ABOUT HEALING...An Essay on Theoretical Aspects of Healing

I wish to examine different aspects of the Mind/Body connection; the splitting of the mind and the body; its historical context; the consequences of this spit within our health care services and the consequences to us as individuals; to explore the evidence of the Mind/Body connections and how one's approach to working with people differs when recognition of the Mind/Body or conversely the Body/Mind connection occurs.

The split between the mind and the body is obvious in most facets of medical practice within our culture today. Our approach in healthcare is based on the paradigm of the western biomedical model, which generally fails to embrace the Mind/Body connection. Historically the creation of the split between mind and body is attributed to Rene Descartes who published a book in 1642 entitled Meditations in which he expounded the view that thoughts and things were quite separate and neither could effect the other. His thinking on this strongly influenced the medical world view at the time and does so to this day. Capra (1983) highlights this when he states:
The biomedical model is firmly grounded in Cartesian thought. Descartes introduced the strict separation of mind and body, along with the idea that the body is a machine that can be understood completely in terms of the arrangement and functioning of parts. A healthy person was like a well-made clock in perfect mechanical condition, a sick person like a clock whose parts were not functioning properly. (p. 138) 
As a consequence of this mind/body split a person's health problem or illness is viewed and treated in a compartmentalised manner. Their illness will generally be diagnosed in isolation from other aspects of their being, with little attempt to view the person and their problem/s from an holistic viewpoint. In psychiatry I often see patients being treated for depression and or anxiety with no acknowledgment or real probing as to what may have contributed to this. Many times patients are grieving for major losses in their lives, but unfortunately this is overlooked, and so rather than their experience being normalised within the context of a grief reaction, they are labelled as having a depressive illness which is invariably treated with anti-depressants and sometimes ECT. This approach prevents the person from being able to process their grief experience in a way that allows growth and real healing of their emotional wounds. Capra (1983) describes this well when he says:
By concentrating on smaller and smaller fragments of the body, modern medicine often loses sight of the patient as a human being, and by reducing health to mechanical functioning, it is no longer able to deal with the phenomenon of healing. (p.118).
Obviously this type of blinkered view does little to empower us, or our society, in learning how to heal ourselves. It is not possible to maintain balance and integration, which are inherent components in the healing process in our lives, whilst we continue to deny the interrelationship between how and what we think, and how we feel with how we are in our physical bodies. It seems absurd that the biomedical model along with the general population of the western world (due to the strong influence of the former), lack the awareness of the body/mind connection.
In our western society we are not taught or really given any inkling that there is a connection between our mind and our bodies. We respond in surprise at the notion that what we think can influence our emotions and/or our physiological responses, or conversely what we experience through our bodies can influence our emotions and our thinking. When we know this we are empowered, we can start to live our lives more fully, but mostly, we live fractured existences due to the alienation of the awareness of the interrelationships of all aspects of our being. At worst, we hand over power to the medical profession to fix us, usually by the use of chemical or surgical interventions. It is difficult, or one could even say, it is impossible, to take responsibility for one's wellbeing, if one does not have the knowledge and awareness of the Mind/Body connection.
Many people are like `walking heads', always thinking and intellectualising and generally disconnected and dissociated from their bodys and emotions. The only time the body is noticed is when it hurts or is uncomfortable in some way, hence their relationship with their body is a negative one, leading to further alienation and disconnection in their overall being. They do not realize the destructive potential that their negative thoughts can have upon their physical wellbeing. The goal is for them to learn to embrace all aspects of themselves, to understand the close relationship between the way one thinks and how one feels and on how the body responds. To achieve this understanding and awareness allows a sense of control and empowerment in understanding and by accepting the interconnectedness of all these aspects of oneself usually creates an improvement in one's overall wellbeing.
Until we understand this Mind/Body connection we cannot 'be behind the driver's wheel in our own lives'. As stated previously this awareness opens up many empowering possibilities for people in their pursuit of health and healing.

There is now sound, sophisticated scientific knowledge emerging to further illustrate this mind/body connection. One of the exciting areas of research is known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). This area of science has been able to show the important role that the mind has on the body. According to Ford (1993):

the discovery of endorphins and enkephalins (both names for the same substance) led to the discovery of an entirely new class of brain chemicals called neuropeptides - endorphins were just one of sixty to one hundred neuropeptides found in the brain. (p.52)
Candace Pert and her colleagues (Ford, 1993, p53). were able to use radioactive material to tag molecules which showed receptor sites in the limbic system of the brain which is an area of the brain that regulates organ function and emotions. Ford (1993) goes on to say:
The first pieces of the PNI puzzle were slipping into place. Areas of the brain associated with with emotions and organ function had high concentrations of neuropeptide receptors. These same neuropeptides controlled the transmission of impulses over the nervous system - nerve cells had neuropeptide receptor sites. And these same neuropeptides programmed the activity of the immune system - white blood cells also had neuropeptide receptor sites.
Neuropeptide receptor sites have been found to be present throughout the body, in muscle tissue, in the spinal cord and around organs and in the blood stream in the monocytes. These receptor sites accept only matching molecules in the form of neuropeptides which Pert and others described as "information messengers" (Ford, 1993, p.53). Further on Ford (1993) says:
The presence of neuropeptides modifies how these cells receive and pass along sensory information. Thus the same neuropeptides that regulate emotion in the brain regulate our perception of sensory stimuli through the skin. Feeling has always had two meanings: one related to emotional experience, the other related to sensation through the skin. In reality these two meanings are nothing more than different aspects of the same process. (p.55)

