By BRYNN SAITO, program coordinator for the Department of Writing, Consciousness, and Creative Inquiry
“There’s an expanded consciousness operating, one that includes both health and self-care,” says Meg Jordan, department chair and professor of Integrative Health Studies at CIIS. Such consciousness is also affecting the nation’s health care policy, as evidenced by the five clauses directly addressing preventative and integrative health in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March of 2010.
Although Jordan is optimistic about the language of the law, she’s concerned about implementation. “They don’t have strategies yet, for implementing integrative health standards,” she says. Which is why CIIS is part of a summit of schools—including Harvard’s Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, the University of Minnesota, and Duke University—committed to devising concrete strategies for implementing holistic care, in line with new national standards.
“Health coaches are a key strategy for lifestyle turnaround,” Jordan says. “The medical landscape is highly hierarchical and inaccessible, and a health coach can occupy the first line of partnership with a patient. It’s a de-stigmatized role. I may not feel comfortable talking to a doctor or a psychotherapist, but I can talk to a health coach.”
Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General has tasked the four-school summit with devising a plan to create a national exam for health coach certification. But, as we’ve seen in recent months, the future of the health care law is uncertain. On February 2 the Republican-led effort to repeal the law ended in defeat, with a 47-51 vote in the U.S. Senate. It’s now in the hands of the Supreme Court, and has become a hot political item in the run-up to the 2012 elections.
Still, a fundamental question remains: What, in this country, is driving the resistance to universal health coverage? Jordan doesn't have an answer. But as a medical anthropologist who surveys health care systems across the world, she has noticed a pattern: “There are two countries that stand out with the best health outcomes and the greatest life longevity. And those also happen to be the two countries that have the smallest gap between the rich and the poor.”
Health equity and wealth equity are related, Jordan says. “When we take care of everyone, we all tend have a better health outcome. When we take care of the top 1%, then we see everyone in the country suffer.” Even those who can afford expensive, high-tech care are receiving it within a system filled with uninsured individuals with debilitating injuries, preventable diseases, and chronic illnesses.
But beyond all of the political debates and controversies, the real shift in health management, notes Jordan, must come from within. Optimum health requires self-care thinking. “It’s up to you, within a culture of support, to tap into your own holistic self-care practices," she says.
Jordan has witnessed substantial growth in the number of students receiving degrees at CIIS in Integrative Health Studies, with 98% of those graduating now employed in health and wellness professions. This gives her hope. Perhaps in the midst of all of the political wrangling about health care, the necessary attitude is one that promotes empowerment and sustains community. “We’re going to be healthy,” says Jordan, “and it’s up to us.”