping stone to heavenly redemption, with the highest possible attainment and godliness. Health was not regarded as contrivable but as divine providence. Sickness signified godly punishment and was also considered by the church as means of purification.
And sometimes, we still encounter these points of view today. The grasping for wrong food is “punished” by superfluous kilos, a sensible, and of course, ascetic way of life is considered the ultimate lifestyle. Praise and reward inclusive. Even though the whole thing is perhaps somewhat opposed to pleasure, we can regain the appropriate balance in highly atmospheric self-discovery seminars. In this way, we can, at least for the moment, return to a state of harmony.
Age of Enlightenment
In the Age of the Enlightenment, health became a civic duty. The progress of the natural sciences led to the consideration of aspects like population trends and environmental factors. In contrast to the medieval approach centered on belief in God, health was now considered a condition that one could influence on the one hand through changes in behavior, on the other through authoritarian measures. Health was an expression of “good, determined people.”
In the 19th and 20th centuries, this tendency, already begun in the Enlightenment, became prevalent. Health was reduced exclusively to a functional context, to the mechanisms of life processes. Health as an available capacity was considered highly dependent on outside influences and factors, such as air, water, clothing, education, hygiene, upbringing, orderliness, and the knowledge of the relationship of bodily functions. The disease was considered to be the result of harmful external influences.
In contrast to this stood the concept of health developed by life reformers such as Sebastian Kneipp, Eduard Balzer, and Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner. Based on the discoveries of Christian Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836), they developed alternative semi–natural treatments for civilization’s diseases. They started from the assumption that in every individual, a life force operated, which became weakened through illness and could be strengthened through appropriate measures.
Health, in their terms, is its integration into the environment and the sensing of that organic life force, which connects the person with the nature surrounding him. Throughout the development of health concepts, self-awareness and intuition shifted more and more into the center.
After the 2nd World War
After the Second World War, health was understood to be the absence of disease for a long time. And yet, as early as 1946, it was defined in the World Health Organisation (WHO) charter as:
“The condition of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not only the mere absence of disease or disability.”
So health was recognized to be not only physical but to have social aspects as well. However, this expanded concept of health also frequently led to diseases being squeezed into classification schemes. For treating them, either medicines, vaccines, or social programs were developed or recommended. Given the transformation caused by business and economics, the purely biomedical view came in for more and more criticism.
The Israeli-American medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky (1923-1994) developed the concept of salutogenesis in the 1970s. In this model, health is understood as a process, the basis of which is the so-called “sense of coherence.”
“The sense of coherence is a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, dynamic sense of confidence that the stimuli arising in the course of life from the internal and external environment are structured, predictable, and explainable; one has the resources available to meet the demands posed by these stimuli; these demands are challenges worthy of effort and commitment.”
In uncomplicated terms:
“Health is what it feels like.”
The current Health Paradigm
Nowadays, more than ever, the inner relationships of the healing process and the influence one has over them occupy the center ground in the definition of health. The question of individual self–responsibility has become the topic of health preservation and health promotion. The efforts of doctors, sociologists, and members of other medical callings do not any more exclusively consist of maintaining competent health “repair workshop.” On the contrary, the need for individual participation is recognized and required. However, the concept of self-responsibility is frequently restricted to external factors.
In the last decades, a rapid transformation concerning the meaning of the concept of disease has occurred. While the dominant infectious diseases of the last centuries have declined mainly, the so-called chronic diseases predominate – that is to say, civilization diseases such as allergies, heart and lung diseases, metabolic disorders, the nerve and muscular systems, or, for instance, the gastrointestinal system.
New Challenges in Well-Being
Nowadays, mental and psychosomatic disturbances and also addictions are rising exponentially. The common factor in all these types of illness is that they are not reducible to a clear-cut correlation between cause and effect. In addition, come a whole bunch of syndromes. With all due respect, one should not forget that a syndrome is nothing more than a collection of symptoms, and much scientific effort was put into the attempts to systematize them. Thanks to that, we have something that begins with “Morbus” or ends with “syndrome.” Therefore, it is no surprise that the diagnostic procedures for such symptom pictures resemble drawing numbers in a lottery.
When, for example, a particular disease – or better, a symptom picture according to ICD-10, globally the most important and recognized medical diagnosis classification system—does not exist at all, and, as a result, is not, according to the health authorities, worth treating, nevertheless the psychologists with their own system, the so-called DSM-IV, create out of them whole colonies and worlds, then nothing distinguishes the modern medical practitioner from the barber-surgeon and country doctor of past centuries: we are still used to drawers. If these are missing, we are insecure.