Much of what one reads in relationship to PNI is complicated and complex scientific data, but the message is a clear one, that proves conclusively and scientifically the existence of the Mind/Body connection.

Some of this data is having an impact on some of the medical fraternity. David Wignall is a Melbourne doctor, with an abiding interest in the the realm of Mind/Body medicine. Wignall (1993) states:
Mind/Body Medicine works with problems of the physical Body through working in the general area of Mind. There is an ever increasing body of research which supports such an approach - in particular in the form of the modern sciences of psychoneuroimmunology and psychoneuroendocrinology which have shown that emotions, stress, relationships and other life problems are capable of influencing basic physiological processes through-out Body at a very deep level and thus are also capable of producing disease states. (p.4)
It is exciting and refreshing that Dr Wignall, along with a growing group of other medical practitioners, are forerunners in a paradigm shift that is occurring in relation to working consciously with a Mind/Body approach within their medical practices. In personal conversation with Dr Wignall, he spoke of further evidence of this shift, which included the formation of an organisation, which consists of 40 medical practitioners (approximately 30 of whom are resident in Victoria), named 'The Australian College of Mind/Body Medicine' (ACOMBM). According to their information document the members of this organisation tend..
".... to value the health-enhancing and healing role of such things as: communication and listening; emotional ventilation and release; stress release; positive emotional states; positive attitude; states of relaxation; meditative & trance states; visualisation; inner process or deep inner work" (Wignall, p.2)
Whereas the above-mentioned people embrace the mind/body connection, they do so mostly from the perspective of the Mind; utilising approaches that work with the Mind to have an effect on the physical and emotional wellbeing of their patient/client. However there are many of us, including the author, who approach working with patients/clients from the perspective of the Body, with the same goal being to increase the integration of the body/mind connection and hence improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of our patient/client. Whilst in many instances it may not matter which approach occurs, Ford (1993) makes these remarks in relation to working with adult survivors of sexual abuse. He says:
While the body is both the instrument and object of sexual and physical abuse, we primarily treat abusers and survivors with various forms of talk therapy. This is a half solution because the body does not have a central role in the recovery process.......Years later, when evidence of the abuse surfaces, how can we ignore the body's role in the healing process? After all, the body was intimately involved in the original trauma. I believe these feeling and memories can be best accessed through the body, and that talking is often the least effective or meaningful way of reaching these stored experiences. Touch and movement - the body's native language - can be powerful therapeutic tools in recovery and healing. (p. 19,20)
In my work both as a psychiatric nurse and in my private practice I have found that gentle nurturing touch (with permission) which may take the form of Reiki; or a form of bodywork that I practice, called Ortho-Bionomy is able to bring people into relationship with themselves in ways that are at times extraordinary. It seems to me that sometimes emotional traumas are stored in the body tissues and are able to be resolved without major emotional catharsis, as in Gestalt work.

It seems that when working with the physical body that the memory of the emotional trauma is set free and is able to melt away, sometimes as if magically.

Working from the perspective of the body 'grounds' people into the 'here and now'; reminding them through their bodies of what being comfortable feels like again.....this appears to open up new and different ways of thinking and perceiving in their world. 

The increasing awareness and acceptance of the Mind/Body and or Body/Mind connection has the capacity to impact strongly on the way that health and healing is viewed and experienced in our society. It provides all of us who work in the area of health a challenge to continue to broaden our perceptions and understandings of the Mind/Body & Body/Mind connections and to share our understanding and knowledge of this with our clients/patients, colleagues, families and with who ever else will listen to us. By doing this, we will all share in creating shifts in our world view, which up to now has been overly influenced by the biomedical paradigm. The Mind/Body split has lasted three hundred and fifty-four years. It is time to bury this notion in the past where it well and truly belongs.

Ellie Large

© 1996

Ford, C. W. (1993).Compassionate Touch: The Role of Human of Human Touch in Healing and Recovery
New York: Fireside/Parkside.  
The Australian College of Mind/Body Medicine (ACOMBM) handout.
Capra, F. (1983). The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture.
London: Flamingo.
Wignall, D. (1993). The Neurohumoral Axis. Journal of The New Physician 3 4.

Turning Point Science Society and The Rising Culture


Fritjof Capra

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