Today I’m pondering a rather controversial topic, which I thought interesting enough to share here. These are solely my thoughts and opinions, feel free to discuss or comment (as always). But please do read to the end and understand my words as they are presented. Reasoned arguments are always preferred to internet rantings đŸ˜‰

I was recently given a short course of tablet medication by my GP, with the instruction to ‘try this and see how it goes’. No explanation for precisely what it was or what it was expected to do, just that it would somehow help me, make me better in some way, based on my symptoms.

For the past two weeks, therefore, I have been dutifully taking these tablets. One side-effect is that of a sedative – which will apparently help to ‘make me better’, through a restful night. And beyond, it seems: I have found myself virtually fighting to get through each day through the fug of tiredness and general odd-feeling brought on by these pills. It’s been a trial.

Now, as some of you may know, I’ve worked for the NHS (in an administrative capacity, not clinical). I’m prepared to acknowledge that doctors have access to a wide range of information on ailments and the treatment thereof, and are trained to administer these appropriately. I’m also aware of the opinions  of some regarding those treatments – from the motivations of international drug companies to those of the NHS itself as it deals with increasing numbers of demanding patients.

I’ve seen consultants who’ve forgotten to put the patient’s name on a form, and just a one-word scribbled diagnosis/treatment. I’ve known doctors who work 24/7 to the exclusion of all else, to be there for those in need. I’ve heard patients in need ashamed to call for help. I’ve seen drunks in A&E shouting for drugs.

Much of society is sick. There are good people and bad on both sides of the counter. It’s hard to see the ‘bigger picture’ when not all of those involved are actually aware of it – not always through selfishness, but often through simple human fear as their body (or mind) fails them.

A topic I was looking at recently for my book was that of ‘medicine’ – its definition and meaning, as we understand it. Here’s what I found on the Internet (the first result brought up by Google):


  1. The science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
  2. A drug or other preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease.

Interesting. This truly is a scientific definition, based on current best clinical practice – and that’s fine, so far as it goes.

Finding an older, more ‘traditional’ definition is somewhat harder. After all, medicine existed before Pasteur and his colleagues, from Imhotep and Hippocrates onwards, and those effects are still felt in modern ‘medicine’ as defined above.

(This is a loaded discussion, and I’m not going to go into it in any more depth here. My own best conclusion is that a good deal of exploration is still needed on the relationship between us as patient and identification of illness (cause and symptom), even before treatment is prescribed. Sheer numbers (of people and sicknesses) in the system make this difficult. However, interesting investigation still goes on – such as the recent discovery of exactly what was in frontier ‘snake-oil’.)

It’s hard to find an older definition of ‘medicine’ that stands up to scrutiny (ie what exactly is meant by the term). Shamanic ‘medicine’ is an idea that many of us know about as a concept, but not exactly what it does.

One definition: ‘Shamanic medicine is a merging of the seen and the unseen; the conscious and the subconscious; and a harmonizing of the mind, body and spirit. It is a healing practice which integrates the natural and spirit world, calling on the relationships the medicine person has forged with her allies to gain insight, wisdom and energy to return to the client.’ (From ‘Dimensions in Healing‘)

Or: ‘Shamanic Medicine is soul work.  It takes us straight into the root cause of unrest and heals at the deepest levels.  When something is healed through Shamanic Medicine it stays healed, because we have asked soul directly what needs to be done.’ (From ‘Misha Hoo’s blog, Shamanic Medicine‘)

OK. Neither of these are ‘ancient’ definitions (and certainly not scientific), but I’m not sure that adds any particular validity anyway, so let’s go with what we have.

Shamanic medicine as it is practiced in today’s society generally seems to work on the principle that all of life is connected. Through exploring our relationship with each other – as individuals, connected species sharing space, lived environment and so forth – we can investigate the root cause of a given ailment and actively engage with our own treatment. This tallies marvellously with my principles as Druid; such connectedness is undeniable to me, as lived practically and spiritually (body and soul, you might say). And it does not exclude modern medicine.

