The scientific medical communities are the world’s best experts at studying disease. But they have not been all that successful in studying well-being. I did an internet search for scientific articles on the study of spontaneous remissions and found exactly one. Spontaneous remission is the term used to explain what happened when someone recovers from a chronic or terminal illness and no one know why or how. There is only one study that attempted to discover how people diagnosed with cancer suddenly recover with no apparent or effective treatment. The term spontaneous remission seems to imply that it will come back. If a cold goes away with no treatment, is it cured or simply in remission?
In the last couple of years, we at Future Life Now have made references to two books The Brain’s Way of Healing and The Psychobiology of Gene Expression. They are among the most recent of a very long list of books exploring how individuals influence the course of dis-ease – both physical and emotional.
And in the 1970’s influential books including Getting Well Again, which reported the use of imagination, visualization and belief and recovery for people diagnosed with terminal cancer. A few years later Bernie Siegel, MD, published Love, Medicine and Miracles about Exceptional Cancer Patients.
It’s an impressive and very long list of authors that have covered this topic including Norman Doidge, MD, Ernest Rossi, Ph. D., Carl Simonton, MD, Stephanie Matthews Simonton, Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D., Larry Dossey, MD, and Deepak Chopra, MD. A common theme in all these books is that mental processes have an enormous impact on mental and physical health and well-being. Until recently, the scientific communities of mental and physical health have largely ignored or denied what these people have been saying for the past forty-years. These claims simply have not fit into the scientific model of inquiry.
Doctors know that smoking can cause cancer, but they do not know how to explain people who smoke for fifty years but never get cancer. They know that people who have strokes frequently have high blood pressure. But they don’t know how millions of people who have high blood pressure avoid having strokes.
We know that herniated discs or arthritis in the spine can be exceedingly painful. But we also know that there are many who have herniated discs or arthritic spines but have no pain at all. I think it would be great to discover how that happens. When it comes to chronic pain, I do know this: I have never worked with a client experiencing chronic pain that could not make the pain worse. I didn’t have to teach them how to do it, but they could do it without getting out of the chair, just by focusing on it. They also discovered that if they could make it worse, they could make it better. We teach clients who experience chronic pain how to resolve/reverse it so they experience more and more comfort.
We owe a great debt to the scientific community. Their efforts have extended life expectancy in ways never thought possible a century ago. The authors listed above and many, many more are suggesting that the scientific community and the world would benefit if the scope of study were expanded to include those who unexpectedly recovered. An eighty plus year old member of a church where I was the pastor was diagnosed with a horribly painful form of skin cancer. She spent weeks in a regional cancer research hospital. She could not even stand to have sheets to touch her body. The hospital eventually said they had done all they could do and sent her home to live with her sister until she died. A niece was a nurse and changed her dressings twice a day. She miraculously completely recovered! She returned to the hospital where pictures of her skin were taken and her case written up. But no one asked how it happened. It was simply a case of spontaneous remission.
For four years, I facilitated a cancer support group. The participants learned how to use their own mental and physical resources to make therapies more effective with fewer unwanted effects. Using mental imagery and guided meditations they strengthened their immune systems, decreased or eliminated pain and had better than expected outcomes. Not all survived. But all lived higher than expected quality of life. Those who did not survive lived active lives up until the last two or three days of life. These same practices have been shown to improve conditions for people experiencing many different illnesses including diabetes, arthritis, heart problems, and others.
We can learn how to be the major contributor to our health, well-being and healing. Health care providers can be more effective if we learn how to take the lead in healing.
What is true in the physical health arena is also true in then the mental health field as well. We’ll address that next time.