Matthew Hogg BSc (Hons) mFNTP mNNA mABH mABNLP
Registered Nutritional Therapist, Hypnotherapist & NLP Practitioner
Modern science has now shown time and again that the mind and body cannot be separated, no matter the notion otherwise that some traditional psychiatrists still cling to. The mind-body connection is very real and means that our thoughts affect the physiology of our entire body, and vice versa. It is this connection that almost all of the approaches and therapies we explore at EiR Psychology are based upon. Hypnotherapy and meditation for example allow us to improve our mental wellbeing which in turn has a positive affect on our physical health. Biological psychology has more of a focus on improving our biological health with the aim of positively changing our mental health.
One of the pioneers in the field and a favorite here is Candace B. Pert, Ph.D. and here are a couple of enlightening quotes from her on the subject:
"Most psychologists treat the mind as disembodied, a phenomenon with little or no connection to the physical body. Conversely physicians treat the body with no regard to the mind or the emotions. But the body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other."
"As our feeling change, this mixture of peptides travels throughout your body and your brain. And they're literally changing the chemistry of every cell in your body."
We would recommend everyone interested in mind-body medicine and the many medical disciplines it has spawned and informed read her seminal book - Molecules of Emotion.
Definition of Mind-Body Medicine
The quotes from Candace Pert above should give you a good idea of what mind-body medicine is all about. The very name suggests that anything that is good for our mental health is also good for our physical health. So, eating a nutritious diet and exercising are both good for us physically but also mentally through the changes in our physiology they bring about (e.g. endorphin and dopamine release with exercise). Eating well provides the nutrients needed for the molecular building blocks that ensure both physical and mental health.
But mind-body medicine can be used as a healing tool also; and it is, through many different therapies. This more formal definition from the NIH National Cancer Institute states that mind-body medicine is:
"A health practice that combines mental focus, controlled breathing, and body movements to help relax the body and mind. It may be used to help control pain, stress, anxiety, and depression, and for overall health. Examples of mind-body practices include meditation, hypnosis, guided imagery, yoga, and tai chi. A mind-body practice is a type of complementary and alternative medicine. Also called mind-body modality."
We would say that it goes further and includes healing modalities such as Nutritional Therapy which use the link from body to mind to improve mind-body health - but the above definition pretty much has it down.
Mind-Body Medicine Therapies
The list of therapies that fall under the umbrella of mind-body medicine is a lengthy one as you can imagine from the definition and information above. We won't list every single one here but we can certainly give you some examples of the most common and popular:
- Meditation & Mindfulness
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
- Tai Chi
- Qi Gong
- Emotional Intelligence (EQ) (development of)
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
- Guided Imagery
- Relaxation Techniques
- Spiritual Healing
As stated, this is far from an exhaustive list but it gives you an idea of what mind-body medicine encompasses; which is a mixture of centuries old practices and more recently developed techniques. It underpins all of these therapies and healing approaches and many, many more besides.
As science learns more about the mind-body connection thanks to the likes of Candace Pert and her research, the list will grow even further as new ways of using the connection become apparent and are put to use in healing patients with a wide variety of ailments, or simply for maintenance of good health and wellbeing.
Uses of the Mind-Body Connection
As we heard from cancer.gov, mind-body medicine can be used to: "to help control pain, stress, anxiety, and depression, and for overall health." This is obviously in the context of cancer, for which mind-body medicine can be very beneficial in palliative care, and some would say more.
So, mind-body medicine can be very helpful in terms of alleviating both physical and mental pain and suffering. Added to those symptoms mentioned above it may also benefit:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Sleep Disorders
- Muscular Aches & Pains
- Joint Aches & Pains
- Gut Symptoms e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
...and the list could go on since mind-body medicine works on a person's entire physiology.
Not just that but the mind-body connection is a phenomena that brings in a spiritual dimension also. Some prominent names such as Charles T. Tart have proposed that it would more accurately be described as the mind-body-spirit connection; and there is certainly something to this given the likes of meditation and yoga were originally spiritual practices. There's no doubt mind-body medicine, as anyone who's experienced it or practiced it will tell you, offers a means of developing self-awareness and working on self-improvement, be that spiritually focused or not.
Mind-Body Medicine and Invisible Illness
With a particular focus on environmental / invisible illness here at EiR Psychology let's just take a minute to look at what mind-body medicine can do for those affected. This section is actually a little redundant after what we have already learned above as invisible illness sufferers, those affected by the likes of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and IBS, will have noted that many of the symptoms benefitted most by mind-body medicine are exactly those which cause them most trouble, the likes of pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, stress and feeling sick all over.
So, anyone affected by invisible illnesses will certainly gain some benefit from engaging in mind-body practices such as meditation and yoga (if body allows) and seeking out qualified practitioners of hypnotherapy, NLP, or TCM for example. Since invisible illnesses often leave sufferers unable to work, another benefit of mind-body medicine is that many practices that fall under its umbrella can be learned and practiced for free through the internet or local groups.
The mind-body connection is a hugely powerful healing tool in the form of mind-body medicine. It is incredible that for so long, medicine stuck to the rigid belief that mind and body are completely separate entities (some still do even now!). It is impossible to address the health of either mind or body without looking at the health of the other and this is what mind-body medicine does so successfully. In addition, it can be a gateway to self-growth and improvement and open spiritual doorways you didn't know existed. Mind-body medicine shows us just what an incredible thing the human body really is.
Pert CB (1999) Molecules of Emotion Pocket Books
Tart CT (Ed.) (1997) Mind Body Spirit Hampton Roads