Loolwa Khazzoom: Why is energy healing often considered “woo-woo”?
James Dillard: The vast majority of people who would say that energy work or energy medicine is “woo woo” are also people who hold strong religious beliefs. For example, Christians believe that there was a man who lived in a whale, believe that there was a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, believe that Jesus was able to turn a little tiny bit of food into enough loaves to be able to feed a huge multitude.
And I can go into the Torah and the Talmud in the Jewish tradition. I can talk about some of the miracles that are mentioned in the Koran. My point is that there’s sort of a double standard.
There are many people who would reject out of hand the notion that there is any such thing as biomedicine, or that it could have any effect on how we feel, on our health. If you question those same people closely, you’ll find that they hold personal beliefs which are purely metaphysical and defy all the rules of physics and the physical world.
I don’t say this to be critical, because I’m very respectful of people’s religious beliefs and religious freedom. I think religion is tremendously important. I would just ask those people to reconsider looking at something like energy medicine and rejecting it out of hand because it seems bizarre or “woo-woo” — simply because it’s not something that’s based upon physical laws or something that can be measured in a laboratory right now.
I would ask them to examine some of their own beliefs, some of their own spiritual systems, and consider whether there are things they believe in that also defy the laws of physics and engineering, that also cannot be measured in the laboratory. In other words, my point is I’d like to see an even footing, a fairness about these things.
We don’t know what’s going on with the whole notion of energy medicine and healing, but you know what? We don’t know about lots of things. And I think that we all need to be able to accept and embrace some of the mystery that goes into health, wellness, healing, how we feel, life, death, disease, our own perceptions.
There’s a tremendous amount of mystery here. And I think we have to be humble in the face of that. We have to be less judgmental and accepting that there are things we don’t know, and that’s OK. It’s actually kind of nice.
LK: Do you think that maybe this double standard is rooted in the fact that in the case of Jesus or Mohammed, these are authority figures outside of us? Is there perhaps a mythological air to whatever happened thousands of years ago, somewhere else — as opposed to energy healing that we can do on ourselves, right here, right now? Do you think there’s almost a fear of self-empowerment, tied into this distinction between a do-it-yourself approach and a defer-to-authority approach?
JD: I think the issue of authority that you bring up is an important one, and it’s also a matter of the familiar vs. the unfamiliar. The Koran and the Torah and the Bible have been around for, well, thousands of years, at least in terms of the Torah and the Bible. The Koran is a little bit more recent.
For some reason, because they were created 2,000 years ago, they carry tremendous weight. But those books — all of them — also make reference to certain kinds of spiritual healing. There’s tons of spiritual healing that goes on in the bible. Not only Jesus, but also his disciples practiced spiritual healing.
So just because it’s unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s unfamiliar. If we get quiet and look at what it is we believe, and look at our religious traditions, these things are actually immensely familiar. So it’s just a matter of looking at energy healing from a different position, a different angle — without prejudice and without judgment. There’s no conflict here.
I have an Episcopalian minister who comes to me, and I do acupuncture and qi-gong with him. This is someone who has recently started to pursue becoming a Reiki master.
This is an older, very sort of stodgy, straight-laced Episcopal minister with a big flock, a big congregation, and he’s embracing something that is completely congruent with his role as a minster, as a pastor, as a priest in the Anglican faith. His position is that acupuncture and qi-gong are completely in alignment with his seminary training and his ministry, and he is able to integrate them completely. He’s not doing the work of the devil. He’s truly ministering to his flock, by becoming a Reiki master.
James N. Dillard, M.D., D.C., C.Ac., is one of the leading pain specialists in America and the author of numerous books on chronic pain, including The Chronic Pain Solution. His many media appearances have included The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and the CBS Evening News. He served as an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons for 12 years and also was the Medical Director of Columbia’s Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. He resigned from employment at Columbia in 2006, to go exclusively into private practice in Manhattan and in Stamford, CT.