Understanding the Mind Body Connection in Chronic illness
By Robert Espinosa, C.Ht.
My goal in this article is to have you understand chronic illness as I view it in my world, that of a hypnotherapist/hypnocounselor. There is a rampant of unexplained symptoms sweeping across our nation in this current day. Widespread pain, fatigue, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, difficulty thinking and concentrating are amongst the many complaints of the millions of people caught in this mayhem. Disability in the American Industry from lower back pain continues to increase every year. People diagnosed with conditions such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome are left stunned as doctors label them "functional syndromes", in other words, medical tests show no abnormality that accounts for them. Although labeled "functional", the symptoms are indeed very real. Under the guidance of their medical doctors, people suffering from some of these chronic illnesses try different combinations of drugs in hopes of alleviating their symptoms. Through education and from witnessing results, there are growing numbers in the medical community incorporating a more integrative approach in dealing with these types of conditions. The concept that the mind and body are one functioning unit and not separate entities.
I make up that other half of the equation that is often overlooked in the mind body connection, the "mind" part. Notice I said the other half, there is still the physical part to this equation. It would be in your best interest to address both aspects by assembling your own "health care team" of professionals. You have to approach an illness with a certain type of attitude, that of a survivor, a warrior. You should view your fight against whatever type of illness you have as a war. When faced with a war, you want multiple weapons in that war chest. I am not here to replace any of your weapons, only to show you a powerful one to add to your arsenal. Arm yourself in this battle and attack it from all angles. The reliance on alternative practitioners-including homeopaths, hypnotists, and herbalists-has grown by nearly 50% during the 1990's. More hospitals nationwide are building integrative medical departments and offering such things as biofeedback, acupuncture, and hypnosis. Even the United States Congress is involved in this movement. In 1998, Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institute of Health (NIH). The purpose of the NCCAM is to stimulate, develop, and support research on complementary and alternative medicine. Our own government understands the simple concept that a person that is suffering from an illness should have every helpful modality available to them that is safe and effective. This understanding does not stop at our government. A survey published in 1994 reveals that more than 60% of doctors from a wide range of specialties recommend alternative therapies to their patients at least once. In addition, 47% of the doctors in this study reported using alternative therapies themselves.1
The Mind Connection
When discussing the mind model, I must give credit to Gerald Kein, a master hypnotist from Florida who is responsible for making such a complicated system as the mind, easy to understand. The easiest way to explain it is to view the mind as 2 parts, the outer stoic conscious mind, and the inner emotional subconscious mind. Let's concentrate on the part of the mind the hypnotist specializes in: the inner mind. The subconscious, is a very powerful part and plays a crucial role in chronic illnesses. As you read about its functions, keep in mind that hypnosis allows us to access this "inner mind". Since we live in a high-tech world, I'll use the computer analogy. Think of the subconscious mind as your inner organic computer. When you are born, this computer has no programming, it only has the operating system. As you begin your journey in life, this computer receives programming from your environment and through your senses. This programming makes you who you are today! The subconscious mind is also responsible for your permanent memory. Everything you've ever known or experienced is stored in that memory, whether or not you recall it consciously is a different matter. The subconscious mind is goal oriented, stick a goal in front of it and it will relentlessly work 24hrs/day, 7 days/week to achieve it. It will not stop until that goal is met, regardless of how long it may take or what that goal may entail. Your habits and self-perception are also stored at this inner level. Finally, your automatic body functions take place at the subconscious level: breathing, circulation, healing, digestion, and elimination.
Manifestation of an illness
This concept is best explained by the model set forth by Stephen Parkhill, author of Answer Cancer The Healing of a Nation. He is a hypnotist from Florida who has worked with thousands of chronically ill clients and has led many of them onto healthier lives. An illness is born with what we call an initial sensitizing event (henceforth referred to as an ISE). This event is the original seed planting of the condition. The ISE is simply an event the person was involved in where they lacked sufficient resources to deal with the situation at the time. Some of the resources they may have lacked include: their ability to fight back, age, coping mechanisms; there are hundreds of others. There is a "gatekeeper" which stands guard at the subconscious level. It's called the critical factor and protects the subconscious mind from incoming suggestions and programs that are not in line with its belief system. The ISE is able to bypass the critical factor (usually because they didn't have one at the time, they may have been too young, or because of the intensity of the event and lack of resources) and a program is embedded. According to Mr. Parkhill, the ISE of any negative symptom carries a program that is self destructive in nature. The ISE is then reinforced and compounded through a series of subsequent sensitizing (SSE) events that are usually negative in nature. Remember that goal achieving subconscious mind, it's also very opportunistic in nature. When the opportunity arises, the self-destructive program manifests itself into a physical or mental symptom. Some people have difficulty accepting the idea that your mind can create physical changes, but has the following ever happened to you? Have you ever gotten the "butterflies" before a very important event? Has your face ever blushed in a real embarrassing situation? Did you ever drive yourself into a fever as a child in order to miss that dreadful math test? These are just small examples of the mind body connection at work.
