Medicine and spirituality are not often concepts we combine. Still, Dr. Jeffrey Rediger has done just that, chronicling the remarkable stories of people who beat the odds on terminal illnesses in his book Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life.
Dr. Rediger, MD, MDiv, is a board-certified psychiatrist, best-selling author, and popular speaker. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and has served as Medical Director of McLean SE Adult psychiatry and Community Affairs at McLean Hospital for many years.
A Broken Medical System
Dr. Rediger talks with us about the broken medical system. While it does do amazing things at times, many people are not getting what they need in terms of medical and psychiatric care. He highlights the problem of medical professionals specializing to the point where the person is lost in the study and care of their parts. The emotional needs, family, and work situations are barely addressed. Due to the current system, very little time is allowed for patient encounters, leading to a lower level of care for the whole person in regard to seeing beyond the medical aspect of things and taking in all factors relevant to their needs.
The Increase in Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Issues
Within the U.S., there are record levels of anxiety, suicidality, and depression, particularly during the pandemic. The World Health Organization reported in March 2022 that “In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25 percent.”
Dr. Rediger shares that many patients are sitting in emergency rooms in the Mass General Brigham system for days and weeks waiting for a bed. Some of them are there because it’s nearly impossible to find an outpatient provider due to a massive shortage.
The Consequences of Burn Out
The demand is high, and staff and program shortages mean larger caseloads, often more than providers should be seeing. This is compounded by the burnout of mental health service providers because they have not been doing self-care as their schedules fill up day after day and long waiting lists are established. The consequences of this are seen in the nursing profession, where people are leaving the field because of burnout and moral injury. It’s a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Trauma’s Role in Healing
Despite this, there are positives. Dr. Rediger shares with us how he became interested in studying spontaneous remission, with his childhood roots playing a role. His father grew up in the Amish tradition in northern Indiana and left it when Dr. Rediger was two years old. This beginning made him question the world in general and the contradiction of the Bible as sufficient for all knowledge while he was also learning other things in school, like math and social studies. He questioned how to reconcile worldviews that were not compatible.
As he was working out that question, he was subject to a very violent home with a lot of trauma and repressed emotion where religion was heavy, legalistic, and used to rationalize a lot of violence. He rebelled and went to college, where he pursued answers to his worldview questions. He entered the seminary at Princeton and dove into theology and philosophy of science. These studies made him understand that “science is a limited but important tool.” He followed his seminary graduation with Medical School and a Psychiatry residency.
Healing the Healer
A meeting with a nurse from Mass General diagnosed with pancreatic cancer started his journey into studying spontaneous cures. She wanted his help discussing her prognosis and diagnosis with her son, which he did. She then went to a healing center and contacted him to let him know she was doing better. She could eat steak and salad again, she had enough energy to exercise, and she wanted to talk with Dr. Rediger about this because of his dual training in medicine and theology. He refused at first as he felt there wasn’t anything in her story that could not be explained by traditional medical interpretation. However, the nurse began asking people to call him about their stories of recovery from around the country and the world. He declined to hear those as he was busy, but in 2003, he began looking into the medical evidence for these recoveries, and “it’s been a life-changing journey since then.”
Evidence, Diagnoses, Medication
Dr. Rediger talks about the medical standard of gathering evidence, making diagnoses, and prescribing medication without asking how people heal. He believes that if we map the genome and figure out the genes, we will have all these healing treatments, but while many illnesses have a genetic basis, those genes are turned on and off by lifestyle and choices around nutrition, among other things. He discusses that 85 percent or more of illnesses have lifestyle issues at their base, and doctors are treating the symptoms but foregoing the investigation into the causes.
He talks with us about the importance of sleep, which is when our body rewires and restores itself, discussing how common it is for people admitted to hospitals (medical or psychiatric) to mention they are not sleeping well. Allowing the body to sleep is a significant component of healing. Our bodies want to heal, and we must help them by setting up a foundation of healing components, including sleep and nutrition.
Stroke of Insight
Dr. Rediger tells the story of Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who had a stroke that took out most of her left brain in 1996. She met with Dr. Rediger 22 years after that, and he discusses her comment that in 22 years, no doctor ever asked her how she fully recovered from a stroke. Her TED talk about her recovery went viral, and she has a best-selling book called Stroke of Insight. Time Magazine named her as one of the most influential people of 2008. Given all that, doctors should be clamoring to study her experience and understand it, but Bolte Taylor said none of them are interested in doing so. Dr. Rediger believes we need a paradigm shift where medical professionals begin to help people understand the roots of their illnesses and how to start healing them.
