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The Vitalistic Healing Model
Dr. Don Glassey

© Copyright 2010


Historically, the modern vitalistic principle was introduced in the 19th century when Blumenbach (1752-1840) maintained that there is an “innate” impulse in living creatures towards self-development.  This principle of vitalism holds that life cannot be explained fully in terms of chemical and physical forces alone.  It propounds that there is a third separate and distinct “vital force” (élan vitale) necessary to any explanation of life.  The life of the organism and its functions then depend on this vital force, which differs in kind from all physical, bio-chemical or electrical forces.  This vital force is always a part of, never apart from, physical processes, as the immaterial expression co-evolves with physical structure.  The early Vitalists in the 19th century proposed that this vital force was the very source not only of life, but of health and healing as well.  However, the late 19th and early 20th century saw science quantify in an age where objective measurement meant everything.  This period also witnessed the expansion of electrical and mechanical therapies, which not only led to a decline in true healing arts, but the dismissal of the idea of “vital” energy.  “Scientific” medical doctors in the early 1900s utilized bio-science to explain life and treat disease, and subsequently discredited vitalism.  However, the latter part of the 20th century and early 21st century have been witness to resurgence of true healing arts and the vitalistic philosophy at their foundations.

Medicine is a “curing” art with a different objective than a “healing” art. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines “medicine” as the art and science of the diagnosis and treatment of disease by any drug or remedy by non-surgical means.  The goal of medical intervention is to reduce or eliminate symptoms of body dysfunction or malfunction (sickness or disease) so that the person feels the symptoms or the condition less.  The goal of healing is to bring about a closer holistic connection in mind, body and spirit so that the individual can feel their life experience more.  There is no cure for healing because curing and healing are separate and distinct paradigms. 

In order to heal we must be willing to feel the feelings (emotions) which are the underlying cause of that life experience.  Physical symptoms are not the cause, but rather the effect of not feeling the feelings.  They are simply the wisdom of the body’s way of getting our attention to bring about the necessary change to heal holistically.

To heal holistically is to recognize that the body as a whole is composed of inter-dependent and inter-related parts.  The physical body is one component of the whole, which includes the emotional body (Limbic system and related structures) and the spiritual “body” (Chakras and Nadis).  When the Wisdom Within signals the emotional body via emotional symptoms, to initiate change, and the “message” goes unheeded by the conscious mind, then the individual may experience signals of physical symptoms of pain and/or discomfort.

Central to modern vitalistic philosophy is the principle that a benign source of well being supports life, and that the organism tends to self-regulate, neither building up nor breaking down too much.  This homeostatic balance depends on the flow of “life force” or energy called “chi” in China, “ki” in Japan, and “prana” in India, which if unimpeded can continually re-establish equilibrium.  The modern theory of homeostasis (equilibrium) or physiological adaptation emerged with the French scientist Claude Bernard (1813-1878).  An “experimental” vitalist he stressed that the fluids and cells in the body of man abide in an essentially constant state despite varied and endless changes in their external environment.  Bernard’s declaration that the constancy of the internal environment is a condition paramount to the independent life of higher animals is one of the most famous phrases of biological sciences.  He also proposed that the maintenance of stable conditions within the body is somehow dependent upon neural and hormonal control, which was a new concept in the 19th century.

Almost 100 years later American physiologist, Walter B. Cannon (1871-1945), expanded on Bernard’s theories of physiological adaptation in his renowned book The Wisdom of the Body.  In this publication Cannon popularized the term “homeostasis” which he designated as the fact that under “normal” conditions the human body is capable of maintaining its internal processes in a state of equilibrium by continually compensating for the disturbing effects of external forces.

Today the principle of vitalism is based on the holistic concept that the human body is greater than the sum of its parts, while emphasizing the interdependence of the parts and processes.  Its basic assumption is that there is an intelligent force which creates and sustains all living organisms, and that this inherent vital principle is distinct from all internal physical and chemical forces.

