Mind-Body Medicine: An Introduction

Mind-body medicine is based upon the premise that thoughts, emotions and hence, the mind are able to effect positive or negative change on the body. It further reinforces the notion that patients can worsen the symptoms of their diseases by negative thought patterns, and at the same time, healing can come from positive activities which in turn make the patient feel better.

Undoubtedly, one's faith or spirituality, while it does not necessarily have to be religious per se, has been shown to help through difficult times. Being able to believe in something such as a higher power or the general belief that good will dominate, gives many the hope they need to deal with physical symptoms and emotional pain. And while doctors primarily deal in scientific dogma, many know and admit that prayer is a powerful medicine. Consequently, believing in something has beneficial effects and is considered a component of mind-body medicine.

Hypnosis is rather effective at helping many patients through stressful times in their lives. But do not be fooled, because this form of treatment has nothing to do with the type of hypnosis seen in horror movies. Real hypnosis is not a situation where one controls the mind of another. Contrarily, the doctor aids patients by playing suggestive or comforting tapes that actually help them to internalize corrective action. Addictions to smoking, for example, have seen great increases in treatment through hypnotherapies that relax the patient and offer subtle guidance. Obsessive behaviors such as hand washing due to the fear of germs, as well as fears of flying, spiders, dying and small spaces all have been reduced from various forms of mind-body medicine.

Although limited in how much control can be exerted upon serious ailments such as blood pressure, it has nevertheless, been shown that when patients are aware of their involuntary body functions, that they may be able to control them. Simple actions such as taking one's temperature or weighing oneself are considered biofeedback, which is another mind-body medicine. When the body is monitored, and signals present themselves, the patient learns how to act in order to change his/her circumstances. Also, by knowing what triggers a condition, the patient can avoid the offending action.

Relaxation techniques have been used for a long time to treat patients with various ailments. Deadlines at work for example, are common causes for tension headaches. By performing simple actions such as rubbing the temples or even meditating, the pain can be reduced. Learning to sit with proper posture relaxes the body and reduces fatigue in the neck, back and shoulders.

Finally, since our own thoughts cause some of our problems, another form of mind-body medicine is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Many people with phobias have no valid reason to fear something. They have basically talked themselves into the fear. As part of CBT, patients must “unlearn” their past behaviors and learn new behaviors that make their lives less frightening. To do this, the doctor helps patients to confront and overcome the fears by showing them that the “object” is not scary. A good example is someone who will not ride in an elevator. By conditioning him/her to see, enter, and ride the elevator, the patient can change the fearful behavior.

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