For the last 300 years, Western medicine has considered the mind and body as separate and unrelated pieces of a whole person. Doctors that treated the body did not treat the mind and doctors that treated the mind did not treat the body. Recently, studies have shown that the mind and the body are closely related and that they strongly influence each other. This area of research and practice is known as mind/body medicine.
Scientists and doctors studying mind/body medicine have discovered that our bodies produce natural chemicals and hormones that alter our moods and affect how we deal with pain. These chemicals are made in response to our emotions. Emotions were previously believed to only be psychological events, but are now linked to these specific chemical changes in the body.
Chemicals and hormones do not just affect the brain. They cause physical changes in the immune, hormone, and digestive systems and other areas of the body. Negative emotions and stress cause a release of harmful chemicals and hormones. Positive emotions and relaxation cause an increase in the helpful chemicals.
Some methods, such as Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, meditation, yoga, and tai chi include both the mind and the body in their practices. More recent therapies address the needs of both the body and mind in their practice. These include hypnosis, homeopathy, biofeedback, bach flower therapy, and naturopathy.
Mind/body medicine care givers believe that chronic stress is a major factor in most illnesses. These stress patterns are important, but your ability to effectively deal with them is more important to healing. Positive coping methods, such as meditation, biofeedback, and yoga help improve your health. Negative methods, such as alcohol, drugs, or other addictions are harmful to your health.
Encouraging you to take an active role in your health is important in mind/body medicine. Western medicine doctors may offer you medicine, surgery, or a procedure to treat your health problem. You are not usually actively involved in this process and expect the doctor to cure you. Patients using mind/body medicine realize that the doctor/patient relationship is a partnership. The best results happen when the patient assumes responsibility for improving their health.
Mind/body medicine is a concept and not a specific treatment. Doctors using these concepts think that our thoughts affect stress, pain, sleep, moods, hormones, concentration, immune system, athletic performance, and all aspects of our health.
There are no specific schools or training programs for mind/body medicine. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, osteopaths, naturopaths, homeopaths, and others can provide this care.
For more information:
1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.
2. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983: 120-132.
3. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997:90-94.