Does science support the idea
that the mind
is a powerful factor in recovery from illness?
There have been thousands of fascinating scientific studies
that link psychological and spiritual factors to illness and
health. While many physicians agree that there is a link
between psychological factors and health, most are
unaware of the research, or the actual extent of the mind-to-body influence. It appears from the research that there isn't an
organ or system in the body that is not influenced by mental/emotional factors.
Some extremely interesting studies
have been done involving
long-term survivors of fatal diseases. I've summarized the conclusions from 12 studies done on remarkable survivors of
Two important themes emerge from the study of these individuals.
1. Spiritual/Existential Shift
Most exceptional survivors (i.e. patients who go into
"spontaneous remission") experienced a profound spiritual or
existential shift in their lives. They used the crisis to focus on meaning in life and true values in relationships. Many
became aware of a need to seek a Higher Power, to
reconnect with the religion of their childhood, or explore
spirituality through other traditions.
Exceptional survivors frequently reported a shift in the quality
of their life experience. They had an increase in episodes of feelings of connectedness - to other people, to the universe, to
their inner depths. They also reported an increase in feelings of joy and peace. They were also willing to honestly
experience periods of intense anxiety and despair without losing their hope and faith.
2. Deep Psychological Change
People who did well tended to be individuals who were
willing to devote much time, effort and insightful thought to
becoming the person that they really wanted to be. This did
not mean that they always became "nicer" people, in a
conventional sense. Rather it meant that most became
psychologically stronger - firmly intent on following an inner
truth. They moved out of a condition of feeling helpless and
hopeless into a new sense of personal mastery.
They felt a need to be more "real". They were no longer
willing to give energy to activities or people that they didnít
genuinely care for. These individuals developed an
increased sense of self-acceptance and a lessening of internal
OPENNESS TO CHANGE IS THE PREREQUISITE FOR HEALING
So now, for the serious, 'show-me-the-data' research
buff...... (don't want to bore everyone else....)
here are some thumbnail abstracts of studies on cancer patients who have gone into remission.
Similar findings exist for exceptional survivors of heart disease and many other
Achterberg, J., Simonton, O.C., Matthews-Simonton, S.
Exceptional survivors were: 1) more flexible and
non-conforming. 2) Had more psychological insight. 3)
Refused to give up or decompensate in the face of stress. 4)
Exhibited more ego strength and self-sufficient.
Most participants in the study: 1) Used the crisis to focus on
meaning in life. 2) They grew closer in relationships and
commitments to God, their children or themselves. 3)
Tirelessly used many resources to get well, physical, spiritual
and psychotherapeutic. 4) Spent years of insightful, deliberate work to become the person that they felt would stay healthy.
They believed this was a life-long work in progress.. They did not become "nicer", rather most became psychologically
unwilling to compromise their beliefs. Lived life committed to expression of what they considered their true natures, their
Cunningham, A.J., Phillips, C., Edmonds,
C.V.I.., Soots, K.I.,,
Hedley, D., Lockwood,G.A.
Themes significantly related to survival duration: 1) Ability to
act and change in new directions. Low defendedness
regarding old patterns. 2) Willingness to initiate change and
exploration. 3) Application to self-help work - amount of work
done. 4) Relationships with others. These changed in ways involving increased honest self-expression, combined with
increased acceptance of others. 5) Quality of experience. Experience of connectedness, joy, peace, spiritual awareness.
6)Expectancy of survival.
Healees: 1) Directly opposed or questioned medical advice,
believed in doing what they felt best for themselves.
Embarked on spiritual development; doing what they felt
needed to be done, taking charge.
3) Existential questioning, faith things would work out, letting go of repressed feelings
Meditation. Meares taught his patients to meditate, using a
technique he developed and combined with hypnotically
effective ritual at group sessions.
Nakagawa, S. & Ikemi, Y.
1) All patients experienced cancer while suffering from a
severe existential crisis. Accepting the responsibility for
resolving the crisis preceded the regression of their cancer. 2)
They showed remarkable absence of anxiety and depression following diagnoses.
3) All took measures to reconstruct their relationships with others, even if it meant acknowledging
personality traits in themselves that had created the difficulties.
4) A religious or spiritual point of view was prominent in their lives.
1) Patients realized they had a choice to live.
2) The choice to live meant for them a change in attitude, beliefs and lifestyle,
which led to joy, pleasure, appreciation of beauty,
responsibility for self. 3) They were able to get in touch with
their feelings and discover what they really wanted from life.
4) All had expressed conviction that beliefs and attitudes
influence health, realizing that their illness had in part been
caused by their thoughts and that their recovery was aided by
their thoughts. 5) Many became aware of a need to seek a higher power.
1) Belief in recovery. 2) Need for authenticity - no longer
willing to give energy to activities or people that they didnít
genuinely care for. 3) Changed relationships - became deeper
and truer. 4) Had trusting, meaningful, healing relationships with doctors.
5) Intense desire for life.
Psychological change (of which the patient may have been
unaware) preceded the first signs of clinical improvement.
The patients developed a greater sense of personal autonomy and
learned problem-focused coping. In all patients this change was preceded by a moment in which negative consequences of
certain situations went "beyond the pale" and were no longer accepted. This gave rise to changes which resulted in these
patients gaining more access to activities and experiences that were essential to them.
In 5 of 7 it was observed that the conflicts resolved prior to regression bore a specific relation
with the negative outcome of particular conflicts earlier in the patientsí lives.
Van Baalen, D. & de Vries, M.
1) Spontaneous remission patients presented a relatively
sudden change from helplessness/dependence toward
increased autonomous behavior in their attitudes toward their
illness, treatment and environment. 2) 2 of the 7 patients tended toward denial.
3) All had profound fluctuations of mood around the time of tumor regression (shifts from
depression to hopefulness). 4) All had a radical existential shift, mostly "positive" (spiritual), but 2 became more
aggressive and obnoxious. 5) All but 1 experienced a change in the character of their relationships within their social