We have been using qualitative methods to study the phenomenology of healing; working with healers and their clients, health care professionals and the general public.
Healing is an emergent property, a process of change for the better leading to greater wholeness and integrity of mind, body and soul; it may involve a long journey, or a sudden transformation. Factors that facilitate it include connecting with others, nature, creativity, safety, trust and unconditional love. We have developed the concept of ‘nourishing exchanges’ as an overarching theory of healing.
The language of healing is metaphor, and explanations for it vary. Scientific materialism tends to dismiss it because nothing can be measured. But many nurses and other health care professionals accept and work with healing phenomena (sometimes surreptitiously). We have identified three overlapping concepts of where healing comes from: 1) from an external source (energy, consciousness, or your god), 2) from the activities of other people you connect with, and 3) from within, as we all have the capacity to heal.
We believe that Western medical systems need to be more inclusive and to accept and work with the phenomenology of healing, rather than rejecting it as unscientific.


Paul Dieppe is an Emeritus Professor in the medical schools of the Universities of Exeter and Bristol in the UK. His previous posts have included Professor of Rheumatology, Director of the MRC Health Services Research Collaboration, and Dean of the Medical Faculty at Bristol. For the last decade his research interests have centred on the placebo/nocebo responses, caring in health care, and healing.