Learning to Heal: An Interview with Author Ed Cohen (conducted by Sally Rappeport)

Ed Cohen
Ed Cohen

In contemporary medical experience, the need to know (and to cure) has overshadowed the inclination to heal.   If you ever ponder the differences between healing and knowing/curing in your own clinical or medical experience, please come join this conversation.  Since we are all part of a culture that emphasizes the importance of “knowing”, how can we cultivate healing, a more subjective experience of being embodied for our patients?  In this interview, Sally Rappeport will interview Ed Cohen, a critical theory scholar (indebted to Michel Foucault), who will discuss his new book On Learning to Heal. Or What Medicine Doesn’t Know. Ed’s book concerns his own story of developing Crohns Disease at the age of 13,  juxtaposed with his focus as an academic on western medical history. 

In this interview with Ed, Sally will discuss some of the differences and similarities between conventional medical practice and the contemporary East Asian Medcine (EAM) clinic.  Since we work hard to learn how to diagnose our patients’ conditions, how do our methods differ from Western Medicine? How do our patients experience healing and how do we handle our/their need to “know”?

Ed’s book inspired Sally to think about how modern practice of EAM transcends some of the pitfalls of conventional medical thinking but sometimes fails in similar ways.  How are we able to engender healing as well as knowing in the EAM clinic?

Ed Cohen

My practice emerges from my daily experience of living with Crohn’s Disease for over half a century.  Living with this chronic, sometimes acute, and intermittently life-threatening illness has helped me develop strategies of self-reflection and self-care that have allowed me to flourish, not despite, but because of my illness.

It turns out that care of the self requires not just cultivating one’s own life, but also understanding that we always live with others on whose care we depend.  Learning that self requires others–that in fact there is no “self” without “others”–and that as living being we only flourish when we grow with and towards one another, has taught me that healing, like all of our other vital tendencies, benefits from caring collaboration.

In addition to this very practical knowledge I have a Ph.D. in Modern Thought from Stanford and for the last three decades I have been an award-winning professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality at Rutgers University.  As a professor, I encourage students to reflect critically on things they often assume to be self-evident about themselves (e.g., their sex, their sexuality, their gender) and ask them to consider whether there are more possibilities for who they can become than they currently imagine.

Too often we make assumptions about who we can be, which we take up from our families, our histories, and our cultures, that unnecessarily limit our abilities to live otherwise.  My job as a teacher is to help my students learn to think beyond these limits in order to support them in creating better futures—both for themselves and for us all.

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