Vitalism assumes that life is self-determining and self-evolving.  The basic principle of vitalism is that there is an inherent or in-born intelligence within the body, which animates, motivates, heals, coordinates and inspires living beings.  This Wisdom Within guides and directs the life of each individual on his or her path of healing to be restored to wholeness in mind, body and spirit.

Healing is a process of personal evolution, growth, self-development and self-discovery.  As a person heals, it brings about a closer connection among mind, body, and spirit.  Healing gives the individual the opportunity to see him or herself more clearly, and get more in touch with themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  True healing is a process of feeling more by an increasing awareness of what one is feeling in the now moment.

Sometimes when one feels more, the experience is joyful and blissful, and sometimes one faces a very challenging healing experience.  Both experiences represent an opportunity for personal growth, for as one fully experiences that awareness, they become more in touch with themselves and consequently more vibrant and alive.  It is through the willingness to experience all of our feelings that we create the environment for expressing more of who we are at the core of our being, which is pure, unconditional love.

Symptoms, in the vitalistic healing model, are viewed as agents of change and a communication from the Inner Wisdom.  The symptom, whether physical or mental-emotional, is an awareness that change is needed at some level or levels in our life.  Judging the symptom as good or bad is a subjective interpretation rather than an objective fact.  The fact of the matter is that symptoms are neither “good nor bad”, as they are simply an awareness of a need for change.

Change is inherent to and an integral part of the healing process, as in order to heal, the individual must be open to change. This willingness to change enables one to become free of past behaviors, attitudes and belief systems that are obstacles to personal and spiritual growth and development. For if we do what we've always done, we will be what we have always been, and get what we have always gotten. Resisting or refusing to change means we will continue to be who we are not, which keeps us from the freedom inherent in becoming who we truly are, which is pure, unconditional love.

True healing involves the willingness to transform one's life physically, emotionally and spiritually. The process of healing and transformation are guided by one's Inner Wisdom, which communicates to the educated mind via the body's energy systems. When this communication from the Innate Intelligence is unimpeded, the individual can chose to listen, and thereby transform their life. In order for this healing transformation to take place, the body's energy systems must be clear of impedance (interference) so that the Inner Wisdom can fully express itself.

In a vitalistic healing model, symptoms, whether physical, mental or emotional agents of change may indicate there is an impedance to the flow of energy.  Severe impedance to the flow of energy flow can result in an imbalance in the individual's energy system or systems, which may express itself in the form of a condition, sickness or illness (physical, mental or emotional).

When the educated mind listens to the Innate communication and chooses to undergo a process of change, it brings about healing; a closer connection of body/mind and spirit. When unheeded, the awareness in the form of a symptom or condition can be a wake-up call, communicating to the individual a need to initiate the change necessary to the healing process. To attempt to symptomatically intervene in the awareness part of the healing may interrupt the course of healing. As attempting to stimulate or inhibit the body to achieve a specific symptomatic change could interfere with the process of healing.  With inhibiting the Innate healing process in an attempt to change feelings of awareness (aka symptoms) by “curing” the individual of their symptoms goes contrary to the axiom that there is no cure for healing.

Healing is greatly facilitated when there is clear communication from the Innate Intelligence expressing over the body's energy systems to the conscious mind.  Healing arts that address freeing up impedance to the free flow of healing energy can greatly facilitate the healing process. However, it is always important to understand that the healing art (technique or procedure) does not do the healing, but is the vehicle to facilitate healing.  Ultimately, all anyone can do is arrange the conditions so God can do the healing, which is the spiritual link whereby the healing facilitator becomes the observer, and assumes the view point of the conduit for healing. 

The healing facilitator helps to create an environment for healing by "encouraging" the recipient to affirm and claim their own Inner power in the healing process. Although the individual may have previously had their condition diagnosed and named a healing facilitator always empowers the recipient to take responsibility for their healing experience. The naming of a condition may empower the condition and shift the person's reliance away from his or her own Innate capacity to heal. Healing is empowering, and involves taking responsibility for ones life, which then empowers the individual to accept responsibility for all their life experiences.

