The work of John W. Travis, MD, MPH, the pioneering physician who first brought the term “wellness” into public awareness, has had great influence on our thinking at Urban Healing and how we believe our work will influence wellbeing.
illness wellness continuum
Most of us think of wellness in terms of illness; we assume that the absence of illness indicates wellness. There are actually many degrees of wellness, just as there are many degrees of illness. The Illness-Wellness Continuum illustrates the relationship of the treatment paradigm to the wellness paradigm.
Moving from the center to the left shows a progressively worsening state of health. Moving to the right of center indicates increasing levels of health and wellbeing. The treatment paradigm (drugs, herbs, surgery, psychotherapy, acupuncture, and so on) can bring you up to the neutral point, where the symptoms of disease have been alleviated.
The wellness paradigm, which can be utilized at any point on the continuum, helps you move toward higher levels of wellness. The wellness paradigm directs you beyond neutral and encourages you to move as far to the right as possible.
It is not meant to replace the treatment paradigm on the left side of the continuum, but to work in harmony with it. If you are ill, then treatment is important, but don’t stop at the neutral point. Use the wellness paradigm to move toward high-level wellness.
Even though people often lack physical symptoms, they may still be bored, depressed, tense, anxious, or simply unhappy with their lives. Such emotional states often set the stage for physical and mental disease. Even cancer can be brought on by excessive stress that weakens the immune system. Negative emotional states can also lead to abuse of the body through smoking, over drinking alcohol, and overeating – attempts to substitute for other more basic human needs such as acknowledgment and respect, a stimulating and supportive environment, and a sense of purpose and meaning.
Wellness is not a static state. High-level wellness involves giving good care to your physical self, using your mind constructively, expressing your emotions effectively, being creatively involved with those around you, and being concerned about your physical, psychological, and spiritual environments.
In fact, it’s not so much where you are on the continuum, but which direction you’re facing. High-level wellness does not preclude periods of illness and weakness, nor does it attempt to deny that death is a natural part of life.
1972, 1981, 2004 John W. Travis. From Wellness Workbook by John W. Travis, MD, and Regina Sara Ryan www.wellnessworkbook.com