Bonnie Horrigan: Health Care Transformer

shapeimage_2“I was aghast at how mechanical health care was.  The person was being bypassed.  It was as if people were cars – you know, you go in and fix the brakes or replace the oil.  I knew that people were much more than machines,” says Bonnie Horrigan, describing to me what drew her to become a pioneer publisher for the now burgeoning field of integrative medicine.

Horrigan is an enlightener, educating and encouraging the public and those in health care to see that health is about more than just bodily components.

She came to that realization after publishing reports and papers for The American Association of Critical Care Nurses.  Those nurses, on the front lines of caring for people, gave her a grant to start one of the first integrative medical journals:  Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, which she co-founded in 1995 with Dr. Larry Dossey and Dr. Jeanne Achterberg.

Anyone interested in a “mind-body-spirit” approach to health owes Bonnie Horrigan a huge debt of gratitude that this concept is now accepted in today’s health conversation.

Horrigan is Executive Director of the Bravewell Collaborative, a Minneapolis based foundation whose mission includes “transforming health care and improving the health of the public through integrative medicine.”  She’s also Editorial Director of the medical journal, EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing.

What is integrative medicine?  Horrigan says, “I think the Bravewell definition is accepted across the whole field now.  It took about ten years of sorting and sifting to get to that and it speaks to what’s key when you’re dealing with human health.”  Here it is:

Integrative medicine is an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health.  Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, integrative medicine uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimal health.

Note that several influences on health in this definition are factors that directly affect our thinking.

Despite resistance from the existing allopathic medical paradigm, Horrigan feels that integrative medicine has made great progress.  “In 2002, eight major university medical schools interested in integrative medicine formed, The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine.  There are now fifty-six member schools.”

“In the beginning, people were worried that integrative medicine was weird and not ‘real science.’  But that’s all getting debunked as the research comes out and people see, ‘Hey, it works and it’s cheaper and less invasive.’  But that doesn’t mean you throw out conventional medicine.  This is about giving conventional medicine a better approach.”

Does she think an integrative approach to health will ever become the norm?  “I do, actually.  I think a hundred years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘Remember when they used to cut people open anytime they could?!’  It won’t happen overnight but we’ve made so much progress in the last ten years, it’s amazing.”

Horrigan told me she’s been on a spiritual journey since she was sixteen.  How does she view the connection between spirituality and health?  “One thing you cannot do is say, ‘If you’re spiritual, you’re healthy.’  If that were true, saints would never die.  And we’re all spiritual, so you can’t draw a correlation there.”

She elaborated on how our mental attitudes affect our health outcomes.  “I think the will to live is an important factor in any health event.  Say you have a person with a disease and if they have a strong will to live, they’re going to be activating their own internal resources to help themselves.  Take a person with the same disease who is depressed and perhaps wants to die – they’re not going to be activating their own internal resources; they’re not going to be making themselves do things they know they should do.”

In 2003, Horrigan authored Voices of Integrative Medicine, comprised of interviews and encounters with leading healers and therapists in the field.  These include intimate, dinner table style conversations with top scientists and physicians about spirituality, making it one of the first modern books on health care to bring this issue to the forefront.

What emerges from these discussions of non-biological aspects affecting health, are some profound thoughts on healing, on consciousness, the healing process and the human condition.

As our quest for health continues to evolve, it appears that the solely mechanistic days are over.