NIH Mind/Body Connections

Introduction
Meaning of Mind/Body
Evidence of Mind/Body Effects
Specific Therapies
Summary


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~ Introduction

Most traditional medical systems appreciate and make use of the extraordinary interconnectedness of the mind and the body and power of each to affect the other. In contrast, modern Western medicine has regarded these connections as of secondary importance.

The separation between mind and body was established during the 17th century. Originally it permitted medical science the freedom to explore and experiment on the body while preserving for the church the domain of the mind. In the succeeding three centuries, the medicine that evolved from this focus on the body and its processes has yielded extraordinary discoveries about the nature and treatment of disease states.

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However, this narrow focus has also tended to obscure the importance of the interactions between mind and body and to overshadow the possible importance of the mind in producing and alleviating disease. The focus of medical research has been on the biology of ~the body and of the brain, which is part of the body. Concern with the mind has been left to non-biologically oriented psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, philosophers, and theologians. Psychosomatic medicine, the discipline that has addressed mind-body connections, is a subspecialty within the specialty of psychiatry.

During the past 30 years, there has been a powerful scientific movement to explore the mind's capacity to affect the body and to rediscover the ways in which it permeates and is affected by all of the body's functions. This movement has received its impetus from several sources. It has been spurred by the rise in incidence of chronic illnesses--including heart disease, cancer, depression, arthritis, and asthma--which appear to be related to environmental and emotional stresses. The prevalence, destructiveness, and cost of these illnesses have set the stage for the exploration of therapies that can help individuals appreciate the sources of their stress and reduce that stress by quieting the mind and using it to mobilize the body to heal itself.

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During the same time, medical researchers have discovered other cultures' healing systems, ~such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi, which are grounded in an understanding of the power of mind and body to affect one another; developed techniques such as biofeedback and visual imagery, which are capable of facilitating the mind's capacity to affect the body; and examined some of the specific links between mental processes and autonomic, immune, and nervous system functioning--most dramatically illustrated by the growth of a new discipline, psychoneuroimmunology.

The clinical aspect of the enterprise that explores, appreciates, and makes use of mind-body interactions has come to be called mind-body medicine. The techniques that its practitioners use are mind-body interventions. The chapter discusses the evidence that supports the mind-body approach, describes some of these techniques, and summarizes the results of some of the most effective interventions.

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This approach is not only producing dramatic results in specific arenas, it is forming the basis for a new perspective on medicine and healing. From this perspective it is becoming clear that every interaction between doctors and patients--between those who give help and those ~who receive it--may affect the mind and in turn the body of the patient. From this perspective all of medicine, indeed all of health care, is grounded in the mind-body approach. And all interventions, alternative or conventional, can be enhanced by it.

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