Mind/Body Medicine: How to Use Your Mind for Better Health

Barbara Graham

MIND/BODY MEDICINE: How to Use Your Mind for Better Health
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., and Joel Gurin
Consumer Reports Books: New York, 1993.
482 pp., $24.95 (hardback).

Barbara Graham

THE DIRECT LINK between mind and body won't surprise anyone who's ever had "butterflies in her stomach," but science is only now beginning to catch up. What's more, the mind-body connections that have been established in recent years appear far more subtle, with more profound implications for the prevention and treatment of disease, than most medical scientists ever dreamed.

For example, in a landmark study at Ohio State University College of Medicine, researchers found that stressed-out medical students who diligently practiced relaxation techniques showed stronger immune function and resistance to viruses than students who did not practice the techniques. And in perhaps the most widely hailed study in mindlbody medicine to date, Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel found that terminally ill breast cancer patients who participated in support groups lived, on average, twice as long as women assigned to the control group.

Butterflies in the stomach are one thing, but can group therapy really make you live longer? Can relaxation and meditation practices keep you from succumbing to the common cold-and who knows what other nasty little bugs? The answer, based on these and other well-designed studies, is a promising "maybe" that has captured the attention of consumers seeking to improve their health.

The effects of the research are also beginning to be felt in mainstream medicine: increased acceptance of mind/body approaches by both physicians and insurance companies, as well as the recent establishment of an Office of Alternative Medicine within the National Institutes of Health, are sure signs of change.

But along with all the good news and hoopla, there is reason for caution. For one thing, many people confuse mind/body approaches, which include meditation and relaxation techniques as well as hypnosis, imagery, biofeedback, and group support, with alternative treatment modalities such as acupuncture, crystal healing, and homeopathy. Moreover, not everyone understands that mind/body medicine is meant to be a complement-not an alternative-to conventional medical care. To further complicate matters, some claims about the mind's healing powers are backed up by solid scientific data, while others are not. Unfortunately, distinguishing responsible information from groundless claims is no simple matter-even for the most educated health consumer.

At long last, here is the book to set the record straight. Editors Daniel Goleman and Joel Goon have assembled a sorely needed, userfriendly guide to mind/body medicine. Included are an overview which explains the field's basic principles and their application to specific diseases, such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and chronic pain. Detailed descriptions of the most widely used techniques, such as meditation and biofeedback, should prove invaluable to people dealing with illness as well as those who seek to enhance their health. And the resource guide is an excellent compendium of books, articles, groups, and organizations, geared for both consumers and interested health professionals.

Perhaps the book's greatest service is to separate fact from fiction. The dark side of believing in the mind's ability to cure the body's ills is the belief that individuals are capable of exerting complete control over their health. In the book's preface, Goleman and Gurin assert that some writers and physicians have done a disservice by claiming that people's illnesses are due to their "wishing" themselves to be sick. That unfortunate approach takes far too literally the connection between mind and body. Worse, it leaves sick people, who are already suffering, feeling guilty for their supposed role in becoming ill. Mind/Body Medicine: How to Use Your Mind for Better Health offers the best available information witout making any such mistakes.

Barbara Graham writes about health and psychology and lives in New York.

 

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