An article written on request for and distributed at a convention of Group Health Cooperative physicians.
So, Your Patient Wants To Meditate!
Understanding Mind-Body Methods
All a doctor needs is more demands on scarce time. Trying to keep up with the advancements in individual specialties is time consuming. Now, from numerous directions, there is more evidence of the specific effects of the mind on the body. Terms are tossed around like life‑style component of disease, psychoneuroimmunology, and mind/body connection. Prestigious journals and respected colleagues are laying out impressive evidence of the effects, both good and bad, of the mental level on the physical level. You would like to be more responsive to the psychological component of your patients or maybe even your own symptoms but what’s a busy doctor to do.
There are different types of mental methods emerging that propose to have a positive effect on physical health. These are methods that can enable the mind to enhance rather than detract in the healing process. It is a treatment area, though, viewed questionably by many doctors.
In a broader, historical framework, concerns of many doctors about mental methods promoting healing effects are understandable.
The primary concerns of doctors are physical‑chemical responses ‑ mental methods have seemed to affect these in only questionable, round‑about ways.
Doctors are concerned with measurable results ‑ the effects of mental methods seem subjective and often nebulous.
Training in medicine has reflected the Cartesian Duality of a mind separate from the body ‑ mental methods affecting physical health have seemed incongruous.
Psychological methods have been and seem to many doctors more directed at inner emotional pain and outer reactions ‑ the concern of doctors would be the affects of mental processes more directly on physical processes.
The times are changing. Findings of sophisticated medical research are demanding attention be paid to the mental component of health and disease. Plus, many times, doctors, intuitively know a patient’s mental state is speeding deterioration.
Let’s take the premise that you are a concerned professional wanting to assist your patient in pursuing all avenues for health. Understandably pragmatic through training and possibly inclination, though, you may have been uncomfortable leaning too far in the direction of questionable treatment areas.
Even if you have considered recommending use of a mental method as part of the arsenal directed at recreating health, you may have been stopped by lack of information.
Many doctors in specialties unrelated to neurology or psychiatry have been concerned by seeming simplicity or subjectiveness in the mental methods. Further, doctors are trained as scientists and are often wary of the spiritual or metaphysical emphasis of some methods.
LACK OF INFORMATION ABOUT MENTAL METHODS
In any emerging field, it is rare to find a clear breakdown or overview of diverse methodologies. Each source promotes a certain philosophy and method. To develop a more general framework for reference in the area of mental methods promoting physical effects, some definitions and parameters must be established.
This discussion will be limited to those methods advocating regular use of an altered mental state-a state of concentration. These will be referred to as Mind/body methods.
Definition of Mind/body methods:
Methods that teach or guide individuals in developing and using in mentally and physically health producing ways, a state or level of mental functioning beneath the conscious, intellectual level (variously called hypnotic, meditative, etc.) for the purpose of improving and helping stimulate desired changes at the level of mind/body interaction.
For further clarity in understanding specific mental methods promoting effects on the physical and chemical levels a framework is offered (see Attachment A). This framework breaks down some of the more well known mind/body methods into three general categories: Traditional/Psychological, Spiritual/Esoteric, and Clinical/Neurological. Some representatives of methods in each category are listed. There is a further breakdown into Process Names, Process Emphasis, and Specific Therapeutic Tools. There is also offered a bibliography of sources available on mind/body methods (see Attachment B).
CONCERNS ABOUT SPIRITUAL/METAPHYSICAL FOCUS OR SUBJECTIVITY
It must always be remembered that people are spiritual beings. Even the most pragmatic wouldn’t dispute that the strongest healing factor available is an unmeasurable force called love. The healing force of a seemingly esoteric process called meditation has been respected for ages. An important factor for a doctor to remember is that whatever process a person believes in will be the most positive force for them.
It is the state of “belief” that must be examined here. There is growing scientific evidence that it is in the ultimate “belief state” that miraculous quantum experiences of mind influencing matter are possible. It is in the “belief state” that the “impossible”, complete remission of terminal diseases can happen. (Convincing evidence of the physio/chemical changes produced by the “belief state and its healing effects can be found in Quantum Healing by Chopra and Space, Time and Medicine by Dossey)
Each of the three categories of mental methods described below has a goal of helping a person create a “belief state” enhancing of health and healing. Use of a process stimulating an altered mental state is seen in all three categories as a key factor in triggering this positive force.
Traditional psychological approaches (certain models of hypnotherapy and Neurolinguistic programming) stimulate an altered mental state in order to enhance idea or perception changing processes like affirming positive messages or having a person visualize desired changes. These processes are explained as triggering change at the level of the intellect and also stimulating change in the “inner intelligence” of body processes.
