Thirty years ago, a young German physician named RŁdiger Dahlke published a remarkable book. “This is an uncomfortable book” were the first words of the preface. Indeed it is. The book, The Healing Power of Illness, which Dahlke wrote together with the late psychotherapist Thorwald Dethlefsen, argued that sick people arenít just innocent victims of disease but are responsible for the illnesses they take on.
We are familiar with the idea that we can create illness, but most of us think we do it through unhealthy lifestyles, like smoking, not exercising or eating junk food. Dahlke and Dethlfsen had a different message: We create disease with our psyches and our behavioróand that is also where healing begins.
Disease is not something we should try to avoid, Dahlke says; in fact, the authors argued that healthy people donít even existóit is our opportunity to become more alive and more on our paths. We learn our lifeís lessons and purpose through our illnesses and ailments.
“Disease,” says Dahlke, “is the symbol of a task. If we perform the task, we relieve the body. If you donít get the message on the psychological level, the challenge manifests in the body and you have to live the illness.”
And most of us donít get the message. In The Healing Power of Illness, the authors refer to research about the complaints of people who present themselves as healthy. It turns out that the “healthy” people had almost as many issues (back problems, head aches, eczema, sleeplessness) as patients in hospitals. “Weíre ill, all of us. And this is parallel to what religions have told us forever. As long as we are apart from unity, weíre ill. We are not complete; we are not integrated,” says Dahlke.
But it isnít always easy to heal ourselves. “People confuse responsibility and guilt,” Dahlke says. “When I argue that someone is responsible for his illness, Iím not saying that that disease is his fault. The disease provides, however, an ability to respond. We have to get to know what that disease means in our lives, what it wants to tell us. A disease presents a task and when we perform the task, we heal the body.”
The Healing Power of Illness is a powerful read. The book is out of print, but manuscripts are available for a short time, as are a small number of consultations with Dahlke.
Can We Heal Ourselves?