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Turning points on the way to health

Author: Brigitte Leitner

Date of allocation: 2011-02-03

Lecture, EASA-Conference 2010, Brigitte Leitner, Austria

EASA-Conference, Ireland                   Friday, 27th of August 2010, 11:30
Workshop 072: Complementary and alternative medicines and biomedicine in chronic diseases: What do we learn from the margins?

Good morning and welcome! I'm glad to have the first speech today and want to thank you for your invitation.

I am Brigitte Leitner and the title of my thesis is Turning points on the way to health. I believe it fits perfectly to the topic of the EASA conference this year, "crisis and imagination", so I made sent application although I have not finished my study of Cultural-and Social Anthropology at the University of Vienna just yet.

Today I want to talk about my action research project, the used methodology and the process within I went through and which I analyse and write about in my work. The project deals with the combination of two therapeutic systems from different worlds in case of cancer. As the base of my research I use my one diagnosis of cancer in 2007 and the following medical therapies, which lasted nine months. The project also includes the time of analysis, which followed after the therapies. My research process is not finished yet, so I have no final solution to present today. Also not the disease itself is the topic.

Object of research are thus the experiences of a former cancer patient from the western world, who used two therapeutic systems interlaced into each other: biomedicine in Austria and a therapeutic system in Uzbekistan in Centralasia - the Nursafardiyya therapeutic system -which can be categorized as oriental medicine.

I want to give you a short description of my therapies:

Through the biomedical therapies my doctors battled against cancer by killing the cancer cells. My whole body was involved in this therapy, but the cancer cells are weaker than the most of the healthy cells and so they die first. I was operated and my doctors gave me chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Also I had psychooncological support. The Nursafardiyya therapeutic system was intended to bring back the power of resistance in body and soul. They strengthened the immune system, to make it able (again) to dispose cancer-cells by itself. To reach this, the healer, who is called tabib, used pulse diagnosis to define the status of the body. Then he gave me herbs, showed me exercises with respiration and movement and administered a diet. The goal of my therapy in Uzbekistan was to strengthen and detoxify my body. My stay in Uzbekistan lasted four weeks and took place between chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

To give you an idea, how this therapeutic system works, I show you some pictures:

Fig. 1: collecting herbs

Fig. 2: crushing roots

Fig. 3: producing digestions from the herbs

Fig. 4: products made from herbs

Fig. 5: respiration exercises

Fig. 6: respiration exercises   (all pictures: Leitner)

In my presentation these therapeutic systems are NOT the main topic. Each therapeutic system is self-completed and functions in its own and special way. Also I'm not talking about my experience with using two different therapeutic systems interlaced into each other.

The topics today are the action research process and theintermediate results in this process. First I want to explain the methodology used.

Methodological approach: action research

Action research has its roots in the 1930s, in the fieldwork methods of the US-American psychologist Kurt Lewin. With his methodology he wanted to gain knowledge about social systems and groups and together with them work out answers for their problems. It is the goal of action research to connect theory and practical aspects and make them useful for each other. This should happen through cooperative problem solving between scientists, practitioners and concerned persons in the field of research.

There is an equivalent anthropological methodology in use, which is called action anthropology. The first anthropologist, who worked with this methodology was the US-American researcher Sol Tax in the 1940s, when he led a big research within a group named Mesquaki. Action anthropology also strives for bringing a social correlation of action into research. Social, economical, ecological and political problems within the daily life are included for research with a manageable number of persons who are concerned, and also to find out possible answers.

My work follows the French tradition of action research. If talking about action research in the following presentation, I always refer to this direction.
For the French tradition it is characteristic, that the research is done not by scientists who come from outside, but by people who are personally involved. Thus the best known expert of French action research, Henri Desroche, calls it participation observante in the recherche-action.

The researcher incorporates two roles. While he/she is involved and engaged into the process during a phase of commitment, he/she steps back in a phase of distance to analyse and reflect the experiences within a dialog between him/her, lecturing tutors, fellow students or assistants. They form an athmosphere of inner resonance and images for the researcher and his/her findings. Also theory is used by the researcher in this phase, for analysing and reflecting the experiences. This reflecting distance leads back to the sphere of activity, but to another level. "To look together with theory has opened the eyes of blind practical sphere"', explains action researcher Maria Prieler-Woldan (1996).

In contrast to classical natural scientifically ideas of research, which go a linear way, the action researcher reaches new layers in a helical-like process of action and reflection, because he/she is reflecting his/her experiences many times.
Action research is oriented in the process, while classical research is oriented on results.

The outcomes of action research projects are dependent on process and perception. In the process of the research it is possible, that changes occur in the sphere of activity. To say it more clearly, it is a goal of this method to influence the outcome of the research. With a negative word you could call it manipulative; in positive words it includes the possibility to cause a change.
Also the researcher him-/herselfe is submitted to a transformation, because he/she is part of the process in an existencielly way. The researcher jumps into the maelstrom of events, in opposition to the conventional researcher, who tries to keep outside.

One of the most criticized points of action research constitutes the question about its objectivity. During my work, I myself asked this question again and again: How can information be objective, which I collected out of my own experiences, and secondary which I analysed by myself?
An answer can be found in one of the purposes of action research: The precise description of the ideas, emotions and reflections of the action researcher in relation to the situations he/she has faced give an insight into the process and an understanding of the outcoming results.