As you probably already know, many chronic illnesses involve more than one symptom. Think of the layout of bowling pins. The ISE (original event) is that lonely bowling pin in the front, the SSE (following events that reinforce the original) make up the middle portion, and the symptoms make up the back row. Our medical community does its best at addressing the symptoms. They may go after the symptoms through different combinations of drugs, physical therapy, and in some cases surgery. This can sometimes bring on relief of the symptology although the side effects in the case of drugs can sometimes be hefty and intolerable. There are times when a symptom can be eliminated, yet another may pop up in its place. What is happening here? The original event has not been addressed. The original seed of self-destructive behavior is still in force and flexes its might by producing a different symptom, or by making the original even more severe. Our mental professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors) work with the rational part of your mind which is located at the conscious level. They try and help you determine why you do the things you do. By addressing the subsequent events that occurred in your life they may help you deal with those clusters of emotions that are attached to your illness and stuck in that vicious cycle. Then finally, there's the realm of the hypnotist. Hypnosis allows us to sneak past the critical factor (gatekeeper) and access that inner mind. The hypnotist is able to take a person back to the original event and with the help of the client, change its perception thus destroying the root of the symptom. This tears out the self-destructive program and can put the client on the path to wellness and improvement of his condition. It is equivalent to bowling a strike and hitting that 1st pin head on, the rest of the structure goes down with it. Some of the other professionals I previously mentioned understand the power of this, and have incorporated hypnosis into their practice. However, this technique remains the bread and butter of every skilled hypnotist specializing in the mind body connection.
The skilled hypnotist also has other tools in his war chest to address issues such as secondary gains Secondary gains are the benefits that a person may receive for having the symptoms. Although consciously we probably want to be healthy, your subconscious mind may interpret neglected duties, extra attention, and monetary compensation from an injury as a great thing. The illness gets perceived as a benefit. This is an issue that would most likely have to be dealt with. Finally, the hypnotist can use the suggestive approach as the "icing on the cake" by offering positive suggestions for health and well being to the client so that it will become part of his belief system.
Thanks to Hollywood films and the stage show hypnotists, there are lot of misconceptions about hypnosis and its use. Most people don't realize that hypnosis is a natural state that we experience on a daily basis. Everybody can experience this natural phenomenon providing they have no fears or misconceptions and want to be hypnotized. It is the duty of a properly trained hypnotist to explain that during the process you are completely conscious and in full control at all times. The American Medical Association , American Psychiatric Association, and the British Medical Association have all approved hypnosis as a viable therapeutic tool.
The role of a patient in the doctor and client model should properly be viewed as a partnership. Remember the old saying: "Money can buy you anything expect your health." That's a very powerful statement. Think of how powerful money is, yet, all the money in the world meets its limits when faced with certain health issues. There is hope though, and that hope comes in the form of knowledge. Knowledge is power. Learn everything that you can on your condition and don't be afraid to discuss it with your doctor. Remember what I stated early on in the first article about that war chest, fill it up! Don't limit yourself, find out what else can help you in your fight and use it to your advantage. Gain access to cutting edge conventional care and technology through the medical community, coupled with a more holistic approach that emphasizes the mind/body connection. You now understand the role the mind plays in an illness. This is your time to take back control in your life, instead of letting life control you. You take power away from your illness just by taking a step or steps to be back in control. Talk to your doctor about the benefits of easily overlooked ideas such as more sleep, healthy diets, supplements, exercise, and the elimination of addictive substances. Ask him/her to help you some of these topics, you'd be amazed at the progress you can make by taking initiative in your path to a healthier life.
Robert Espinosa is a Certified Hypnotherapist/Hypnocounselor in Clifton, New Jersey and the Director of the MINDsolutions Hypnosis Center. He specializes in helping people that suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, cancer, and other chronic illnesses upon medical referral. For more information you can write to Mr. Espinosa at 65 Van Riper Ave, Clifton, NJ 07011. By email: firstname.lastname@example.org. By telephone: (973) 253-9706. You can also visit his website www.hypnotize.bigstep.com
1 Borkan, J., Neher, J.O., Anson, O., Smoker, B. "Referrals for Alternative Therapies." Journal of Family Practice. 1994. 39(6): 545-50.