Affection - The other half of healing

Affection - The other half of healing / Naturopathy

Book review "The other half of healing"

Evolutionary psychologist Leander Steinkopf has published a book dedicated to caring for the sick with "The Other Half of Healing: Why We Need Care to Get Well." He sees a problem of modern medicine in neglecting "pastoral care".

Turning to a patient, taking care of him, listening to him, is not just an accessory, but an essential part of healing anchored in evolution. Thus, the condition of being sick biologically sends a signal to others as well as to itself and requires a response to take care of what triggers the symptoms in order to promote healing. Steinkopf's approach is by no means religious, but biological.


  • Book review "The other half of healing"
  • Illness - A social phenomenon
  • We feel the defense
  • Being ill forces the right behavior
  • Symptoms are social signals
  • No accessory, but biology
  • Symptoms as prevention
  • Are disease symptoms disease symptoms?
  • Pain - signal, protection and coercion to action
  • Pain - A social system
  • Switch off pain - in survival mode
  • Pain without damage
  • Pain, anxiety and expectation
  • Depression - In energy-saving mode
  • Healing through suggestion
  • Care - For thousands of years, therapy number one
  • The healing spectacle
  • Conclusion

Illness - A social phenomenon

Not only the right medication and the correct diagnosis, but patience and empathy, care and caring are inseparable from the therapy according to the author. Illness is a social phenomenon based on interpersonal (and inter-animal) interactions. These mechanisms evolved evolutionarily in social beings.

According to Steinkopf healing also includes spiritual care. In classical medicine these are often neglected. (Image: Monet /

We feel the defense

We do not feel the virus in a cold, but with cough, cold and fever rather the defense of the body to the pathogen, so Steinkopf. This has a social meaning because other people react to it. Fever and sneezing are also a warning to others not to catch the disease. Because they notice the body's defensive reaction, strangers are distancing themselves, colleagues release the feverish from their obligations, and partners take care of the people who exhibit these defensive symptoms, the author explains. The state "being ill" thus contains clearly understandable information to the patients and other people.

Being ill forces the right behavior

Being sick also gives the right behavior. It demotivates and the body's defensive reactions keep us from energy-consuming activity. This allows the body to focus fully on the fight against the pathogen. That applies not only to humans, but also to animals. Sickness convinces us to switch to a behavioral saving mode.

What is more, even convincing other people to convince the sick that the body can oppose the pathogen with full force. The body even creates allies to support the defense of the organism.

Symptoms are social signals

The author also asks if disease symptoms are signals that the body sends out to get support. Thus, the physical expression of a disease would also be the message of the individual to the people around him. Their behavior, invitation and help as well as rejection and disinterest, in turn, had an effect on the sender.

Disease symptoms as signals to others? In the case of an infectious flu, it is at least understandable if it reacts with "physical" distance. (Image: Antonioguillem /

No accessory, but biology

As a result, treatment always requires attention to the patient, as the symptoms of the diseased body demand it. The interpersonal is not only nice accessory, but a fixed biological component of the therapy.

A health care system that regards affection as wasted working time by professionals, therefore, bypasses human nature. Man is a social being of his biology and social disinterest in the sick worsen the disease.

Symptoms as prevention

Symptoms could also occur to prevent infection without it having already broken out. The author cites as an example a woman who involuntarily vomited when she heard on television of infected bean sprouts. She had previously eaten soybean sprouts, but they were not infected. Just the signal that she could have eaten something infectious was enough to provoke symptoms commonly used to ward off a rampant pathogen.
Symptoms are therefore a defense symptom that intervenes in advance and has a preventive effect. Psychological associations trigger physiological reactions.

People may even develop symptoms if they experience food intolerance without it. According to Steinkopf, incorrect information sometimes leads to real symptoms.

When we warn the body with information, it prepares for danger. Nocebo effects can even lead to more people suffering from side effects of medications when they read the package leaflet about these side effects. The body system is clever, but not always right.

Are disease symptoms disease symptoms?

If symptoms were merely visible signs of a disease, it could not explain why people develop symptoms without suffering from a disease, and conversely, many infections remain symptom-free.

Rather, symptoms are not an unknowable biochemical reaction, but are under the control of the body. The author suggests that evolutionary symptoms of communication have emerged to properly respond to pathogens and other hazards.

Pain - signal, protection and coercion to action

Pain send out a message. The pain says "do something against me". It is an extended protection function. Stress pain from a sprained foot causes us to behave properly and relieve the foot. The more the healing progresses, the more we would burden it again. The pain would therefore, step by step, the right treatment.

Pain is also a signal in itself, for example in joint pain after overloading. (Image: Markus Bormann /

Pain causes and includes healing behavior. He is a need like hunger and thirst, information as well as motivation for a certain behavior. When we followed the orders of pain, his motives subsided: when we eat, hunger disappears; when we drink, the thirst disappears; When we relieve a sprained foot, the pain disappears. Pain tells us immediately what we should do and not do.