Project "Turning Points"

Now I give a short presentation of my own project. It escorts a process in a scientific way, which started with a tabula rasa situation - the diagnosis cancer - and lasted several years. The crisis of the disease caused the loss of trust in many areas of my life, and this was the real crisis - the loss of trust. After a successful treatment period spanning nine month the following questions describe this time of insecurity best: Which medicine is right for me? To whom should I go for support?

These questions became questions of research in my project, whose aim is to find an answer. The first material which I use are notes from my diary during the period of the therapies about my experiences and feelings at that time.

After the therapies and when I had decided on the question of research, I wrote the auto­biographical part. It describes the whole period of therapies and five turning points, which happened in this period.

Then I started the data analysis. This includes discussions with my professor for reflexivity and literature from the medical sociological and medical anthropological field. Thus the question of research is treated several times from different perspectives and aspects.

The main analysis of the turning points is carried out with the theoretical concept of Salutogenese. This concept was developed by the medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky. Salutogenese in case of problems brings resources into focus. Antonovsky asks in his concept, how humans can stay healthy despite daily hassles and worse circumstances. He is working with ideas of life, calls this "sense of coherence" and believes, that this attitude towards life depends on comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness of the life experiences. Today the time is too short to tell more about Salutogenese, so I continue with the process of my action research project. Intermediate data developed, which brought up new questions. I call them sub questions. When the project is finished, they should lead like pearls along a line to the answers of the questions of research.

Starting points are the questions of research:

Which medicine is right for me? To whom should I go for support?

With sub question 1 I tried to bring structure into the amount of data about the time of therapy. I asked: What turning points happened from April to December 2007?

One of these turning points is a statement from a healer in Uzbekistan: "There is no cancer in your body!"  Later I will tell you more about this, but before I talk about first results. With the help of feedback-sessions with my Professor I found out, that I percept nature as positive and chemistry as negative. This implies that my experiences with the different therapies are based on my personal beliefs.

Next I realized, that - after the operation - I was examined within two complete therapeutic systems which have had the same goal: to avoid the recurrence of the disease. Each of them worked within its own view of disease and health.

But how are the patients during their time of therapy? In which extent do the personal preferences play a role? I used two therapeutic systems without being able to engage with them. What developed was an inner conflict and the question To whom should I go for support? stood without answer.

Sub question 2 came into being: Can I entrust myself to a therapeutic system, because I believe in its mode of working and functioning, or is the relation with representatives of therapeutic systems, that helps me to entrust myself? Or is it something completely different? What does a patient need to trust the person, whom he/she entrusts himself/herself, to have the competence of healing?

I turned again towards the turning points. Through reflective discussions with my professor my attention turned from the turning points and their personal experience world to another path of thinking. I asked: Why was the turning point for me a turning point? In a first analysis I found out, that only one turning point, "There is no cancer in your body!", is in relationship with representatives of therapeutic systems.

This led to the following question, sub question 3: Why was the statement from the tabib in Uzbekistan for me a turning point, but not the analogous same statement from my biomedical doctor after the operation?

The situation was like this: my biomedical doctor told me after the operation, that she was able to eliminate the ill parts completely. But, unfortunately, there would be chemotherapy necessary. It was still the same situation as half a year later in Uzbekistan, when the tabib after puls diagnosis told me: "There is no cancer in your body!"

I could not believe the message of the biomedical doctor and went through the following months of chemotherapy in fear of the invisible danger cancer in my body and without belief in future. But in the statement of the tabib I believed and it was for me the starting point for going on and making planes.

Then there followed more discussions for reflexivity and intensive work with literature. In this working process the following understanding appeared: I am the one who is trusting. As well as help is offered from doctors and healers, I am the one who is entrusting myself to somebody. I decide, to whom I trust. This made me ask sub question 4: What are the general conditions for trusting?

As the process is not finished yet, I have to stop at this point. Finally I summarize important points of the methodology, the French tradition of action research. It is:

-   situated in practical aspects and in theory, with phases of commitment and phases of distance
- working in a helical way
- looking for solutions and changing the sphere of activity
- dependent on process and perception
- not objective, but comprehensible
- and it is used by people in their own practical field.

With this methodology I proposed an exemplary approach, how non-western therapeutic systems can be examined and related to biomedicine.

Thank you for your attention!

Thesis Schlusselmomente auf dem Weg zur Gesundheit, written by Mag. Brigitte Leitner, November 2010, University of Vienna.

English abstract: Turning points on the way to health

This thesis presents an action research project (French tradition), which is based on a biographical assessment. It is the analysation of the combination of two therapeutic systems, from different worlds, as used by the author as a former cancer patient. After a crisis period spanning nine months, during which the author employed alternatively both the biomedicine in Austria and the oriental medicine in Uzbekistan, she realized five turning points. With these points she proceeded with the research, having them as objectives, finding answers to the following questions: Which medicine is right for me? To whom should I go for support?

By receiving feedback during the process from her professor and using the theory Salutogenese from Aaron Antonovsky, which brings resources into focus, as well as medical anthropological theories (medical pluralism, disease and health, liminality) to analyse the turning points, the answers were worked out.

The process of work led to the following topics: views of life and different world outlooks, as well as relationship and communication.

The author found out, that the combination is the right medicine for her. Secondly, in times of illness the patient is not able to stay alive without help. To be able to trust, she needs to be accepted from doctors and healers as the specialist for her own cure, as well as she needs to accept the special knowledge of the doctors and healers.

Keywords: action research, medical pluralism, cancer, biomedicine, oriental medicine, Salutogenese, ideas of life

By this link you can also download the title and contents of Turning points on the way to health book.

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