Articles for Our Patients ~ Anna Pavlov, Ph.D.

What is Mind/Body Medicine?

Author: Anna Pavlov, Ph.D. • Language: ENG

The underlying philosophy of mind/body medicine is to treat the whole person. That means paying attention to and treating the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states of individuals so that there is balance between them. It is an approach, which views the mind, thoughts, and behavior as having a central impact on the body.

Mind/Body Medicine also aims for the prevention of disease or illness by empowering individuals to take their health into their own hands and by considering choices that will contribute to greater health and management of stress.

There is mounting scientific evidence that our emotional well-being is a powerful contributor to our physical health and to maximizing health. Perhaps the oldest evidence of the mind/body connection is a phenomenon related to medical research. It is called the placebo response. The placebo response is found when new prescription drugs are clinically tested for safety and effectiveness. In order to be sure that results are due to the tested drug, individuals are randomly and blindly assigned to at least two groups. One group receives the drug. The other or control group receives a sugar pill or placebo. Effects of the drug and the placebo or sugar pill are then measured to see if the drug benefits significantly more patients than the placebo. Many studies have found that those taking the placebo report perceived benefits. You might ask, "the placebo is just sugar; how can it have any effect?" This is one of the questions which the science of mind/body medicine seeks to answer. These results suggest that one's thoughts, expectations and beliefs can play a role in physical perceptions and outcomes.

About two decades ago a field emerged called Psychoneuroimmunology or PNI. Psychoneuroimmunology studies how emotions and stress impact on our immunity by looking at the interaction between psychological factors, the central nervous system, and the immune system. When we experience negative emotions or are under significant stress, the central nervous system and the endocrine system release various chemicals and hormones that decrease the ability of the immune system to fight off viruses and bacteria. Research on the benefits of laughter indicate a reversal of the effects of stress and an increase in general wellness.

Various approaches to mind/body medicine include relaxation training, meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, psychotherapy, guided imagery, yoga and prayer. There are some similarities between the various modalities with all intending to contribute to better/ improved health outcomes (less pain, greater sense of well-being, less anxiety, etc.)

In 1993 a report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Findings surprised many in the medical community. Over one-third (34%) of the patients surveyed had engaged in one or more practices to complement medical treatment which was not disclosed to their physicians.

These approaches are gaining in popularity in large part because people are searching for something they can do to improve the quality of their life and to complement medical treatment. Many people come to mind/body medicine after being diagnosed with a chronic or serious illness. Such approaches as relaxation, imagery, yoga, and mindfulness can assist patients in coping with treatment and increasing a personal sense of well-being.

It is important to realize that mind/body medicine does not promise to cure major physical illnesses. It aims to uncover the best ways to prevent and lessen major illness by incorporating into everyday life a group of techniques, old and new. Practices, such as meditation, are found in the history of most religions.

Mind/Body medicine attempts to combine the ancient philosophies of health and healing with the proven techniques of modern medicine and genetics. Meditation, imagery, relaxation, and self-hypnosis, when used at home, cost nothing but a bit of time. There are self-help and support groups that use mind/body therapies, and that cost little or nothing to join. The Cancer Care Center offers a variety of support groups and wellness programs such as,  Yoga, Mind/Body Connection, and Relaxation and Imagery.

Suggested Readings:

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Dell Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion Press.

Sobel, D.S. & Ornstein, R. (1996). The Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook. New York: Patient Education Media, Inc.

Swinton, J. (2001). Spirituality and Mental Health Care: Rediscovering a Forgotten Dimension. London: Jessica Kingsley.

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