Book Review: Living, Loving and Healing

by Bernie Siegel. Published by Aquarian. £8.00.

Bernie Siegel is a doctor whose books sell in their thousands. They have almost become cult books, rather in the same league as The Road Less Travelled (top of the New York Times Best Seller Booklist for years) or Tony de Mello’s works. The authors share a kind of folksy, ‘Hey, you guys, just you listen to this’ intimacy with the reader which is a bit difficult to stomach, and whereas I am perfectly prepared to believe that they can, and have, changed hearts and minds, I feel that they perhaps operate at a rather superficial level for serious students of the human psyche.

Living, Loving and Healing is a sort of Good News Bible for the sick, and a tribute to the power of positive thinking. Dr. Siegel and his wife, Bobbie, now run workshops all over the world, mostly for seriously ill people, or their partners or their carers. He is constantly asked by people, who have been told their time on this earth may be limited, how they are to live the rest of their lives in fear of recurring illness. He tells them to be open and trusting, to love, to confront their anger, to live what remains of their time on this earth to the full. And he tells astonishing stories of how such positive think­ing resulted in cures. The parents of one man suffering from an inoperable brain tumour had always denied him the opportunity to play the cello. On hearing his gloomy prognosis he went off at once to take cello lessons. Some years later he was playing in an orchestra. The tumour had disappeared.

Dr. Siegel is there to beat fear. He tells of the woman who had a mastec­tomy and was embarrassed about her scar. Her husband reassured her by saying lovingly that now his hand would be closer to her heart. Such a story might tend to make healthy people wince, but think how comforting it would be for women who have had breast cancer?

He is at his best when he discusses his colleagues, their communication problems and the difficult they have with facing death or even discussing it with their patients. It is seen as failure, since it is a no-hope situation. His aim is to empower patients, to persuade them to be honest with themselves, to give them hope, to make them laugh. Is it any wonder that thousands love him?

Mavis Arnold