Back to 34th Street

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.


I got into another tussle recently with one of my colleagues about the use of alternative care. I�m growing increasingly cranky about such things these days, as you can tell by the amount of writing I do about it now.

I mentioned that the main problem is the amount of out-of-pocket expense incurred by sick people and their families since the insurance companies appropriately reject the claims.

Instead of addressing this issue directly, my colleague (a proponent of "energy medicine") focused on the "failure" of ordinary science to measure this subtle but powerful entity, and continually promised that its revelation is imminent. He was not, evidently, speaking of known qualities of energetic expression the human body naturally displays.

Without exception, proponents of "energy medicine" cite two irrefutable facts that they feel justifies their use of this modality: 1) At least $14 billion are spent by consumers each year on alternative methods; and 2) Congress recently allocated $50 million to the NIH to study alternative medicine.

The last time I read this my mind wandered to a movie I've seen a few times. I'm sure many of you also remember the 1947 classic, Miracle on 34th Street. You may wonder why I'm mentioning this here, but please bear with me. As to why my mind often works in this way, I have no explanation.

The movie proposes that a certain man who claims to be Santa Claus is actually who he claims to be. When hauled into court in order to prove that he is not insane, the man's lawyer makes his case in the following ways:

"Can the prosecution prove that he isn't Santa Claus?

Don't close relatives of the prosecutor believe in Santa Claus' existence?

Don't thousands of letters from the general public arrive at the post office addressed to Santa Claus?

Isn't the Post Office an official agency of the U.S. government and, therefore, aren't nonbelievers actually rejecting governmental authority?"

I must say, all of this sounds familiar to me.

Two subplots in the movie further parallel the ongoing argument about "energy medicine." First, the defense lawyer makes an impassioned plea to his girlfriend (a nonbeliever) about how belief in Santa Claus is the same as believing in "kindness and joy," clearly accusing her of rejecting these cherished qualities as well. He storms out, and she relents. Alternative practitioners commonly make a similar appeal to spirituality.

Secondly, the judge (representing Congress, in my view) is repeatedly reminded by his political crony that ruling against Santa Claus would end his career on the bench.

Although the judge states his preference for reason, he bows to this pressure and rules accordingly.

I don't know about anyone else, but to me this movie eerily echoes our present situation, and I find myself playing the part of the evil, uncaring prosecutor. A man to whom his own wife says, "Sometimes I wish I had married a butcher or a plumber."

When the therapy community is swayed toward belief in the existence of something as ethereal as the human energy field, they are clinging to a comforting and warm ideal-kind of like Santa Claus. They have forgotten that he is a metaphor; and it is no wonder that those who remind them of this are often thought of unkindly.

My question remains: Should the practice of therapy begin with evidence (and I mean real evidence) or faith?