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 Mind/Body Medicine: The Psychophysiological Approach 

"The Physician should not treat the disease, but the person suffering from it."

A brief survey of healing practices throughout history and throughout the present world is both illuminating and thought-provoking. From the "miraculous" cures of the faith healers and the witch doctors to the curious successes of homeopathy and acupuncture; from the chemically oriented treatments of the allopath to the strict dietary proscriptions of the naturopath; from the operations of the surgeon to the manipulations of the chiropractor or osteopath: we seem to find almost every kind of contradiction in theory. To make matters even worse, there appear to be chronicles of undeniable success using all these methods.

Even within a single healing discipline, huge variations in response are found. Two persons, in apparently the same health, will respond differently to the same medication, one experiencing side effects or an allergy, the other getting well. The same incision in two similar individuals can produce results as different as rapid, complete healing; the development of internal adhesions; or an infection, which may require repeated surgery.

Moreover, a single disease process such as diabetes, migraine headaches, or asthma can range from a mild annoyance to a severe affliction. And because there are few indicators at the outset of a disease as to what its course will be, watching and waiting are often our only means of determination. Many physicians have learned to avoid predicting. Who has not heard stories of people who were told by doctors they had a fatal disease, only to recover fully, or those who were told their problem was minor, only to find a lifelong handicap develop.

Among the most interesting of all the healing disciplines are those that produce a physical change by focusing on mental processes. Most of us are attuned to the concepts of Western medicine: we recognize the rationale behind the use of scalpel, antibiotics, plaster cast, and anticancer poison, and can see the results of the use of artificial kidneys, cardiac valve replacements, and laser beam treatment of eye disease.

Yet the family practitioner has long known the ploy of offering a child a quarter for his or her wart. The psychological motivation to gain the quarter would, in many cases, be sufficient to enable the body to eliminate the virus that was responsible for the wart. The smiling child would then collect the reward from the doctor a week later. Where do we look to find the physiological explanation for this?

Consider also the case of the man with gangrene in his toes who, when scheduled for surgical removal of the foot, became "miraculously" well within a week after visiting a faith healer. How do we account for the many reports of cancer and tumor inhibition or regression when patients are taught meditation and deep relaxation? What is the basis for the many drugless cures reported by members of the Christian Science Church?

These represent examples of the psychophysiological approach to disease. Most people recognize that such diseases as asthma, ulcers, and migraine have psychological connections, but on close examination it is difficult indeed to find a disease for which there has not been some report of healing or improvement through approaches such as those described. But why does this kind of approach fail in some cases and yet succeed in apparently identical ones? And, even more interesting, what is the mechanism by which it works in those cases in which it is successful?

One thing is clear: all these approaches draw upon the psychological resources of the patient. The cooperation of the "patient" is paramount. In other words, rather than simply manipulating the person's physical structure, inner, neural processes are enlisted to aid in the fight against the disease. Somehow changes in the mind are ultimately translated into molecular change.

After studying those aspects common to all these seemingly different disciplines, I attempted to wed this knowledge to the physical and psychological facts about the human mind-body complex I had learned in medical school and verified in my own practice. Slowly there began to emerge a consistent picture relating physical stressors, mental and emotional states, and disease. I recognized that in many ways the human mind (particularly the unconscious) may be viewed as functioning as a device for reducing the equivocality or ambiguity that the higher conscious centers must endure. To accomplish this it learns new material and reproduces things previously learned so as to protect us from experiences that are painful and to enhance our ability to experience rewarding ones. This aspect of mental functioning works in the way that a computer does, and so we may call the brain a biocomputer. Although the analogy is neither complete nor strictly accurate, it will enable us to investigate certain of its operations more efficiently, especially those that transform thought and imagination into emotion and physical change.

We will experientially investigate the conscious and the unconscious. Then we will explore ways of transferring material between these two, developing efficient states and modes of awareness to facilitate this transfer.

We will then explore the laws of positive and negative conditioning (programming), look at our personal memories, and develop approaches that will allow us to strengthen those aspects of our behavior, experience, and attitude that we desire and to deprogram those we find maladaptive. These approaches comprise what I call "software for the mind."

We will see the importance of emotion as both the prime mover and the ultimate outcome of each mental process and learn how it can, when associated with patterns that escape conscious regulation, produce maladaptive states such as depression, low self-esteem, or uncontrollable anger; habit patterns such as overeating, alcoholism, or procrastination; or even physical disease.

Emotions and Physical Change
It was the study of these physical disease patterns that originally led me to develop the concept of coherency-that the biocomputer evolved to provide effective, nonambiguous relations with self and environment, and that incoherent or faulty programs produce disease states by maladaptively interrelating both mind and body and conscious and unconscious.

