The Healing Power of Illness (Dethlefsen & Dahlke): Book Review


The Healing Power of Illness (Dethlefsen & Dahlke): Book Review. Can your illness heal you? Through their provocative book ‘The Healing Power Of Illness’, Thorwald Dethlefsen and Ruediger Dahlke propose that illness is a physical manifestation of your deeply buried and unresolved issues. Read on to unravel the psychological or spiritual conflicts that your symptoms are telling you. 

Illness is symbolic of a deeper problem

Thorwald Dethlefsen (born in Germany) is best known as a spiritual psychologist, while Rudiger Dahlke is a doctor of medicine. They have been working together for many years and have co-authored another fine book: The Face Of Consciousness.

The healing power of illness is well explained in this bookEssentially, Dethlefsen and Dahlke show us that illness is a physical manifestation of our unresolved problems or unhealthy lifestyle. In other words, they propose that the patient is not always the innocent victim of some quirk of nature or random event, but actually may have triggered his or her own sickness, disability or health problem.

In this way, the book brings the symbolic aspect of illness to the fore. From this viewpoint, symptoms are seen to be bodily expressions of psychological or spiritual conflicts, able through their symbolism to reveal the patients real and deeper problems.

On one hand, the core hypothesis is very uncomfortable, while on the other, it opens us up to hope, inspiration, new approaches and a fresh look at ourselves drawing on the signposts of our physical symptoms. Many lessons can be learned and doors opened if we only care to look deeply within!

A Symbolic View Of Cancer

While the authors spell out their approach vis-a-vis various illnesses, their insights about cancer are particularly fascinating!

To understand cancer, it is important to first understand the relationship between an entity (the cell) and the system within which that entity exists (the host organ or the whole body). Equilibrium occurs when the cell fulfils two exquisitely balanced responsibilities:

  • To itself, for its own survival and development
  • And to the system, for its survival and development.

When this balance is maintained (i.e. homeostasis), we are in a state of health. A disturbed balance is expressed as an illness until the body’s self-regulating and corrective mechanisms restore the balance and return us to health.

How the cancer process differs

Dethlefsen and Dahlke argue that the cancer process is fundamentally different. When one cell changes its normal life cycle and begins to replicate continuously, the body’s balancing systems merely look on. After all, the cancer cell is not an external agent (like a bacteria, virus or toxin).

In fact, that cell has so far fulfilled its responsibilities just fine, both to itself and to the organ/ organism as a whole. Yet it abandons its common identification and begins to put its own needs above those of the larger system. It no longer behaves as a collaborative part of a multi-cellular system. Instead, it replicates rapidly, ignores normal boundaries, feeds on its host and establishes footholds wherever it can.

Their symbolic interpretation is that for this previously dutiful cell, the larger organism has lost its attraction as a context for the cell’s own development and the previous symbiotic relationship breaks down. The cell decides to break away from its host, to revert to its primitive and independent state, where it can do as it likes, subordinate others to its own needs and bypass its stable existence and programmed mortality.

The cell wants to be immortal, at any cost.”

‘I’ Vs. ‘We’

Dethlefsen and Dahlke see cancer as an expression of the conflict between the need for unrestricted individual freedom on one hand and the need for belonging and interdependent, but limited co-existence on the other. The core issue of cancer may, therefore, be understood as ‘I’ versus ‘We’.

Ironically, however, the cell fails to recognise the inherent flaw in this reckless and short-sighted line of reasoning. To declare independence (or to secede) from the community is also to realise too late, how necessary it really is, for one’s own long-term survival. Ultimately, in its longing for independent immortality, the cancer cell inevitably accelerates its own death, by destroying from inside the larger organism/ system in which it was born and in which it is sustained.


Pursuing this line of reasoning, we can introspect on the following questions

  • At the most tangible level, how can I eliminate the cancerous cells without hating them? They are after all our own (misguided) cells!
  • Going deeper, how can I dialogue these cells? Can I understand their needs and motives?  What common-ground will help us to return to collaboration and interdependence?
  • Even further, what message is the cell’s rebellious action sending me? If I accept the idea “As inside, so outside”, what is going on in my life which may mirror this central conflict between Freedom/ To Be and Responsibility/ To Serve?


Book: “The Healing Power Of Illness” by Thorwald Dethlefsen and Rudiger Dahlke (This link is for your information only. We do not earn any fees/ commissions when you click it and/or purchase the book.)


Written by Aditi Nayar, a student of Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.


More from this series
Title About the article
The Journey Brandon Bays suggests a step-by-step approach to let go of lifelong emotional and physical blocks, and discovering the best in oneself. This is at the core of healing.
You Can Heal Your Life Louise was able to put her ideas into practice, when, diagnosed with cancer, she healed herself completely within six months – without drugs or surgery. Through her remarkable techniques, millions have harnessed the power of the mind to cure themselves of a host of ailments.
The China Study In his landmark book ‘The China Study’, T. Colin Campbell presents strong evidence, which correlates dietary habits with breast cancer.
One Renegade Cell In his riveting book One Renegade Cell, leading scientist and cell-biology expert Robert Weinberg reveals the internal ‘thrust-and-parry’ that goes on between a cancerous cell and the immune system, with stunning precision and clarity.
Final Gifts In their beautiful and profoundly moving book Final Gifts, hospice nurses Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley share their years of experience of caring for terminally ill patients.
Getting Well Again Getting Well Again is not just a book. It’s a window into the attitudes that can help one heal from cancer.
As A Turning Point Lawrence LeShan is considered the father of cancer psycho-therapy. His practice and research over 40 years shows how changing our approach to life together with medical treatment mobilises a compromised immune system for healing.
You Can Conquer Cancer Ian shares his personal experience as a cancer ‘thriver’ in this practical and inspiring guide for recovery and healing.
The Healing Power Of Illness Essentially, Dethlefsen and Dahlke show us that illness is a physical manifestation of our unresolved problems or unhealthy lifestyle.
Anatomy Of The Spirit Myss considers disease as being caused due to disruptions in one’s “energy field”. She illustrates how even cancer can be cured merely by creating positive energy through thought, word and deed.
Reinventing Medicine Based on the (re)discovery that our mind has a profound effect on one’s body/ health, medical practice now involves the ‘whole-person’, at all levels of their being, to participate in the healing process.
Spontaneous Healing Dr. Weil reiterates how our mind plays a key role in both causing and healing illness; and gives us a few anecdotes on how little precautions and altered mindsets that have changed peoples’ lives.
The Budwig Diet Dr. Johanna Budwig discovered in the early 1950’s, that a specific combination of flaxseed (linseed) oil and low-fat cottage cheese significantly increases the absorption of fats in the body’s cells. And when fat absorption improves, there is a corresponding reduction in tumor growth
The Gerson Diet Gerson was a pioneer who realised that diet, immunity and illness are closely linked. He let the world know that a carefully regulated diet can restore an impaired immune system to its best functioning and this is a crucial factor in healing.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here