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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Mind-Body Medicine - Empowered Healthcare

By Lisa Moore

Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, once said, “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” That statement has come full circle since he made it around 370 B.C.

Most ancient Eastern healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and ayurvedic medicine, emphasize the link between the mind and the body. Western medicine has not always acknowledged this belief. As science advanced and with Louis Pasteur's discovery of germs, the concept of a mind/body connection to illness diminished.

With current research indicating that many illnesses are impacted by our attitudes and moods, there is growing interest in mind/body medicine - an approach to healing that uses the power of emotions and thoughts to positively influence physical health.

Mind/body medicine uses modalities like yoga, meditation, t’ai chi, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapies, energy work and hypnosis. They help reduce stress, which has been proven to cause or exacerbate certain health conditions. These techniques may improve coping skills, promote relaxation, enhance immunity, reduce pain and tension and decrease the need for medication. Learning new ways to manage life situations and emotions can put a person on the road to recovery.

No longer viewed with suspicion, mind-body programs are established at medical schools around the world. Dr. Dael Waxman, M.D. is the Medical Director for Behavioral and Integrative Medicine at the Family Medicine Residency Program for Carolinas Medical Center. He shared his views on mind/body medicine with Natural Awakenings.

What has been your observation of mind/body medicine since you became a doctor?

  Since starting medical school in 1980, there has been a steady and certain growth of attention paid to this very large field. In the past, for most physicians, there was a sense that thoughts, feelings, and mind state had some influence on the health of the patient. However the very powerful medical model, which paid little attention to mind influences, was higher on the hierarchy when looking for disease management strategies.

Most medical schools now teach the biopsychosocial model and patient-centered interviewing. These may be seen as more of a Western means towards attending to the mind/body connection. Increasingly, medical systems are seeing the value of attending to the psyche as evidenced by the growing movement of mental health professionals collaborating with medical professionals. 

How does mind/body medicine work?  A major bridge between the mind and the body is the field of psychoneuroimmunology which is trying, in a scientific way, to answer this question. There are now voluminous data that describe how mind states influence other systems in the body.

For example, it has long been known that un-neutralized stress increases cortisol, which inhibits the immune system. This is reinforced by studies which show greater attack rates of viruses on individuals who are not managing their stress well.

Those that are stress neutral are much less likely to get a virus infection when exposed. To complement these studies, we now know that mind/body strategies such as mindfulness meditation and yoga improve healing rates, decrease length of stay in hospitals and reduce the morbidity of many chronic illnesses.

What health issues can mind/body medicine help with?

The best way for me to answer this question is to posit that there is no health or medical condition that I know of that does not affect our mind state. Conversely, there is also no mind state that does not influence our physical selves.

Therefore, under the broadest definition of mind/body medicine which incorporates behavior, psychology, social interactions, internal mind state, beliefs and meaning, there are no conditions that attention to the mind/body connection cannot help with.

What do you think the future holds for traditional medical physicians regarding the integration of mind/body medicine into their practices?

As I stated, there is steady growth, especially over the last 20 years, of this integration.  It generally is not showing up in traditional clinical or teaching environments as courses or departments of mind/body medicine. It is showing up as pieces in the overall healing environment. Examples are: relaxation/guided imagery recordings in preparation for procedures, mindfulness meditation groups in health care settings, use of hypnosis for managing chronic pain, use of motivational interviewing for healthy behavior change and so on.     In 2007, Americans spent $287 billion on prescription drugs. There is a growing body of research showing that mind/body modalities can assist in the healing process with health issues ranging from high blood pressure to cancer.

Do you feel the use of mind/body medicine can empower people to take an active role in their health and decrease the dependency on pharmaceuticals?

Yes, especially if clinicians shift from an orientation of just telling patients what to do to facilitating a patient toward increased self-regulation, self-healing, and self-reliance.

Dr. Waxman received clinical training in mind/body medicine at the Harvard Mind/Body Institute and training in mindfulness-based stress reduction at the Center for Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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