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Are We Seeing a "Dematerialisation" of Medicine?

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It's a well-known fact we just keep accumulating more "stuff".

Or is it?

It seems that material consumption in the UK might have reached its apex early in the last decade and has decreased ever since, according to a survey by environment writer Chris Goodall.

He told the Guardian: "What the figures suggest is that 2001 may turn out to be the year that the UK's consumption of 'stuff' - the total weight of everything we use, from food and fuel to flat-pack furniture - reached its peak and began to decline."

Of course, much remains to be done to break free of environmental concerns at home and globally. But who would have guessed that "dematerialisation trends" - as Goodall calls the figures - have been heading in the right direction for the past ten years?

The onward march of dematerialisation hasn't been only an environmental trend in the decade following "peak stuff" - which is the jazzy title of Goodall's paper. It's a factor I have observed in health care too.

Returning to Britain in 2002 I found initiatives - from scientific research to accelerating hospital chaplaincy programmes - exploring what one website described as "whole-person care through whole-person carers". It said: "A number of coincidental - some would say synergistic - events have resulted in increasing enquiry into the relationship between health, well-being and spiritual matters."

In 2004 a UK-wide conference called 'Integrating Spirituality into Healthcare Practices - Remembering the Forgotten Dimension' took place at Aberdeen University, attended by doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and others.

Today, interest in a non-material dimension to health care continues in the NHS and a steady flow of local, national and international conferences show spirituality re-emerging as a factor in well-being.

Perhaps many different things motivate this drive, but for some it probably speaks of a wariness of all "the stuff" they are ingesting in the name of care and cure.

This wariness was true of my dad, who encouraged me to use as few drugs as possible even when faced with recurrent physical pain in my late teens. In his own case dad practised a kind of medical homeopathy, cutting up his ulcer prescription drugs into smaller fragments and taking only one of the pieces each time he was meant to take a whole pill.

I am grateful to him for that nod in the direction of "less" is "more" when it comes to reaching into the medicine cabinet. But when medications prescribed to me resulted in unpleasant side effects I desperately wanted something beyond even a minimised drug intake.

My breakthrough came in finding there was something that could replace the "stuff"- spiritual ideas which could steer my thoughts in a more divinely centred direction.

On numerous occasions since, these ideas have evidenced themselves to me as having an active and effective healing ingredient at their core.

Perhaps this would seem like a "dematerialisation" step too far for most people at present. The medical trend has not yet even hit the point of "peak stuff".

Far from it. English prescriptions actually rose by nearly two-thirds between 1998 and 2008 from 513.2 million items dispensed to 842.5 million items, according to the NHS.

Yet many factors are conspiring to wean society off its (medical) drug habit, from questions about big pharma's advertising strategies to the placebo's pesky successes.

Above all, the human heart yearns for something that solves the problems "under the (mental) hood" as well as patching up the visible mechanics. Our hearts tell us that doing so needs something more profound than just a few more pills.

Even in the sphere of consumerism, less "stuff" has not meant less performance. Indeed the relentless surge of progress in technology has meant smaller phones, lighter laptops and thinner televisions, all of which deliver so much more than their predecessors.

Similarly, we shouldn't be surprised if "less" proves to be "more" as traditional health care dependencies are peeled back to reveal that the "forgotten dimension" of spiritual care is waiting in the wings to ably fill the vacuum.