Finding Hope - Book Review

Winter 2017, Living Well Magazine

by Maia Bedson

Throughout my decades of personal and professional research on the topic of health and healing, I have invested in and read literally thousands of books. It’s to the point where I no longer have room to squeeze any more books in to my shelves, or any more space in my house to add more bookshelves.

Over the many years of working with people who are looking to strengthen their own healing potential, I have often been asked if there is one ‘essential book’ that brings together the Mind-Body-Spirit connection in a practical and accessible way. My answer has been that there was no ‘one’ book I could recommend, but many which hold some of the key elements. That was until now.

Dr Steven Sommer is an Australian medical doctor and lecturer who authored the book Finding Hope from both a medical and personal perspective. It is, what I believe to be, a ‘must read’ book.

During his medical training, although enthusiastic and respectful of what modern medicine had to offer, Steven began to wonder if there was more that could help patients and, uniquely at that time in his world, also began to listen to what his patients could teach him – one of his first insights being that “Health will never be found through a simple one size fits all prescription alone, as much as we might like it to”.

Steven went on to become a busy and highly regarded GP as well as a senior lecturer at Monash University, developed a stress-management clinic, ran meditation classes, was in demand as a speaker around Australia and headed the educational organization – the Whole Health Institute. All pretty much at the same time!

This demanding schedule, although rewarding on some levels, had a toll on his body, which lead to a spectacular crash and eventually a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It would take 11 years before Steven was able to return to work by which time he was an expert on CFS and opened a clinic to help others dealing with this complicated and challenging illness.

A few years later saw him facing even more serious health issues with diagnoses of Parkinson’s Disease; a life-threatening situation with Ulcerative Colitis which had been triggered by medication for the Parkinson’s; as well as a thyroid gland condition known as Graves’ Disease.  Steven was lower than rock bottom by this time and, although having a non-religious upbringing, nor being familiar with prayer, he followed the advice from a 95 year old lady, who had a near-death experience whilst she and Steven were patients in the same hospital, and it was during this practice of prayer that he experienced “one of the most remarkable events of my life” and “I knew from that moment on, I was going to be okay.”

Interspersed with Steven’s own honest and compelling story, there are other real-life accounts from patients following their own healing process. These, in no small measure, validate the title of this book.  However, in addition, with his medical and research knowledge, Steven delves into the areas of:

The science of epigenetics; gene expression and how lifestyle influences this; the stress response and the relaxation response; meditation as medicine; emotional expression; how meaning affects our health in conscious and unconscious ways; the placebo effect and how to enhance it; complementary medicine; the healing power of humour; cancer, heart disease and other illnesses and using lifestyle as medicine; the human microbiome and the emerging science about this, among so much more.

Finding Hope will leave you more knowledgeable, inspired, excited, kinder and hopeful. I highly recommend it!

References:
Katcher, A. and Beck, A. (1987) Health and caring for living things. Anthrozoos, 1, 175–183.
Kellert, S.R. & Wilson, E.O. (Ed s). (1993) The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press, Washington DC.
Louv, R. (2012) The Nature Principle, Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Algonquin Books, New York.
Ulrich, R. S. (1984) View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420–421.