Sensuous healing: the sensory practice of medicine
When one thinks of the senses in a medical context, the ﬁrst topic that comes to mind is that of sensory disorders and how they may be treated. This chapter is not concerned with the senses as ‘patients’, however, but rather with their role as ‘physicians’ or avenues for medical knowledge and healing processes. This is an unusual perspective to take in mainstream or biomedicine. In mainstream medicine, technology has to a considerable extent supplanted the role of the doctor’s senses in diagnosis, while in treatment the alleviation of pain is often considered the most that should be done for the patient’s sensory
well-being. And while medicine may be referred to as an ‘art’, aesthetics is not really considered to play any role in it. In fact, a library or internet search for discussions on the aesthetics of medicine is likely to simply turn up works on cosmetic surgery. In what follows we will delve into, not the medical history of the senses,
but the sensory history of medicine. This chapter traces the ways in which the senses were once engaged by Western medicine and how they became sidelined in modernity. It will also explore the sensory dimensions of an array of non-Western and alternative medical traditions in an attempt to arrive at a social understanding of sensuous healing.