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Excerpted from Healers on Healing by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (editors). Copyright © 1989 by Carlson and Shield. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Why is love so important in healing? Simply because it is the most significant thing in human life."

Bernie Siegel, "Love, the Healer" in 
Healers on Healing
, Part 1

As a surgeon I have worked for many years with patients suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases. In the course of this work, I have discovered that if such people can be brought to love themselves, some incredibly wonderful things begin to happen to them, not only psychologically but also physically. The by-product of their improved psychological attitude is a corresponding physical improvement. So, for me, the most important focus of therapy is that of teaching people how to feel and express love. And this, I have found, depends on my ability to love them and show them they are lovable.

Why is love so important in healing? Simply because it is the most significant thing in human life. Genuine love must be given freely, of a person's own free will. Love is not something that can be taken for granted; it cannot be assigned as a task. It is boring and insignificant if one is "forced" to love (which is really an impossibility). Loving has to be chosen deliberately.

This possibility of choosing to love is what makes our having free will worth the risk of its abuse--even worth taking the chance of nuclear destruction and other potential catastrophes. For when we use our freedom properly and choose to love, then love becomes tremendously meaningful because it comes from our deepest essence, the source of all freedom. Then we can feel love, and others can feel it too, so deeply that it has an actual physical effect. There is a physiology of love; it is not just an emotional experience but a whole-body experience.

For this reason I believe that love is the golden thread that unites the many forms of healing. But this is a very abstract concept, and we need to see in a more practical way how love enters into the process of therapy. Let's consider an example.

When people come into my office suffering from cancer, it is often apparent that, short of putting a gun to their heads, they are on a quick course of killing themselves-abusing tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, and working very hard at dying. In such cases I do not say, "Don't smoke," or "For God's sake, lose weight, exercise, and take your medicine." Instead I say, "I care about you and I love you. Here are some ways you can help yourself and find love for yourself. I'll see you in two weeks."

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