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The Either-Or Fallacy

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 73 - February 2002

It's one of the least helpful human attitudes to see life and the world in terms of black or white, right or wrong, either one or t'other, ignoring the innumerable shades and possibilities in-between – and, above all, ignoring the Middle Way advocated by Buddhism. Yes, it's easier to make stark choices without the bother of contemplating subtle differences.

That's the basis of all kinds of fundamentalism. But the cost is high.

Living according to 'either-or' instead of 'and-also' means saying no to wholeness.

As a psychotherapist and a long-term recovered cancer sufferer myself, I work a great deal with cancer patients who come to me for counselling and/or practical advice on lifestyle changes designed to improve their chances of recovery. Some are on conventional treatments; others follow an alternative path; yet others combine the two in the spirit of integrative medicine that is gaining ground these days. These last are the easiest to work with, since they follow the principle of 'and-also', taking the best of every healing modality on offer.

At the opposite – difficult – end of the polarity are the 'either-or' patients who put their entire faith into one approach and won't consider anything else. Those on the orthodox path, mainly men who only believe in 'scientific medicine', dismiss the idea of lifestyle changes, such as switching from a diet of junk foods to a healthy way of eating and cutting out smoking and alcohol. Across the table, so to speak, are people whose bad experiences with orthodox medicine have made them militantly alternative-minded, to the exclusion of all else. Like all kinds of rigidity, this, too, is highly dangerous.

But some of the most difficult meetings I have had were with patients who believed that all they needed to do in order to recover was to sort out their psychological problems, clear up a lifetime's unfinished business, and, above all, get rid of old, repressed anger and resentments, nothing else being required. Now this is a tragic misinterpretation of the body-mind link, the psychosomatic connection that is the foundation of the holistic approach. True, recent – mainly American – medical research has confirmed the important degree to which our inner state, including our world-view, self-image, personal philosophy and prevalent mood, is able to influence the state of our immune system, which, in turn, largely determines our state of health. For instance, in her ground-breaking book Molecules of Emotion,[1] American neuroscientist Candace Pert demonstrates how our emotions and their biological components produce the vital link between mind and body, with a direct influence on our state of health and well-being. Alas, the 'either-or' patients tend to overlook the physical half of the equation.

The fact is that all disease, especially cancer, is caused by many factors, including psychological ones. (These days it's impossible not to take disastrous lifestyles and a general poisoning of our habitat into account.) But by the time psychological stress and emotional distress have been translated into physical illness, the body must be given urgent and maximum attention, care and healing. To neglect that would be as wrong as allopathic medicine's disregard of the psychological aspect.

Personal Experiences

People often ask me how the body-mind connection worked in my own case 20 years ago, when, after conventional treatment, the malignant melanoma recurred within a year, and I switched over to the alternative, nutrition-based Gerson therapy. It's a good question.

When I first tried to formulate an answer, I was myself surprised by what I had found. For way back in 1979 there I was, a long-time meditator and practitioner of yoga, tuned into my inner life as far as my over-busy outer life permitted, training to be a counsellor and studying several subjects, all of them bright and beautiful. In other words, I had made a huge investment in keeping my psyche in good order. Unfortunately there was a large part of 'either-or' in my pattern, to the detriment of my physical side, for at the same time I worked too hard, smoked a lot (don't ask me how I managed to reconcile that with my yoga practice), drank more wine than my liver was able to cope with, although the actual amounts were very moderate, and didn't listen to my body's increasingly urgent messages. When malignant melanoma was diagnosed, I was thunderstruck, feeling that my body had betrayed me. It took me a good while to realize that it was I who had done the betraying, and that I urgently had to make amends to my body by physical means.

Well, the Gerson therapy, based on hourly prepared fresh raw juices, three square meals and up to five coffee enemas a day in the early stages, was ideal for the purpose. It anchored me firmly into bodily reality, which I had managed to avoid all my life. For a while I couldn't even meditate. The best I could do was to send a rueful wave to my inner life, a kind of 'see you later', and go on to make yet another organic carrot-and-apple juice.

It worked. But it took me quite some time to return gradually to a more rounded, not entirely body-centred way of being, and adopting a true 'and-also' philosophy of life.

This is the big lesson, learned in a life or death situation, that I try to convey to newly diagnosed, panic-stricken patients in search of the best way forward. Inner and outer, body and psyche, are not separate entities or irreconcilable opposites. They form two halves of a single unit that sicken together and need healing together.

Whichever we have neglected in the past has to be given its due portion, whether in the shape of regular meditation for the psyche, or 13 glasses of fresh vegetable juice a day for the body. Restoring the balance between the two is the most promising path towards healing.


1. Pert Candace. Molecules of Emotion. Pocket Books. ISBN 0671033972. 1999.


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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