Grassroots health: Dr Google the people’s physician

In the age of the internet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t “Dr Googled” a health issue before. In fact, one in every 20 Google searches are health-related, according to the tech giant.

Maybe you’ve googled one of the top 10 trending health questions like, can you get pregnant on birth control, what is TBI or in the number one slot, what is cupping?

Whilst it’s often frowned upon and considered potentially dangerous to rely on google for health answers, the reality is, we’re all doing it, and often. Commentators are quick to point out what could go wrong in this self-doctoring approach, but how many people are asking what could go right? What does this trend to consult Dr Google actually mean?

I believe the rise of internet has enabled grassroots holistic health movements to flourish, that I like to call “The People’s Medicine.”  It’s a new type of folk medicine that’s reviving the common sense self-care approaches of eras gone by.

In the 19th century there were a number of popular movements which encouraged people to “be their own physicians,” as reflected in this historic book title below.  Herbs were often the treatment of choice and it was not uncommon for everyday folk to be familiar with their preparation and use.

people their own ph

Thomsonian Medicine, was one particular holistic health system that enjoyed wide popularity in the United States during this era, reaching over 1 million people in its height. Founded by a medical reformist Samuel Thomson, this movement promoted the idea of a self-directed health awareness and self-care care as a valid alternative or adjunct to “doctors orders”.  This approach appealed to members of the anti-elitist movement of the time as it offered people a more accessible and affordable way to manage common ailments.

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Excerpts from “The Thomsonian Manual”, by Samuel Thomson, 1835

In more recent times, the concept of self-care has been embraced once again in grassroots mental health recovery communities. The diversity of opinions found through the internet has allowed people to reclaim a sense of agency over their psychological challenges and look beyond homogenous conventional treatments.

The International Hearing Voices movement is one such example of people learning to be their own healers, or what could be called self-made therapists. In this movement people who have experienced auditory hallucinations meet in peer-to-peer groups to explore the value and purpose of these experiences rather than seeing them as an illness. They learn how to embrace their voices in a constructive and functional manner that often allows them to move away from psychiatric labels and medications.

“Our research shows that to hear voices is not the consequence of a diseased brain, but more akin to a variation in human behaviour, like being left-handed. It is not so much the voices that are the problem, but the difficulties that some people have in coping with them.” – from the international hearing voices website 

Smart Recovery  is another peer-to-peer movement that’s grown in popularly with the help of grassroots people power. Smart is a secular alternative to AA for people with substance use disorders but many physicians are unaware of its existence. Most people find out about it through a quick google search looking for an alternative. Much like Weight Watchers, Smart is facilitated by people who have recovered from addiction and been through the program themselves. The meetings, are based on psychological tools and mutual support.

There are countless examples of these sort of movements that are often very much driven by everyday people without health qualifications, who nonetheless are acting as catalysts for profound healing and change. There’s a support tribe for everything and if not you can start your own online.

There is of course a dark side to Dr Googling; obsession, hypochondria, panic or even the potentially lethal outcome of acting on dubious advice. But since people are unlikely to quit the internet, the best approach might be good old moderation mixed with a dose of common sense, as Doctor Thomson might have advised if he were living today.

After all an honest physician, he said, will tell you that:

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