Studying the Healing
Dr. Rediger delved into this, gathering people for his study, which was a professional and personal journey. His background of growing up in a violent, confusing household and trying to discern what was true informed his need to incorporate an understanding of how trauma and violence can also impact our healing journey. This includes the developmental trauma of learning false beliefs about one’s values, goodness, and the unique nature they bring into the world. If you have false beliefs about your value, Dr. Rediger believes that its own kind of developmental trauma plays a huge role in the issues that seep into our minds and bodies later.
This kind of upbringing subjected Dr. Rediger to many of the beliefs that are inherent within cults as well, the indoctrination, the fear, the phobias, and the undue influence that permeates our lives in such a way that they can inhibit, control, and even shut down our minds and bodies. If one is taught, for example, that anger and feelings are not OK or boundaries are unacceptable, they end up with moral barometers that are upside down. This can lead to responding to moral situations with compliance and obedience rather than a true understanding of human rights and empathy.
The Lessons of Nazi Germany
We talk about the research cited in David Cooperson’s book The Holocaust Lessons on Compassionate Parenting and Child Corporal Punishment. In Nazi Germany in World War II, the difference between the less than 0.5 percent of Germans who protected Jews and those who became Nazis and participated in the extermination of Jewish people was whether they were raised with corporal punishment as children. Raising children with curiosity and empathy rather than physical violence makes an astonishing difference in how they view the world and themselves.
Returning to the discussion of his study of people who were cured of terminal illnesses, Dr. Rediger talks about the three criteria he had for people invited to participate:
- According to all that we currently understand, the person had to have a genuinely incurable illness.
- Medically indisputable evidence for accurate diagnosis and clear evidence for recovery.
- No experimental medication or anything else that could potentially explain how they got better.
Preparing for Death and Living Life
Dr. Rediger shares with us the story of Claire, a woman diagnosed in 2008 with pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which is the worst form of pancreatic cancer. She expected to be dead within a year as she was told by doctors to prepare for death. In 2013, she had an abdominal CT scan for unrelated reasons, and the cancer was gone. Doctors thought it must have been misdiagnosed originally, so a case conference was convened, and they looked at her biopsy slides, discovering the diagnosis was accurate.
Dr. Rediger looked at what Claire did in regard to her diagnosis. She opted out of chemotherapy and radiation because those would extend her life by months, and she wanted to spend that time with family and loved ones rather than sitting in doctors’ offices. She also opted out of surgery as it was a complicated procedure that would leave her with digestive problems and pain. She began cleaning up her nutrition, scrapping sugar and refined flour, the latter causing a lot of inflammation within the body, which can lead to cancer as it’s an inflammatory disease.
She also addressed her stress responses, realizing she was living in fight or flight mode. She had a lot of unresolved issues within relationships that mattered to her. She began doing a lot of healing work on her inner world around those relationships because she wanted to be able to forgive in an authentic way that would liberate her rather than practicing spiritual bypassing.
Dr. Rediger explains that spiritual bypassing is using religion or spirituality to overlook the realities of our lives, the traumas, the challenges, and the difficulties, which can make things a lot harder to manage, given that we are not facing these things. It is the use of religion and spirituality as ways of numbing ourselves rather than making genuine contact with ourselves and others so we can love deeply and authentically. Lissa Rankin MD’s books Mind Over Medicine and Sacred Medicine dovetails nicely with his work.
Additionally, facing those traumas and learning to set boundaries is so important as part of the healing journey because, as Dr. Rediger quotes from Dr. Gabor Maté’s The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, “When you don’t know how to say no, your body will say it for you.”
Activating What is Within Us
We discussed what traits healers have, and Dr. Rediger talked about them being complicated individuals who are, overall, human and the importance of understanding that healing comes from activating what’s within all of us. Healers do this, and they create the right conditions to facilitate healing.
It’s also important to note that if people are not spontaneously cured, this is not something they need to blame themselves for, the intersection of science, medicine, theology, and healing is all still being discovered. Regardless, eliminating toxicity in our nutrition, relationships, and physical, mental, and emotional health can only be helpful for living a full life, whatever that means for each person.
https://www.pathtofaith.com/ Isaam Nemeh MD
The Therapeutic Use of Hypnosis to Improve Health and Recover From Trauma with Laurence Sugarman M.D.https://freedomofmind.com/the-therapeutic-use-of-hypnosis-to-improve-health-and-recover-from-trauma-with-laurence-sugarman-m-d/