In his book, “Mindbbody Prescription,” John E. Sarno, MD focusses most of his attention on back pain suggesting that much of the surgery performed to alleviate back pain is needless and inconsistent with the evidence of many people having similar conditions without any pain at all. His thesis is that the mind can create symptoms, like back pain, as a result of unresolved internalized conflict and emotion, mostly anger.
I've had two back surgeries and frankly they helped me but I was interested in this book because of it's applications for just about everything else.
PSYCHOSOMATIC DOESN’T MEAN IMAGINARY
When we hear the term psychosomatic, we think that the person whose illness is psychosomatic, is somehow mentally ill, an irrational hypochondriac. The symptoms or even full-on diseases are considered imaginary by many. That is not true. Just because a disease may be psychosomatic, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
What it means is that the mind and the body are relating and well, what could be more natural than that? Take this simple example. Stress weakens the immune system. A person burning the candle at both ends for too long becomes weak and gets a bad cold. The cold puts the person in bed providing two or three days of rest. The immune system strengthens, the cold runs its course. The root cause was in the stress but that didn’t make the cold any less real. It does however mean that if the stress isn’t remedied, something else may well follow that cold. Treating just the somatic part will probably prove insufficient in the long run. According to Sarno, the symptom will either present itself again or morph into something else.
I suddenly think of all those kids who missed school with a stomachache because there was something happening in school they couldn’t control or resolve. Think of the “mental health” days some employees take because they are internalizing conflict at work. Think of how we represent emotional resignation in our culture. We bite the bullet. Swallow our pride. Eat crow. We face situations that make us, literally force us to internalize negative emotion. According to Sarno’s theory, there is a point at which the mind says, “enough is enough” and it creates something that stops the process.
If clients come to me and we work on an issue or an area of their lives that relates to some physical problem, I always try to find out if they have consulted a doctor and what courses of treatment they’ve tried. I’m not a doctor and I can neither prescribe nor treat anything but it helps me to understand the history of my client’s experience. Some of my clients have exhausted their treatment alternatives and come to me because there is nothing left to try. Others employ hypnotherapy as a complementary practice to whatever their doctor advises. I can help them cope with their symptoms, manage their pain, and manage the limitations those conditions may place on their lives.
But together in hypnosis, we might be able to do something even better. If there is any part of a condition that is rooted in the psyche, addressing merely the somatic will only do part of the job. Like I said, I’m unqualified to prescribe and treat mental or physical illness. But if clients, in hypnosis, discover a connection between a physical problem or an emotional manifestation (phobia, anxiety, panic, etc.) and an unresolved issue, I can help them work through the unresolved issue.
In my experience, many doctors only offhandedly suggest complementary therapies if they mention them at all. I suppose it’s because such the effectiveness of such therapies lacks scientific evidence. Sarno, however, points out how tentative the evidence is for many medications and even some surgeries. And any honest scientist will admit that getting definitive proof comes with serious ethical conflicts, such as experimenting on humans.
If ethics prohibits the scientific method, and a therapy demonstrates merely anecdotal evidence, should we exclude the therapy just because the evidence is not scientific—even if it is statistically significant?
Should the difficulty in obtaining valid data mean that we don’t engage in alternative or complementary therapies until they are proven? Let’s bring it on home. Here’s a quiz. Choose the best answer. If I face an illness or condition that negatively impacts my life, should I be [willing, forced, or unwilling] to wait around for someone to fund a flawlessly designed and implemented, longitudinal study that tests the therapy?
I am unwilling.
The system of medicine we have in the United States, suggest that the body is a machine and that a sick body is a malfunctioning or broken machine. Are we to believe that taking our bodies body to the doctor is like taking our cars to a mechanic? Trusting ENTIRELY in a system which holds a merely mechanistic view of life, is simply stupid. It’s an obvious and facile oversimplification of a complicated human story—the medical profession knows that. What holds them back from prescribing something that doesn’t come in a bottle or focus on the machine is a matter of speculation but my guess is that it may well be the lack of empirical evidence and well, we know where that gets us.
Sorry, I can’t be nicer about this issue. Health and life are at stake. If you honestly think all you are a machine, that your body and your mind are merely a bunch of chemical reactions, then go to your doctor and hope for the best. You should then make sure your doctor is the best and most honest one available. I wish you well. You’ll just have to accept whatever happens as it comes. It’s your life.
But, if you believe you are more than a mass of chemical reactions, and you are experiencing a threatening condition or illness, medical treatment can and should be part of a larger plan to treat your life, not merely your disease. Certainly go to your doctor. The knowledge doctors have is invaluable, important, essential.
But don’t be afraid to ask about, look into and investigate alternative or complementary therapies. Ask your doctor about them. It's OK. Your doctor is being paid to help you.
Consider following the "do no harm" rule. Do everything you can to improve your overall wellness as long as there are no legitimate contraindications. I’m not talking about investing in snake oil products willy-nilly out of spam emails but engaging in practices that you think may be of some benefit.
There is a long list of possibilities. I’ll give you the most conventional ones. Practice mindfulness; meditate; pray; do yoga; get a massage; join a gym, try acupuncture or oriental medicine; see a counselor; talk to your pastor; see a chiropractor; visit a reiki master; use aroma, color or light therapy; and yes, meet with a hypnotherapist.
Learn to be your own best friend. Learn to love yourself. Do more than focus your attention on a symptom or a disease. Treat the whole you.