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  » Alternative Medicine  »  Mind/Body Medicine

What is Mind/Body Medicine?

Mind/body medicine is an approach to healing that uses the power of thoughts and emotions to influence physical health. As Hippocrates once wrote, "The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well." This is the essence of mind/body medicine.

Does Mind/Body Medicine work?

While phrases such as "mind over matter" have been around for years, only recently have scientists found solid evidence that mind-body techniques actually do combat disease and promote health. In 1989, a landmark study by David Spiegel, M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine dramatically demonstrated the power of the mind to heal. Of 86 women with late-stage breast cancer, half received standard medical care while the other half received the standard care plus weekly support sessions in which the women were able to share both their grief and their triumphs. Spiegel discovered that the women who participated in the social support group lived twice as long as the women who did not.

What are Mind/Body Techniques?

The key to any mind/body technique is to "train" the mind to focus on the body without distraction. It is in this state of "focused concentration" that an individual may be able to change his or her health. The following are some of the most commonly practiced techniques.

Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a technique in which people are trained to improve their health by learning to control certain internal bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate or blood pressure. These activities can be measured with electrodes and displayed on a monitor that both the participant and his or her practitioner can see. The monitor thereby provides feedback to the participant about the internal workings of his or her body. This person can then be taught to use this information to gain control over these "involuntary" activities. Biofeedback is an effective therapy for many conditions, but it is primarily used to treat tension headache, migraine headache, and chronic pain.

Relaxation Techniques: There are three major types of relaxation techniques:

  • Autogenic training. This technique uses both visual imagery and body awareness to move a person into a deep state of relaxation. The person imagines a peaceful place and then focuses on different physical sensations, moving from the feet to the head. For example, one might focus on warmth and heaviness in the limbs, easy, natural breathing, a calm heartbeat, and a cool forehead.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves slowly tensing and then releasing each muscle group individually, starting with the muscles in the toes and finishing with those in the head.
  • Meditation. The two most popular forms of meditation in the U.S. include Transcendental Meditation (students repeat a mantra [a single word or phrase], maintaining an "oh well" attitude if other thoughts arise) and mindfulness meditation (students focus their attention on their moment-by-moment thoughts and sensations).

Hypnosis: During hypnosis (taken from the Greek term hypnos, meaning "sleep") a person's body relaxes while his or her thoughts become more focused and attentive. It is in this state of deep concentration that people are highly responsive to a hypnotherapist's suggestions. There are three layers of hypnosis: the first is absorption (becoming deeply engaged in the words or images presented by a hypnotherapist); the second is dissociation (letting go of critical thoughts); and the third is responsiveness (complying whole-heartedly to a hypnotherapist's suggestions). Today, many mental health professionals use hypnosis to treat people with addictions, pain, anxiety disorders, and phobias.

How can I find more information on mind/body medicine?

Biofeedback: Specialists who provide biofeedback training range from psychiatrists and psychologists to nurses, dentists, and physicians. The Association for Applied Psychology and Biofeedback (http://www.aapb.org/) is the national membership association for professionals using biofeedback and is a good resource for finding qualified biofeedback practitioners in your area. To receive a directory of trained biofeedback specialists in your area, write to the AAPB at 10200 W. 44th Avenue, Suite 304, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033-2840 or call them at 800-477-8892.

Relaxation: Numerous clinics and hospitals around the country have integrated relaxation techniques into their healthcare programs. To learn more about relaxation techniques and to locate healthcare facilities that include them as part of their practice, contact the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass. at 508-856-2656. You can also visit them on the Web at www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr to find a list of the healthcare facilities in 38 states that offer information on and training in relaxation techniques.

Hypnosis: Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, or family counselors that have received additional training in hypnotherapy. For example, members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) must hold a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, podiatry, or psychology, or a master's level degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy with at least 20 hours of ASCH-approved training in hypnotherapy. To receive a directory of professionals practicing hypnotherapy near you, contact either the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (visit them on the Web at http://www.asch.net/ or call 312-645-9810) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (on the Web at sunsite.utk.edu/IJCEH/scehframe.htm or by phone at 509-332-7555).

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