Naming the condition could also take away the person's responsibility for his or her healing experience if they choose to see themselves as a condition with a person, rather than a person with a condition. Naming the condition also gives more attention to the condition, as does dwelling on the symptom or condition. This may amplify, aggravate and/or exacerbate the symptom or condition, for where the attention goes, the mental / emotional energy flows, and anything one gives more attention (energy) to may expand.  However, naming the condition in situations of acute or chronic severe symptoms, or where a crisis intervention or life saving emergency procedures is involved, may help the person recognize where they are in that moment in time. This can give the person an insight about that life experience so that they can then move ahead and initiate healing. For the recognition of who and where we are in the healing process in that moment in time can then help us to choose to make whatever changes are necessary to heal.

Trust and love are the foundations of vitalism and the healing process. In order to heal one must trust the Innate Intelligence of the body as the active agent of their emotions, mind and Spirit. The Wisdom Within communicates by way of energy systems in the body, guiding and directing the growth and development of the individual physically, emotionally and Spiritually. Trust is inherent in the individual's own inner potential for growth and development in the healing process.

To trust the body's Resident Intelligence involves the assurance and acknowledgement that the Wisdom Within will express itself for the highest good of that individual. Trust involves the awareness that all the healing power and force of the universe in dwells the Innate Intelligence.  For example, although taken for granted by most of us most of the time, the body’s innate ability to acclimate to environmental changes in natural light is truly remarkable.  Photopic vision is the body’s capacity to accommodate from darkness to light aka light adaptation or day vision.  Scotopic vision is the ability to adapt from light to darkness aka dark adaptation or night vision.

In the photo chemistry of vision both the rods and cones of the eyes contain chemicals that decompose upon exposure to light.  These chemicals stimulate nerve fibers which lead from the eye.  These light sensitive chemicals in the rods are called rhodopsin, which are a combination of the protein scotopsin and the carotinoid pigment retinal.  The light sensitive pigments in the cones are called cone pigments and are very similar in chemical composition to rhodopsin.  Vitamin A is also essential to this process, as it is found in the cytoplasm of the rods and forms new retinal when needed.  Although the actual chemical process is very complex, simply stated these chemicals in the rods and cones of the eyes change (decompose) in response to light.  In addition, other mechanisms of light and dark adaptation are the change in pupillary size, and neural adaptation involving neuronal changes in the retina itself and in the brain.

The eye can actually change its sensitivity to light as much as 500,000 to 1,000,000 times within the outer limits of maximal dark and light adaptation.  For example, although the intensity of sunlight is 10 billion times that of starlight, the eye can adapt equally to bright sunlight following light adaptation and to starlight during dark adaptation.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the body’s (eyes) ability to adapt to darkness and light is the amount of time each process takes.  In photopic vision, the chemicals in the rods and cones of the eyes change to adapt from total darkness to light in about five to ten minutes.  However, in scotopic vision, as the same chemicals alter to adapt from light to total darkness, it takes anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes for the eyes to see completely clearly.  This distinct difference in time it takes for the eyes to adapt from total darkness to light, as opposed to the opposite, is so striking because the aforementioned time differential is in harmony with they cycles of the sun and the earth.

When we wake up in the morning from the total darkness of sleep, with eyes closed, it takes only five to ten minutes to see completely clearly in the brightness of the morning light.  On the other hand, the period of dusk in the evening from sunlight to total darkness takes about 20 to 30 minutes, which is exactly the time it takes for our eyes to accommodate for this cyclical environmental change.  Thus, we can “clearly see” that our eyes (body) are in coordinated harmony with the cycles of the sun and the earth.  Given the aforementioned example, we can intrinsically trust that the power that made the body heals the body, for as above so below, as the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. 

