The greatest mistake in the treatment of disease is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.
The amazing thing about this quote is that it is more than 2400 years old – it comes from Plato. Yet it is applicable now as it was then.
Medicine is slowly evolving. There has been an increasing scientific interest in mind and body links since Henry K. Beecher published his classic work entitled “The Powerful Placebo” in 1955. In the past 50 years researchers have begun to focus on the power of the mind in influencing the body and illness leading to:
• The establishment of the field of psychoimmunology which seeks to quantify and detail how the mind affects the immune system and through the immune system affects disease;
• The establishment of the field of psychophysiology which details the body and mind interactions;
• The change in research protocols in clinical trials aimed at quantifying or controlling for psychological factors and the body’s potential to heal itself, in order to explain the ‘placebo’ and understand what the true treatment effect is.
An avalanche of evidence is mounting, particularly as neurological understanding improves with new scanning, imaging and more detailed biochemical data. This evidence is beginning to permeate the mainstream and has begun a revolution in thinking that will end in medical science finally embracing what Plato knew 2400 years ago.
The Mind and Body are One Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It’s completely impossible. 2- It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along.
[Arthur C Clarke]
When one understands how the mind works, the premise for mind body medicine becomes self-evident.
The mind is responsible for the smooth running of the body. Its prime job is to ensure we retain good health. It extends throughout the body, via the peripheral nervous system. It gathers information from the body, sends its commands via the nervous and neuroendocrine (hormones and neuropeptides) systems. Each cell of our body alters its function on command of the mind.
The body in turn affects the mind. The mind receives its energy, nutrients, and fluids from the body. The body can also affect the mind by producing its own neuropeptides and hormones that travel to the brain and alter the functioning of neurons in specific regions of the brain. For example, insulin that is released by the pancreas travels to the brain and influences the function of some of the survival centres of the brain, affecting how we feel.
Disease Chronic disease can be seen as a breakdown of the body’s capacity to heal itself. This begs the question – what causes this breakdown? From a mind body perspective it represents a breakdown in the mind’s efficient coordination of the body. Biomedical science is now clear that long term stress, either physical or mental, can cause this breakdown. Long term stress effects the mind, and this in turn affects the body.
What Western Medicine is yet to detail is how specific emotions, behavioural and psychological patterns produce specific diseases. In Mind Body Medicine these mind body links are understood using Eastern Medicine which has a long history of analysing how specific emotions effect specific areas of the body.
In our mind body medicine courses one of the methods we use is constitutional analysis. Constitutions detail how specific emotions and behaviour patterns affect specific areas or functions of the body.
For example, if a client is particularly sensitive to fear, they will usually seek to control or withdraw. The controlling person is driven, finds it difficult to rest and their mind is constantly active. The person that withdraws tries to be invisible and a small target and this requires their mind to be vigilant looking for signs of danger. This type of fear driven constitution commonly gets lower back pain, tight hamstrings and calf muscles, wakes in the night to go to the toilet and may later in life have urinary problems.
Understanding the links between the body and mind can be very useful for clients. Clients often feel disempowered and overwhelmed because they have multiple health problems and no concept of what is driving them. Being able to understand that a particular psychological pattern is connected to their symptoms is very useful. They then recognise that changing their approach to life can give the body a chance to heal itself. This approach is very successful because it enables clients to take charge of their own health and wellbeing.
The Future Mind body medicine is the future for medicine because it enables both physical and psychological medicine to work more effectively. All treatments work best if the body and mind are receptive to the treatment. Mind body medicine is also empowering for clients because it enables them to take active measures towards regaining their own health and wellbeing.