Sure, some ‘shamanic’ practitioners may be as superior or elitist (and full of hot air) as some doctors. Authority figures with SECRET MAGICAL HEALING KNOWLEDGE are as old as humanity, I’d guess. And yes, it’s difficult to describe, let alone quantify scientifically, exactly what goes on in what would be called ‘traditional medicine’. The argument for holistic practice goes on. Both modern and ‘traditional/alternative’ doctors may sneer at each other.

But what we seem to have lost is that sense that we, ourselves, are actively involved in our own treatment. Of course we are – we’re the ones suffering and seeking a cure, after all. A common reason that more people are seeking ‘alternative’ treatments is simply because regular, scientific medicine has failed.

Some ‘experts’ have lost the simple ability to relate to those whom they are supposed to be caring for. Medicine begins from the moment you pluck up the courage to step into a doctor’s office – thereby admitting weakness and/or fear. Sometimes a smile, a caring thought and listening ear are the best start to any treatment. Bedside manner counts (despite the deliciously apt satire of Dr Gregory House).

I have no idea what was in the medicine that I was taking, even after looking it up. I took it for long enough to determine that there was no positive effect – on the contrary, the negative was deeply outweighing any positive healing that it was supposed to be providing.

I will report this back to my doctor and see what he says. I am loathe to take any more random pills on the off-chance that they will work – I will suggest finding alternatives.

If ‘medicine’ is finding health through identifying the source of a malady and working towards a solution, I will gladly do so – with a sense of personal responsibility and awareness.

Yes, my spirituality as I live it acknowledges that shamanic sense of connectedness with the wider world. I think that this opens up the potential for treatment to a new level, but it’s still a matter of exploring. Trying pills is part of this, but I’d prefer to undertake such experiments with awareness of what I’m doing. Hopefully my GP will agree.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of being brave enough to try – and that includes questioning the conventional. The relationship between doctor and patient and medicine and patient deserves to be explored, for the benefit of everyone. Human relationship is part of the wider connectedness spoken of above.

We are still learning.



  1. I agree that we need more partnership working with our doctors. The NHS is over-burdened, which means doctors don’t often have time to work with us on medications and other treatments.

    As someone with long-term illnesses (including mental illness), though, I feel much more stigma around taking meditation (especially from Pagans and all-natural types) than I do pressure to take medications. I may be very unusual, but I’ve found most doctors keen *not* to over-prescribe, happy to work with informed patients, and willing to respect my decisions over medication. I am very concerned about the rhetoric of over-prescription of certain medications, as much of it is driven by the media, rather than by real research into what is going on. And as people with long-term illnesses, we’re the ones who suffer most from that kind of stigma.

  2. Michelle Jane Williams said

    You’ve hit some nails on the head in this one yet again Cat. It took an extreme circumstance for me to realise that I should always question what it is exactly I am taking and I think that’s something that will never leave me now. There should certainly be more emphasis and partnership between the Nhs and alternative therapies. Enjoyed the Shamanic medicine lesson very much too đŸ™‚ another avenue to explore đŸ™‚ Hope you are feeling better sooner rather than later, love sent your way from all of us over here đŸ™‚

  3. ysgawen said

    Doctors lost my trust when I was a child (one mocked my mother, another took great pleasure in stabbing my leg with a needle because I had annoyed him). I gave up on them entirely in 1985 and hope never to see one again. My medicine comes in the form of herbs, essential oils, stones and home remedies.

    I have met one good doctor, and he retired early in order to take care of his sick wife.

