Healing is Growing a Garden, Not Fixing a Car.

by D U A N E L A W, L. A c. | ( 3 1 0 ) 4 9 8 – 2 7 7 7 

by DUANE LAW, L.Ac. | (310) 498-2777 


ometimes a new client will come to me, having been through the conventional medical mill … one of their first tests for me is to ask me for a diagnosis.

I have to tell them … healing is growing a garden, not fixing a car.

When something goes wrong with a complex machine … an inanimate object, something that has no agency, that can’t respond … yes, it’s a good idea to have a very clear idea of exactly what the problem is before one proceeds.

That way of proceeding works best when the odds are that there’s a discrete, single cause for the problem.

But bodies are not machines.

Like most organic systems, they’re a dense network of functional relationships.

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees when one goes looking for “the” cause or “the” label.

If one’s looking for the cause or the label …

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.


If one’s looking for the cause or the label …

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.

How Can We Know What To Do Without a Diagnosis?

So … you’ve inherited someone’s neglected garden. What do you do?

Well … it could be obvious that the soil needs some work, the pruning’s been neglected. Mulch and water might be in order, except over here in the southwest corner where we need to improve the drainage.

My point is … when dealing with a complex organic system, especially one in disarray, it can be simple to find things to work on.

But finding THE one thing, THE cause?

What if there’s a number of factors involved? Lack of water. Aphids. Weeds. Poor Planning.

Here’s what we do: start with the most obvious (and maybe the one or two things that fit within time, interest and financial budgets) and work one’s way up from there.

One only really knows that one’s figured out the problem when flowers start to bloom and fruit starts to ripen.

And to pretend otherwise … to think that one can “name” the problem precisely before fixing it … reveals itself to be hubris and perhaps even a shell game.

Think about it … if you’ve got a “chronic” health problem, especially one that seems to morph and change and acquire a somewhat different diagnosis from each professional you consult … maybe you don’t need a name.

Maybe you need a solution. And maybe real solutions are emergent in nature: maybe they only reveal themselves over time once things start to get better.

So that’s what tell these kinds of clients. I tell them, “I’m not going to have a name for your issue for awhile. What I am going to do is find things we can work on and improve. And I’d bet that if we find enough of them … things will get better.”

This is one of the big differences between functional medicine and conventional medicine.

A functional diagnosis is emergent. We only really know what we were dealing with when it’s gone. But that doesn’t need to keep us from taking action, or keeping us from being effective.

It’s growing a garden. Not fixing a machine.

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