The Difference Between Curing and Healing – Health System Example

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"The Difference Between Curing and Healing" is a great example of a paper on the health system. It is easy to look up a dictionary definition of the two words. Cure means healing or restoring to health; remedy.   Healing means curing or curative; prescribed or helping in healing or growing sound; getting well; mending (Dictionary. com). It appears at first glance that there is a concrete meaning in the word cure, that is, if someone is cured the illness, injury or disease goes away. On the other hand, there appears to be a much deeper implication in the meaning of healing.

Healing is helping someone to grow sound.   An individual could not be cured yet they could be healed. The patient's support group, mental state, and the physician’ s beliefs all contribute to healing. This is not a new idea.   Sir William Osler (1849-1919) published a textbook in 1892 called Principles and Practice of Medicine.   There were two revolutionary ideas in this text.   First Osler taught that medicine should be taught at the bedside of the patient.   His reasoning behind this is that physicians need hands-on learning while their learning is being supplemented by lectures and reading.   In doing so, he was also teaching the student how to interact with the patient.   The more patient contact they had the more they understood that the patient is more than an anatomical figure.   The patient is a human being with feelings and needs.   His second revolutionary idea in this text was that one must combine physiological and psychological treatment for each patient http: //www. byregion. net/profiles/partnersinhealing. html).

The physiological treatment would then be providing the cure, if possible, and the psychological treatment would be providing the healing.   He believed the patient’ s state of mind was extremely important in facilitating a cure.   As a result, he is known as the father of psychosomatic medicine (http: //mcgovern. library. tmc. edu/data/www/html/people/osler/PPM4th/PPMTitle. htm. ). At about the same time, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was learning that some physical symptoms such as paralysis or fainting spells were not necessarily due to a biological or medical cause.   He discovered what he called hysterics whose symptoms could only be improved or eliminated by attending to their human needs and mental state (Hersen, M & Turner, S., 3).

  It would seem that these two pioneers, both medical doctors, took two realms of the belief that seemed to be in conflict and integrated the two, much to the benefit of the patient.   There have been many different beliefs from religions to primitive cultural beliefs that have claimed to heal using anything but modern scientific medicine (Weatherford, 181).   That may be because there is a difference between healing and curing.   An individual may have a limb removed.   Certainly, medicine can not return that limb to the body, and even when that is attempted it is unlikely the limb and the body will function together as originally intended.   One individual may see this as the end of their life or their ability to be functional and be happy and another may perceive exactly the opposite.

They may see themselves as healed and return to a different but productive life. The difference is in being healed.   Understanding that life will not go back to the way it was but it will go on affords this patient the ability to be an active part of his/her own life.

This patient is healed. That achievement has a great deal to do with the individual, his/her support group, and the attitude of the doctor (Ellenberger). Today the belief is that curing is ridding the patient of disease symptoms and the body of the physical cause.   On the other hand, healing is not only treating the symptoms but it importantly resolves the person’ s illness - those psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects that cause distress.   Healing prepares the person to do what he/she can, prevent the return of the illness or live with the illness, and return to family and community again to contribute.     What does this idea of healing mean to present-day practitioners?

Alan Barbour says that curing a disease is a reductionist approach to medicine. It sees the body from the biomedical model which looks at the body as a machine with a broken part. Healing a person is restoring balance in an individual’ s life, personal or family, emotional or spiritual.   To accomplish this, physicians and practitioners must reconnect with their own personal, emotional, and spiritual selves.   Dr.

David Cumes says physicians can use the medical record to record social history about personal aspects of a patient or comments about family members or important life events.   Recalling a personal moment with your patient can reconnect you at a personal level even if the patient knows you only remember because it was in the record. Comes looks at the marriage between science and shamanism.   He believes it creates equilibrium and fulfills the requirement of balancing the opposites for more complete healing.   Shamanic healing includes awareness, beliefs, and personal qualities.     Since no two individuals will completely agree in these areas it requires the physician to be flexible and tolerant.   That means to honor the patient’ s point of view, listen to the patient, and respect the patient.   The patient needs to be the focus of healing (Janisse, T., http: //xnet. kp. org/permanentejournal/spring00pj/healing. html). Much research has been done on alternative forms of healing such as touch.   There are 63 scientific research studies that show evidence that human toughness when combined with scientific medicine increases the speed and degree of recovery for the patient.   Physicians and medical personnel should be aware of such findings and be open to the patient who wants to try it (http: //www. firstunitarianportland. org/sermons-publications)).   It is this student’ s belief that these alternative forms of medicine should be tried in addition to not in place of traditional scientific medicine.

Perhaps it should only go as far as the physician returning to the welcoming handshake that used to be there in the past.   Touching a human being does two things.   It helps the patient connect to the physician as a human being and it helps the physician remember the patient is a human being who may need the physician to listen to his human needs not just his medical needs (http: //www1.healingtouchinternational. org/index. php? option=com_content& task=view& id=57& Itemid=131#CANCER).

          Partners in Healing is a practice of head, hand, and heart” says Ann Tobin M. D. http: //www. byregion. net/profiles/partnersinhealing. html).   She employs her best scientific knowledge along with alternative medicine to treat her patients.   She claims integrative medicine combines the best of conventional western medicine with the best in complementary therapeutic modalities.   This then facilitates the cure and the healing of the patient.   She emphasizes that Hippocrates said that the role of the physician is to “ cure sometimes, heal often, and support always. ” (http: //www. byregion. net/profiles/partnersinhealing. html). It is not the intention of this student to suggest alternative theories of treatment.   It is the intention of this student to understand the difference between curing a patient and healing a patient.

It has become clear through this research that there is a strong element in the medical and therapeutic population that understand that the approach to a patient must be a human approach, listening and understanding not only the medical symptoms presented but also hearing the human need of the person.   It seems clear that the caregivers at all levels must approach the patient with respect.

The humanness of the caregiver needs to touch the humanness of the patient.   When that happens, the best curing happens, and also healing happens. It appears that sometimes helping an individual die well is indeed healing when a cure can not be reached. Helping that patient return to an equilibrium in life and live with a medical change and continue to be happy and contribute to family and community is healing. That may mean staying open-top alternative medicines and procedures or it may mean calling in other professionals such as psychologists or spiritual leaders.   It may mean helping the family in healing as much as helping the patient heal.

It may mean holding a patient’ s hand or laughing or crying with them. Each person’ s needs are different but being open to all these things does give a much higher chance of healing and I choose to be a healer.      


Cumes D. (1999). The Spirit of Healing, Minneapolis Minnesota: Llewellyn

Ellenberger, H., The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970). New York: Basic Books.

First Unitarian Church of Portland.

Hersen, M. & Turner, S., (1991). Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Jannis, Well known People who Happen to be Canadian, Retrieved April 5, 2007, from (

Tobin, A., Healing Touch International. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from

Ostler, W., (1989). Principles and Practice of Medicine, 4th ed. New York: Appleton & Co.

Weatherford, J.,(1991). Native Roots. New York: Crown Publishers.

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