cover image On Learning to Heal: Or, What Medicine Doesn’t Know

On Learning to Heal: Or, What Medicine Doesn’t Know

Ed Cohen. Duke Univ, $25.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4780-1932-9

In this probing critique, Cohen (Talk on the Wilde Side), a women’s, gender, and sexuality studies professor at Rutgers University, contemplates the limitations of Western medicine. Cohen suggests that “medicine’s investments in knowing ‘what’s wrong with us’ and how to ‘fix it’” have limited patients’ ability to conceptualize alternative forms of healing. He recounts almost dying from Crohn’s disease in his early 20s and the unexplained phenomena he experienced during his hospitalization, including music-induced trances that lessened his pain and an unexpectedly successful recovery that caused his surgeon to remark, “I have no idea how you got better so quickly.” Historical and philosophical excursions explore the birth of Western medicine, Michel Foucault’s ideas about how medicine came to focus on biological (rather than supernatural) sources of disease, and the professionalization of the healing profession in the late 19th century. Cohen reflects on alternative healing methods he’s tried and writes that tai chi awakened a “new kind of kinesthetic awareness in me” while movement classes’ emphasis on process over achievement challenged Western medicine’s insistence on measurable outcomes. Though the philosophy sometimes feels thrown it at random, the discussions are nonetheless incisive and will win over those wary of the outré considerations of the role “energy” plays in alternative healing. The searching questions raised are well worth considering. (Jan.)