  4. nicky ferguson said

    Right from the outset there I picked up on what you meant. It is very important that when a doctor prescribes a treatement-whatever that treatment is that they have firstly taken time to show the patient that they understand their condition. They explain it. They then explain the treatment and why they think it will help. I totally relate! My gosh. Yes only this last few weeks-I had to go to hospital to have my gallbladder removed..the stress brought on Sciatica. It was awful-had it before the operation, and after. I kept saying to the nurses-look the opps gone fine but my Sciatica is really troubling me. In short not that it was ignored but not really given the time and attention I needed. Eventually I saw the replacement GP here-he was lovely!! He took time to understand that I was worrying why I had Sciatica-what courses it. That the outlook was positive (we tend to worry dont we). Advice on how to manage it. He prescribed me a muscle relaxant with a sedative that helps me sleep and explained it would de-contract the muscles etc. Demonstrating with gestures (as he was speaking French)-carefully making sure I understood the benefit. Plus I could have Iboprofen to bring down the inflamation in my back etc as long as I took anti acid tablets (for my stomach ulcers). He also said he would call me and reassured me that if it got really really bad-I could have an epidural type treatment. Well I immediately felt better! Its in the mind isnt it partly-illness. Its not that we imagine it-but he was just great-he empathised-he acknowledged I felt poorly-he explained my illness back to me and gave me lots of advice-prescribed but explained the treatement and also gave me some future solutions if the problem continued-and talked about those that are less good-options that are better-massage etc.
    Your book sounds great, I really look forward to reading it.

  5. joannavdh said

    Indeed, we cannot leave the responsiblity of our health solely to our doctors, we have to take an active role in medecine. If that means asking questions all the time, then that is what we must do, for we cannot know all the circumstances invovled when we are given a prescription. Far too often we take a passive role, and when confronted by non-caring health practitioners, we can develop a mind set of giving up on the whole health profession. But there are good doctors and bad doctors out there, and we must accept a responsibility to tell them everything, to ask questions when it is not clear, and to seek help elsewhere where we find it lacking or not sufficient to our needs.

  6. Andrew Smith said

    My wife has been on a cocktail of ever-changing drugs throughout her adult life to keep her various ailments in check… and drugs to tackle the side-effects of the drugs! It’s like the story of the woman who swallowed a fly, spider, etc.

    On shamanic healing, the effects of our mental health on our physical health has been proven in numerous scientific studies and is generally recognised nowadays in medical circles, and psychotherapy/counselling increasingly provided (though still not enough) partly in order to improve patients’ physical health. Is this medical use of headology essentially the ‘shamanic healing’ of a scientific age?

  7. Raphael's Legacy by Barry Hardy said

    I really enjoyed this post in particular its forthright nature, however and whilst I wasn’t initially inclined to contribute a view upon mainstream medicine. I did find myself upon a second read drawn to simply articulate this; where mankind is driven by left brain thinking and thinkers, the net result is always hypocrisy, pain and far to much unnecessary suffering. Such is the culture that underwrites mainstream medicine.

    That’s why I’m a right brain thinker and a shaman, because I see only glory for my soul in healing and loving and healing some more, for that is my way as a shaman.

    Very big thank you for sharing your wonderful insight in this post, it oozed authenticity and great inner wisdom and there’s a wonderful energy surrounding your blog too.

    Sincere regards, Barry

  8. Alexa Laurie said

    I read your blog with interest, as I am a family practitioner myself.
    First, I agree that it is important for us all to be involved in, and take responsibility for our own health care.
    It is so much safer if we know whAt we are taking and why. A lot of the medications we use are very strong, and some are downright dangerous if not used properly and even when used right!
    On a deeper level, I acknowledge that medicine as practised generally is very one sided, as in” fixing what’s broke” and relieving symptoms rather than getting to the bottom of the problem. I think medicine is limited by its definition, as you wrote in your blog Cat. In Ayurveda, the Vedic system of medicine, they tell us that if there is balance in our mind-body principles, our digestion and elimination, and we are content and in equilibrium in mind, body and spirit, health will be revealed. I find this a beautiful definition, and feel that a lot of the time, as physicians, we are barking up the wrong tree. Medicine should be consciousness based, not body based. I really think that if it was, we would have a beautifully integrated health system where we would not be given unknown nostrums to see how it goes but have the tools to really look after ourselves, at the deepest level, with help when we needed it.
    I live in Canada, and the healthcare system is similar in principle to the NHS, ie universal and paid for by taxes, and though I appreciate how great it is that it enables us to be treated without worry of personal financial hardship, as in the US, I see daily how we give people symptom relief where deeper enquiry is needed, partly due to time constraints and partly due to the wrong paradigm. What do you think?

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