Elliot S. Dacher, M.D. Photo by Ralph Stewart
A shift toward the future
"Integral Health: The Path to Human Flourishing," by Elliott S. Dacher, M.D. Basic Health, 2006. $17.95. 224 pages.
Is western medicine ready for a paradigm shift that transits from a mechanistic view of the body to a holistic perspective that incorporates mind and spirit into the healing process? Dr. Elliott S. Dacher believes the answer is yes, and he outlines his vision for a new era of medicine in the upcoming book "Integral Health - The Path to Human Flourishing." According to Dr. Dacher, we now have the opportunity to extract the finest elements of Eastern and Western healing traditions to forge a new vision of health.
Dr. Dacher commences the book with a quote by the Indian saint Shantideva calling for universal healing. He then writes, "Dear Reader, I invite you to join me on a journey of self-transformation," whereby he lays out a vision of authentic health, happiness, and wholeness. His definition of wellness goes beyond the absence of aches and ailments to include a vital, vibrant sense of wellbeing that extends from the inner spiritual realms to one's interactions with the world at large. Dr. Dacher describes the need for an integral shift in one's core being, a process that is often stymied by fear-based habits. "We've been looking outward toward worldly experiences rather than looking inward towards our essence," he writes.
Dr. Dacher practiced internal medicine in Washington, D.C., from 1975 to 1996, a period during which he estimates he conducted more than 45,000 office visits. In his previous books "Intentional Healing" and "Whole Healing" he describes the incompleteness he began to feel with the hasty, mechanical structure of modern medical consultations. His yearning for a more complete vision of medicine that took into account the patient's psycho-emotional state led him to explore Eastern philosophies and their relationship to healing.
"Out of that journey came this book as an expression of how we could move out of our Western medical model to a broader, more expansive level, from inner aspects of healing to the outer," he said in a recent interview.
Two years ago he began seeing patients on Martha's Vineyard in a counseling capacity to explore how underlying emotional issues impact physical health. These unhurried meetings allowed a depth of connection with his clients that was virtually impossible in the rushed hospital setting.
"It's been a real lovely, meaningful experience," Dr. Dacher says. "Of all the things I do, it's the thing I enjoy more than anything. That's where you really can see movement and change, and have a mutuality of growth and learning."
In his new book, Dr. Dacher creates a map to integral health based on Ken Wilbur's Integral Theory. "With access to the West's mastery of outer science and the East's mastery of inner science, we can evolve to the next level of health," he writes.
He describes the signs of positive health as inner control, competence, self-confidence, creativity, sustaining healthy relationships, and having a sense of purpose in life. These qualities lead to spiritual awakening, the ultimate stage of personal development.
Dr. Dacher describes the transformation from ordinary wellness to genuine flourishing through the development of innate healing capacities.
Regarding the importance of personal growth to the healing process, he says, "Our level of inner development cannot be separated from our physiology any more than we can separate ourselves from our shadow."
He backs of the rhetoric with scientific evidence, citing Dr. Robert Ader's breakthrough studies in psychoimmunology in the 1970s that demonstrated the mind's ability to strengthen or weaken the body's immune response. He also cites Dr. Candace Pert's ground-breaking discoveries of neuropeptides and the way these chemical messengers act as the bridge between the conscious mind and the body's biochemical systems.
Dr. Dacher promulgates integral health, a system of healing that is complete, whole, and fully integrated. Its five guiding principles are that it's holistic, evolutionary, intentional, person-centered, and dynamic. The book is chock full of quadrant charts that explain how integral health encompasses psychospiritual, interpersonal, worldly, and biological dimensions of being. These charts can bring back uneasy memories of high school geometry to the math-phobic among us, though with patience one can parse their meaning.
According to Dr. Dacher, one prepares for integral health by perceiving the precious opportunities of a human life, cultivating loving-kindness, and creating an oasis of silence and solitude in one's daily life for contemplative meditation. "In the beginning, most people underestimate the critical importance of the preparations, preferring to rush in to the 'real stuff.' But this is the real stuff. I cannot stress that strongly enough," he writes.
The meditation techniques in the book are infused with Buddhist practice and philosophy. Some of the jargon veers into the type of dialogue one would imagine emanating from the hot tubs at the Esalen Institute, yet most of it remains accessible to the rest of us. Dr. Dacher describes the afflictive emotions of anxiety, anger, greed, jealousy, and insecurity that make life seem like an out-of-control car with no driver at the wheel. "That is why discipline and restraint are needed. Without them, we cannot grow our inner life, and without growing our inner life, we cannot attain integral health," he writes.
He sees mental serenity and clarity as critical health issues rather than abstract luxuries for idle spiritual seekers. He promotes renunciation as a practice while acknowledging the West's phobia toward this concept. "Renunciation here means nothing more than cultivating what brings us happiness, health and wholeness and abandoning what keeps up stuck in stressful and unproductive life patterns," he explains.
Dr. Dacher provides meditation and visualization exercises to deepen awareness and strengthen the mind-body connection. He provides advice for developing an individual integral health practice, with suggestions that individuals use aspects of daily life ranging from the creative arts to sexuality and death to serve as the grist of one's psycho-spiritual practice.
Dr. Dacher ends the book with his vision of a hypothetical Center for Human Flourishing, a combination healing/retreat center where there is a greater interconnectedness between healer and patient. Healers at this center would be trained in deep listening, a skill characterized by compassion and unity of heart and mind. In his view, medicine and healing are ready to embrace this new, holistic paradigm that utilizes multiple dimensions of the patient's self in the healing process, from biochemistry and anatomy to emotional health and interpersonal relationships.
The history of medicine is replete with paradigm shifts, from the advent of germ theory to the unlocking of the genetic code. In "Integral Health," Dr. Dacher presents a bold vision of health that fuses East and West in a synergistic whole. Those willing to embark on this healing journey with Dr. Dacher might very well find themselves on the cutting edge of medicine's next wave.
Dr. Elliott Dacher is a full-time resident of the Vineyard. He offers counseling services to individuals and couples suffering from emotional distress and physical disease who wish to use these adversities as a path to a larger health and life. He can be reached at 508-645-2175. He will be present for a book signing at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Friday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 pm.