Trust is knowing that at our deepest level of our being, we are pure expressions of Divine love.  The late Robert Fulford, DO, who Andrew Weil devoted almost an entire chapter to in his number one New York Times bestseller, Spontaneous Healing, shared this perspective on the role of love in the healing process:  “You the (practitioner) stand neutral, acting as a conduit for the flow of Divine love.  As you learn to use love properly in healing work your body vibrations increase and it becomes easier to handle the potency of the love energy.  Unconditional love and the intention to serve can correct defects in the patient’s bio-energetic fields.”[1]

At the essence of our being we live by Divine love which animates the physical body. It is the experience of Divine love that connects us to all other beings and to all of life. When we experience pure, unconditional love we realize our oneness, our wholeness and feel complete in and of ourselves. It is pure, unconditional love which gives rise to the resonant bond between the healing facilitator and the healing recipient. It is the real sensation of pure, unconditional love between agent and percipient which creates the environment for true healing.  In fact, a great Indian Master asserted that absolute, unquestioning faith in God is the greatest method of instantaneous healing.  And this pure, unqualified faith must be held by both the healing facilitator and the healing recipient. 

The healing environment is further brought about through the compassion of the healing facilitator, and their ability to empathize with the healing recipient. Empathy is the ability to identify with the personal needs and life challenges of another individual on the healing path. It is through this caring and sharing in the healing process that true healing takes place.

The healing facilitator then feels for the healing recipient rather than feeling sorry for them in his or her healing challenge. Feeling sorry for someone could put them in the role of a victim of sympathetic pity, not empathetic rapport. Growth and change in the healing process can only take place when one accepts responsibility for their life experience and the healing process.  When an individual sees themselves as a victim of either outside or inside forces it makes it very difficult for them to heal holistically.  Therefore, in order for the healing facilitator to empower the healing recipient to grow and change, they must come from a place of empathy, not sympathy. Sympathy, feeling sorry for someone, is rooted in fear; fear that the healing challenge of another may become our life experience.  It is through empathy then that the healing facilitator can act as a guide, who walks through the healing process with the recipient, sharing with them the potential paths to wholeness. The healing initiator also encourages the individual to follow their own trail, directed by their own Inner Intelligence in the healing experience.

Ultimately, everything one experiences in life defines their current perceptions, responses and reactions to the healing process. The healing facilitator initiates a process whereby the recipient's Innate Intelligence evaluates their needs and facilitates growth and development. As the vitalistic practitioner encourages the individual to listen to their own Inner Wisdom, a process of self-healing and self-discovery is facilitated.

This encouragement facilitates the recipient to trust their Innate Intelligence, which further inspires their growth and development. Healing then becomes a life long journey of self-discovery, self-empowerment and transformation for both the healing facilitator and the recipient. For in a true healing relationship, both heal and both are healed, as one cannot facilitate healing without being healed, for when we give, we receive.



·         Epstein, Donald, Establishing a Network Chiropractic Practice, Network Spinal Analysis Seminars, Innate Intelligence Inc., 1995

·         Carlson, Richard and Shield, Benjamin editors, Healers on Healing, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, 1989

·         Epstein, Donald, Network Chiropractic: Module C, "Communications in the Network office", Innate Intelligence Inc., 1990 Ibid, page 1

·         Epstein, Donald, "The Vitalistic Practitioner", Innate Intelligence Inc., 1989

·         Guyton, A.C. and Hall, J.E., Textbook of Medical Physiology, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia PA, Tenth Edition, 2000

·         Dubos, Rene, A God Within, Charles Saunder’s Sons, New York, 1972 – Reference Notes – Chapter 12 “On Being Human”

·         Bernard, Claude, Experimental Medicine, translated by H.C. Greene (NY:  Macmillan 1927), viii

·         Grande, F. and Visscher, M. (eds.) Claude Bernard and Experimental Medicine (Cambridge, Mass:  Schenkman, 1967) 27-30

·          Cannon, W.B., The Wisdom of the Body (New York:  Norton, 1939)

·         Wiener, Norbert, I Am a Mathematician, (Garden City:  Doubleday, 1956)

·         Dubos, Rene, Man Adapting, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, enlarged edition, 1980 Garrison, F.H., History of Medicine, W.B. Saunders Co, forth edition, 1929

·         Garrison, Fielding H., A.B., M.D., History of Medicine, Fourth Edition, W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, PA 1929

·         Dossey, L., Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, “What’s love got to do with it?”, 1996; 2(3) 8-15




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This page and all its contents are © Copyright 2011
Dr. Don Glassey, M.S.W., D.C., L.M.T.