FondsGoetheanum: Medicine, Therapy and Healthcare

News – October 2010

Art promotes health

Artistic therapies have positive medical effects. Much-needed related research lacks funding.

Dr. med. Michaela Glöckler, Head of the Medical Section at the Goetheanum.

Artistic therapy works in two important ways: through a ‘general’ building up and by strengthening the immune system and a specific. Just as individual colours, tones, chords, speech sounds and movement patterns have their specific effects – for example, the colours red or green, blue or yellow, consonance or dissonance – so the general aesthetic relationship one has to a work of art works in harmonising or calming ways. Dialogue or conversation therapy – especially when involving song, speech and instrumental music – also supports these two therapeutic considerations. Through his research, Rudolf Steiner established that very interesting specific effects and relationships exist between art media and particular organ functions and constitutional conditions, which are of greatest importance when it comes to artistic therapies. In particular for trauma therapy and development crises and in the case of school difficulties and learning disturbances, but also for child psychiatric illnesses such as depression, puberty wasting diseases, and Crohn’s disease. By strengthening the healthy parts of the personality, artistic therapies greatly support the therapeutic work associated with school integration problems or the quality of life in old age.

Curative eurythmy

Research is vital

It is important that the positive effects of these artistic therapies, as demonstrated by the daily experience of grateful patients, becomes underpinned by published evidential research. But for this the financial resources are missing. Therapists are increasingly ready to document their work, but cannot do so uncompensated. Without convincing research results these newly emerging therapies cannot develop further in a serious way, thus affecting the development of anthroposophical medicine also.

The flow of life

More and more people are reaching very old age. This brings the possibility of consciously experiencing the ripening of one’s life.

Dr. Björn Riggenbach, Neuchâtel

Looking back and asking how long people lived in Central Europe 150 years ago, we find the average life expectancy was 40 years. Children often died early, as did mothers. Only a few people reached a great age, generally the better off. Judging by statistics, it is still the case today that poorer people live shorter lives. (1)

In earlier times people aged sooner

Nowadays the definition of age is different. Today’s average life expectancy is 84.4 years for women and 79.8 years for men, and we speak of the ‘young elderly’ and ‘old elderly’. The French language expresses this elegantly as the ‘third and fourth ages’. In order that such increased longevity can be affordable, politicians are having to consider raising the retirement age to 67.

When does old age begin and what happens with old people?

The increase in old age often brings the complaint that it is an illness. Both are often spoken of in the same sentence. And yet aging begins at birth; we begin to age the day we are born. The forces of youth and growth stand in unavoidable opposition to those of decay and aging. As life proceeds, the fluid balance between them gradually shifts in favour of the forces of death – from whence, however, a birth of spirit arises. This contrast shows itself in the human body in many ways, for example, breathing. Just as every in-breath is rejuvenating, so with every out-breath we die ever so slightly. As Goethe puts it: ‘In every breath we breathe two graces share, The indraught and the outflow of the air, That is a toil, but this refreshment brings, So wonderfully is life a mingling. Thank God when you feel his hand constrain, And thank him when he lets you go again.’ (2)

Two streams: youthfulness and degeneration

Right beside the lungs is the heart. Here, too, the two graces are at work. The heart receives blood at the same time as it sends it out, continuously filling and emptying itself our whole life long. On the one hand, the rejuvenating, oxygenated blood, on the other the venous, carbon-dioxide rich ‘used’ or ‘aged’ blood. On the one side, the flow of young blood, as if springing from fresh sources; on the other, an older stream, akin to a river’s estuary, rich in experience and knowledge. Again, Goethe expresses this wonderfully: ‘The human soul resembleth water:
From heaven it cometh,
To heaven it soareth.
And then again
to earth descendeth,
changing ever.’ (3) Life comprises an eternal interchange between the processes of growth and decay, youth and old age. Whether we know it or not, they accompany us every second of the day, our whole life through.

Life and consciousness – opposite poles

There can be little consciousness where life abounds. We know this from high summer, when it can become difficult to concentrate in the way one can in winter. Conversely, too much awareness prevents restoration – we know this when, after a stressful day, we long to sleep. The unconscious time spent in sleep enables life forces to refresh the body, so much so that by the next day we are ready to meet our life’s tasks again. The older we become, the clearer this manifests. In the same way as seeds culminate in ripened fruit, similar can be said regarding subsequent earth lives.

Old age and illness

But what, if in old age clear conscious becomes void, empty; if we become like children? It is well-known that this can happen to anyone and the phenomenon is increasingly a topic of research. And yet the loss of thinking can result in experiences coming to expression that have been quiet for years. Needs that were central to one’s life often lose their importance, as if in anticipation of other considerations in the life beyond. Thanks to greater life expectancy many people today have the possibility to experience consciously this ripening until death.


1) Bundesamt für Statistik (CH), Figures for 2009.
2) The West-Eastern Divan. J.W. von Goethe.
3) Song of the spirits over the waters. J.W. von Goethe.