Psychosomatic medicine is the study, diagnosis, and treatment of physical health conditions that stem from emotional problems. It emphasizes the unity of the mind and body in health and medicine. Many physicians believe understanding the psychological causes of illnesses is a key in understanding and treating the physical symptoms of the illnesses themselves.
Throughout recorded history, people are said to have been cured of diseases by various mystical practices, such as incantation, prayer, the laying on of hands, and
In 1774, German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815) applied a scientific basis for mysticism when he waved magnets over some patients to cure them. He later discovered the magnets were not needed and he could get the same results by passing his hands over some patients. He called his technique "animal magnetism," and said it was based on the principle that illnesses occur when the body's flow of natural electromagnetic energy becomes blocked. He opened a practice in Vienna, Austria, and later went to Paris, where he lived and worked for six years, using magnetism and hypnosis to treat illnesses. He was eventually driven out of both cities and labeled a "quack" since his techniques did not always work.
Mesmer's work was studied by American scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) and French chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794), who became famous for isolating oxygen. Both spent years duplicating Mesmer's work, but with no successful results. However, the research led Franklin to conclude that the mind does have an influence over physical ailments; that in some patients, the belief that they will be cured actually cures them.
Further research into psychosomatic medicine was conducted by Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) in the late 1800s. Research continued, and by the 1960s the field had gained respect by the general medical community. Today, biofeedback, hypnosis, prayer, and humor are considered legitimate facets of psychosomatic medicine.
The primary benefit of psychosomatic medicine is that it does not involve drugs, surgery, or other invasive treatments. It is also greatly beneficial in conditions created by the mind rather than a physical condition. In addition, in psychosomatic medicine, the patient has the greatest ability to control the healing process through various positive thinking techniques.
In tne April 2002 issue of Managed Healthcare Executive, Dr. David Sobel, director of Patient Education and Health Promotions for Kaiser Permanente's Northern California region, explained that one of the first things he noticed when he started practicing medicine is that a large number of his patients had problems that could not be explained by conventional medical and diagnostic techniques. He said that, "Up to 20% possess diagnosable psychiatric disorders but even more impressive is that upwards of 80% of the patients will be suffering significant levels of psychosocial distress." He went on to say "distress often expresses itself through physical or bodily symptoms … if not causing the symptoms, then certainly exacerbating them." He calls the condition a deficiency of mind-body regulation.
To address this, Kaiser Permanente developed a mind-body core program that includes teaching patients how to relax, manage stress, communicate more effectively, and think more positively.
There is no preparation needed to undergo psychosomatic treatment, other than a willingness to believe it may be effective.
Patients should be wary of psychosomatic practitioners who do not have degrees in medicine or psychology, or specialized training in either field. Some patients may also need conventional medical care or a combination of conventional and psychosomatic therapies.
There are no known serious side effects of psychosomatic treatment in patients deemed suitable for the treatment by a qualified medical practitioner.
Research & general acceptance
A study published in 2002 by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University Department of Psychology found that people with positive emotions were less likely to catch the common cold. A study by the University of California at San Francisco, published in 2002, reported that people with AIDS who had a positive attitude had a lower death rate from AIDS-related complications.
A Canadian study published in 2002 showed that people with breast or prostate cancer, who meditated and practiced yoga regularly, had an enhanced quality of life and reduced stress regarding their illness. A study published in 2000 by the Center for Health and Aging Studies at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, showed that people who practiced Transcendental Meditation significantly reduced their cholesterol levels. Meditation also improved brain and immune system functions of patients in a study by several universities, which was published in 2003.
Training & certification
Many colleges and universities have psychosomatic medicine departments or training programs for certification. Practitioners usually are certified physicians or psychiatrists, but can also be other medical professionals, such as psychologists and nurses. However, practitioners can also include those with no medical training, such as hypnotists, counselors, ministers, and yoga and meditation instructors.
Dreher, Henry. Mind-Body Unity: A New Vision for Mind&-Body Science and Medicine. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2004.
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Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine. 5824 N. Magnolia, Chicago, IL 60660. (773) 784-2025. <http://www.amp.org>.
American Psychosomatic Society. 6728 Old McLean Village Drive, McLean, VA 22101. (703) 556-9222. <http://www.psychosomatic.org>.
Association for Psychosomatic Medicine. 4560 Delafield Ave., Bronx, NY 10471-3905. <http://www.theamp.org>.
"Psychosomatic Medicine: The Puzzling Leap." National Library of Medicine. History of Medicine Division. Emotions and Disease [cited May 29, 2004] <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/emotions/psychosomatic.html>.
Ken R. Wells