Becoming A Great Physician 
The Spiritual Nature of Medicine 
By Melissa Winquist 



The lights are out.  Seven people sitting quietly holding hands, eyes closed, feet gently on the floor, taking deep, relaxing, abdominal breaths — stress, tension and other worries melt away.  A prayer is shared by someone in the group. Minutes pass, eyes are opened, hands release, everyone takes a deep breath and we are ready to go.  This is a scene at Dr. Paul Mittman’s afternoon shift at the Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center.

When asked how long he had been doing this kind of preparation before seeing patients, Dr. Mittman responded, “I was in Greece at a Homeopathy seminar and asked the instructor, a world renowned homeopath, what it would take for me to become a truly great physician, a real practitioner of the healing arts.  I was thinking, what books should I read, what kind of training should I receive, and without even pausing, the doctor answered me — you must pray every day.  Not just to clear your mind, but to get help from outside yourself, to keep your ego in check, and to help you and the patient access the healing power of nature, ‘vis medicatrix naturae’ which, for many people, has many names, including God.  I have followed his advice ever since and I must say the results have been quite striking.” 

Spirituality plays a very important role in the healing process.  How many times have you seen the stressful, anxious look on a patient’s face just melt away when certain doctors walk into the room?  I guess you could say it is just their personality or their calming demeanor. On the other hand, when a person is spiritually in touch with those positive forces of God and/or nature, it is always apparent to the patient and the patient always benefits. 

It is the spiritual nature of medicine in the long run that is the most potent.  In Homeopathy, for example, homeopathic medicines are known to act on the mental, emotional and physical level. The only way for medicine to be beneficial on so many levels is if it touches that animating principle; then Homeopathy is called the vital force, acupuncture is called chi, and ayurvedic medicine is called prana. 

It is interesting, even therapies that would seem to be mechanical in nature can have a strong spiritual component.  For example, in massage, manipulation and other forms of bodywork, the treatment can appear almost purely mechanical. In conversations with two experts in these modalities, however, it is clear that in tension and focused application of healing, energy is as much a part of the therapy as the actual physical action.  This is also true in nutrition, especially in traditional Chinese medicine and ayurvedic medicine, where the energetic qualities of foods are as important as their biochemical contents. 

The ideal physician is one who can synthesize information from many disciplines into wisdom. Likewise, the ideal physician can look beyond purely physical qualities. 

Together with high quality education, supervised clinical experiences and courses in business and marketing, building an awareness among naturopathic physicians of the role of spirituality in the healing process and within themselves are the key ingredients to developing physicians of the future.  It is our deeply held conviction that medicine as a whole will benefit from this approach. 

Dr. Paul Mittman, ND, DHANP, is President of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences in Tempe, Arizona, offering an accredited four-year graduate program in naturopathic medicine, leading to a doctor of naturopathic medicine degree (ND).  Naturopathic physicians are trained in the art and science of homeopathy, nutrition, acupuncture and oriental medicine, botanical and physical medicine, hydrotherapy, counseling and minor surgery. For more information on naturopathic medicine, please contact Southwest College at (480) 858-9100.

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