Throughout this book we will look at diseases as verbs rather than nouns. By doing this it will become obvious that most diseases are in fact processes, and as such are potentially reversible. When we look at diseases as nouns it tends to produce a crystallization of thoughts and we thus become identified with a disease.

How this works is most easily seen in the stress-related diseases whose final expression involves muscle tension. Conceptually, it is much more difficult to "get rid of a headache" than to relax the muscles in the back of the neck or let go of the tensing there. Many of the positive responses to imagery in diseases of muscle tension (such as asthma, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal disturbances) are accounted for by the ease of conceptualization. It is usually easy to visualize something tensed becoming relaxed.

Yet in other diseases, such as disorders of glandular functions, infectious diseases, allergic responses, abnormal growth of bodily cells (tumors and cancers), and the degenerative diseases, a mental picture of them as processes is possible, and healing can, in many cases, be facilitated.

Getting rid of a cold may seem difficult to imagine; it is perhaps easier to imagine allowing the body to increase its healing rate to eliminate bacteria that are trying to multiply. Arthritis can be viewed not as a thing, but as a situation in which the joints are inflaming blood vessels are enlarging and carrying certain elements to these areas. Viewed in this way, it is now possible to create imagery of this process reversing.

Critical, then, to the utilization of the imagination for healing is the imaging of the disease as a process. Healers in native cultures know this quite well-possession by a demon is reversible through exorcism. What the chiropractor calls pinched nerves can be visualized as being relieved through an "adjustment." Similarly, dietary therapy reverses the disease process by fasting to "eliminate the toxins from the body."

Unfortunately, the Latin-based nomenclature in use by the medical profession tends to make diseases sound like permanent attributes-we call a person a diabetic or arthritic. We say that a person has migraine, and a person given a diagnosis of cancer often does not experience this as a challenge to increase the body's defences against cells gone awry, but hears the pronouncement as a death sentence, which produces a depression that actually decreases the body's ability to fight the disease.

One fundamental hypothesis of this book, is that when viewed from the proper perspective it is possible for a person to direct his or her thoughts to influence physical processes that are ordinarily considered to be beyond conscious control.

The Evidence for Conscious Control of Diseases and Normally Unconscious Processes
The past few years have allowed me ample opportunity to observe the many physical effects of deep relaxation, hypnosis, guided and positive programming.

I have seen chronic problems of stomach and intestinal pain, spasm, and hypersecretion become resolved. People with long histories of allergies, hay fever, and repeated colds have put an end to these patterns. Those with continuous anxiety, pounding heart, sweaty palms, and high blood pressure have experienced a resolution of these problems. Even Parkinson's disease and visual problems have dramatically improved.

Other investigators have found that acne and even tumors may respond to relaxation and suggestion. James Esdaile, M.D., found, as have many other surgeons, that a simple hypnotic induction with suggestions of health will speed healing, retard infection, eliminate postoperative swelling, and provide excellent anesthesia during and after surgery.

Biofeedback researchers assure us that gastric secretion, EEG characteristics, blood flow to selected organs, skin temperature, and metabolic rate are among the many parameters that previously untrained subjects can learn to regulate.

An oral surgeon I know says that during a complicated extraction of a tooth, suggestions will serve to inhibit bleeding so that the area being worked on stays clear and dry. He also tells me that following the extraction, when blood is needed in the area to form a clot, suggestions to this effect can be given to the deeply relaxed patient. At this point the blood will flow until the tooth socket is filled exactly to the brim, then stop! (Other oral surgeons have shared my friend's experience.)

Still others have found that even a process as complicated as blood sugar control can be affected through thought. Hypnotized subjects will have a rise in blood sugar after imagining they are eating a candy bar. Advanced students of yoga add even more to the list of normally unconscious activities that can be brought under conscious control.

Nearly twenty years ago I attended a professional seminar at which a man named Jack Schwarz demonstrated a remarkable feat. While I held his arm in my hands, he inserted a thin, saber-sharp needle about the length of a knitting needle through the belly of his right biceps muscle. Prior to doing this, he had visualized himself sitting across the room, watching his own demonstration. As a result, I could detect no tensing of the muscle as the needle passed through it and out through the skin on the opposite side of his arm. He showed no sign of pain, and continued to lecture to the group that was present. After about three or four minutes he removed the needle, and in spite of intense squeezing of his arm by one of the people present in the seminar, no blood was shed through the wounds of entry and exit. This feat was even more remarkable in view of the fact that prior to putting the needle into his arm, Schwarz had thrown it to the ground and stepped on it to ensure that it was dirty. His claim was that through mental imagery he was able to prevent infection.

(Excerpted from Opening Your Inner 'I': Discover Healing Imagery Through Selective Awareness ISBN: 0890876428)
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