The scientist may say, “But there is no measurable evidence that visualizing a tumor shrinking actually triggers change”. That is true, but many processes are as yet unmeasurable due to the inadequacy of scientific tools. Even if there were found to be no measurable correlation between affirming and visualizing and change at the physical, chemical level there are points to consider about the benefits possible from these processes. If a patient is using or inquires about such a method, consider what they are gaining in regards to healing. Your patient is now spending periods of each day projecting positive thoughts rather than negative. The have a feeling of doing something to fight back. (Mind Matters by Gazzaniga offers evidence that a mindset of fighting does less chemical damage than a mind set of resignation.)
These traditional psychological methods often involve a support group and anecdotal evidence of the possibility for recreating health. In the busy treatment environment you and other professionals rarely have the time to offer the personal support you would like and there is much evidence pointing to further deterioration rather than recreation of health.
These approaches often involve interpretation of patient attitudes about their illness. This aspect follows the analytical tradition of psychotherapeutic approaches more Jungian in origin. There is no dispute, interpretation of patient insight, on any level, is subjective. In the case of Traditional psychological approaches, the interpretation process is generally for the purpose of helping the patient uncover their attitude about their illness. They are then guided in changing negative, destructive projections.
In spiritual or esoteric approaches the name given to the processes stimulating the altered mental state are generally meditation or prayer. People seek methods of this nature, generally because they fit within their belief system. Thus, going back to our focus on the “belief state”, for that person these types of methods would be most enhancing of that therapeutic state of mind. The focus is on using the altered mental state to transcend the limits of the physical body. Also, to transcend the forces that can stimulate a process of dis‑ease, negative emotion and stress. These approaches are based in a religious tradition; some reflect that more than others. A person would generally have a specific background in specific religions like Christian Science to choose such an approach.
Eastern religions have spawned practices like Transcendental Meditation. As it is taught today the meditation process, at least in basic stages, is more removed from specific religions overtones. The emphasis is on the physiological and emotional changes that can result from a regular discipline of meditation. That emphasis makes this process more comfortable to pragmatic Westerners. A respected advocate of Transcendental Meditation, Deepak Chopra, offers valuable scientific evidence about the use of altered mental states, in general, as an essential aspect of the healing process in his book, Quantum Healing.
Again, as a pragmatic medical practitioner, when dealing with a patient who has chosen to follow such a discipline, consider the processes involved. Belief in a higher source of intelligence and strength may provide the framework for coping and fighting needed by the person facing extreme physical challenge. Time spent in meditation or prayer allows for a resting of the physical body and a quieting of negative destructive thought activity. There have been many cases where religious experiences have been associated with phenomenal turnaround in disease processes. This would question the discounting of religious approaches as a manner of triggering the “belief state” which might enable a quantum experience of mind over matter.
As scientific understanding of the brain becomes more sophisticated, mental methods are beginning to reflect this sophistication. An early attempt to train people to use their minds to improve the functioning of their bodies was biofeedback training. Autogenic training approaches, particularly as articulated by Herbert Benson in The Relaxation Response, have, also, grown in popularity. There is a new mental training process called NEURO‑THERAPY Training (www.TherapyoftheFuture.com) that extends the physiological training offered by these earlier approaches. All of these methods involve the use of an altered mental state. All of these methods enable development of the essence of the “belief state” but speak of it in more physiological terms. For example, in NEURO‑THERAPY training the emphasis is on teaching a person to control the “physiology of fear” (a state of “disbelief”) characterized by a tense body and frantic mind. The altered mental state is used to these ends rather than for analyzing what emotions are being felt or affirming new emotions to be felt. These more physiologically based methods may appeal to those professionals more pragmatic in nature. They would be more relevant for patients who could benefit from a mental method but who would tune out at any mention of meditation or visualizing the disease decreasing. The patient is taught about the interaction of the mind and body and emphasis is placed on their regular and systematic use of the altered mental state for its naturally therapeutic effects. The goal is to train the person in neurological processes that not only reduce stress and negative emotion but also have effects that actually enhance healing.
These methods are more objective and process rather than symptom oriented. Patients, especially those facing life threatening illness, are constantly bombarded by fear‑triggering, stress‑causing stimuli. There is clear documentation that the effects of this bombardment not only speed deterioration but also can actually trigger the onset of symptoms. A question in point would be, if stress is a trigger of viral activity, how long could someone infected by the AIDS virus but showing no symptoms sustain that state by regularly and aggressively working at stress reduction? Another interesting point can be made. There is discussion in the book Mind Matters by Michael Gazzaniga that the over stimulation of conscious, intellectual processes in the brain may be lessening efficient response to non‑cognitive signals regarding tumor activity, for example. By training people in regular use of an altered mental state, these methods are working to enhance and balance brain activity with the potential of more efficient response by the body to forces of deterioration.
Mental methods that have positive effects on physical processes are available and growing in sophistication. Whether more people are encouraged to use these beneficial processes involves the willingness of medical professionals to:
Examine benefits to be gained from Mind/Body methods.
Find a realm of such methods they would feel comfortable recommending.
Be supportive of patients seeking or using such methods.
Mind/body methods provide ways for people to control fear and stress– forces that can clearly speed physical deterioration. They can go even further enabling people to use the mind as an active tool in the recreation of health.