Pain - A social system

Messages of pain are for example a distorted face, a loud vowel (Aua, Aaah) and the like. Another person immediately understands that something painful has happened to the person concerned. At the same time he sees where the pain lies, what is its cause and what behavior should be avoided. The other sees the burned hand as the center of pain and the hot stove as its cause and react automatically by not touching the stove.

So a person does not have to make a painful experience, it is enough if he observes it in another person. At the same time, the person afflicted by pain draws attention to the problem and motivates others to help. Pain is therefore a complex social system.

The social core of the pain is made clear by the pain forcing us to communicate it. When that's done, he'll go back, just like hunger, when we ate. When we curse or shout "Ouch", the pain subsides and others understand that there is a pain. It is a motivational system that serves healing.

Switch off pain - in survival mode

That pain is by no means a purely physiological reaction without social meaning, according to Steinkopf soldiers in the war. Serious injuries such as gaping wounds do not cause pain when the pain distracts from essentials of survival, the author reports. For example, soldiers with heavy injuries in combat would often feel no pain, but scream in pain after the battle in the hospital. Only in safety, only when someone takes care of them, put the pain.

Pain without damage

At the same time, on the other hand, there is pain that starts without damage. Expectation alone could be a cause of pain. This complicates, for example, people who have suffered severe pain, everyday life. The pain compels protection, but the fear of the pain is so great that those affected become frozen in this protection and paralyzed in their everyday life.

Just as acute pain can be masked out in extreme situations, just the expectation and anxiety (based on previous experience) can lead to pain. (Image: airdone /

Pain, anxiety and expectation

For the therapy he mentions an important aspect here: If there were no injuries behind a pain, but fears and negative expectations, then we would also get rid of the pain with the fears and expectations.

According to Steinkopf, pain has messages to us and others, and people adapt their behavior to this information. But that was quite independent of damage to the tissue.

Depression - In energy-saving mode

Not only pain, depression can, according to the author, be an information to other people. For the depressive self, depression is a mode of being that saves energy and forces you to wait. Depression, for example, forces us to give up a life goal that is unreachable. Depression may differ in which functions they perform. Whoever does not change his life, for whom it would do the symptoms. A depression suggests to the outside: "I give up", "help me" or "forgive me".

Depression like pain activates similar areas in the brain. Physical pain is in the evolution of the ancestor of mental pain, and evolution has harnessed its existing system for a new purpose.

Healing through suggestion

Fantasies are not "foams", but could often work better than insufficient medication. Just the photo of a partner alleviates the pain of a patient in the hospital. So the partner does not even have to shake hands.

Doctors who are convinced of a medicine, according to Steinkopf produce better results. Acupuncture, for example, works, although there are no presumed acupuncture points in Chinese medicine. It does not work, but it works. Why? Because it fulfills the patient's need for recognition and affection. This also explains why pain patients, in whom the doctors can not determine a cause, lose their pain through acupuncture.

The pain calls for caring for the patient and acknowledging his suffering. Do the one who uses acupuncture. In addition, he touched the body, also an important aspect of the therapy. Recognition, touch and listening - and not "acupuncture points", according to Steinkopf explain the effect of this method.

According to Steinkopf, it is not the acupuncture points or their stimulation (you can stab the needles elsewhere), but the aspect of the attention that leads to healing. (Image: blackday /

Care - For thousands of years, therapy number one

According to the author, giving the patient over millennia was the best thing the medicine knew. Shamans fulfilled the patient's biological need for recognition of his illness and turned to him. To acknowledge suffering means to alleviate symptoms.

Today, modern medicine does not capture evolutionary needs, especially because the helpful devices can treat causes of illnesses so well. A perspective for the future is personalized medicine, because every person is otherwise sick. Good conversation and taking time, heal efficiently.

The healing spectacle

The spectacle of shamans with their dances and colorful robes was similar to that of modern doctors in white coats - and important. For example, the antibacterial effect of mouthwash has nothing to do with its biting and fresh taste. The taste suggests rather freshness and sharpness against "musty" bacteria.

Shamanism really heals because it fulfills the social needs that call for the symptoms of the sick. The spectacle is not quackery, but the aura of the extraordinary suggests to the patient that he is especially taken care of and is therefore essential for healing. Shamans are experts for the unknown, the spectacle their main task.

To give meaning to the patient is a therapy. For professionals today, this includes recognizing the suffering of the human being who comes to them and turns to him extensively.


Leander Steinkopf has written an important book that invites in-depth research. Typically, biochemically based modern medicine and classical pastoral care are considered two different pairs of shoes. Steinkopf, on the other hand, shows that communication is an essential aspect of disease symptoms, and that "pastoral care" is thus a biological basis for healing. You will not come around this book if you are dealing with therapy that involves the whole person. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)