Beliefs have a strong tendency toward self-preservation. We usually interpret information so that it supports the way we already view the world. This includes subjective judgments about ourselves that don’t always have a firm basis in fact. Thus, wrote Robert Anton Wilson in Prometheus Rising, “What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.”
This is a double-edged sword. Often hypnotherapy clients begin their work with me explaining their perceived limitations or obstacles. That perception has usually been repeatedly reinforced by experience (and even more so by internal self-talk). Whether true or not, this represents the starting point at which I have to meet the client.
At the same time, people commonly tell me what they believe needs to happen for their problem to be resolved. Put another way, their thinker tells me what hypnotic experience or imagined “ritual” their prover needs to be able to adopt a more resourceful perspective that allows resolution of the presenting issue.
Both sides of this single coin are represented in a recent Washington Times article called “The success of mind-body medicine depends on us.” That is a clever title because the first part of the article quotes doctors saying that integrating mind-body interventions into traditional medical practices will require vocal demand from patients themselves more so than from insurance companies, hospitals or doctors.
The article then goes on to discuss two case studies. In the first, a young girl was taught to use her mind to manage her anxiety, which is just what a hypnotherapist would do. Based on some external influence, she later decided she wanted medication. In the second, and more detailed case, a heart attack survivor was given inadequate information about his condition. He then interpreted the doctor’s limited remarks in a way that unnecessarily led him to self-imposed limitations that began a downward spiral. This only continued until he became properly informed, at which time he became whole again. In both cases, you could say the thinker and prover swung like a pendulum, always in tandem as Wilson’s quote suggests. Indeed, the success of mind-body medicine does depend on us!
There is a deeper mind-body principle at work in that second case study. It is called the nocebo effect. As you can perhaps intuit, the nocebo effect is the inverse of the much more familiar placebo effect. Doctors, nurses and other care providers are inherently influential, though may not always be aware of the power of their words. Healers inadvertently creating adverse outcomes is called iatrogenesis and it is far more common that many people realize.
In 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article (abstract, full .pdf) with many startling statistics. Most notable among these was the roughly 225,000 deaths per year in the US attributed to iatrogenic causes, the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
I want to make sure I’m not conflating things here. This study does not account for the many great outcomes created by Western medicine every day. Further, there are many ways iatrogenic causes can be introduced, not just through unintentionally influential words. Finally, such unfortunate circumstances can be created by practitioners of any type, not just Western medicine. My point here is not to scapegoat anybody or their approach to helping people.
Instead, my point is that the mind-body connection is always on, like gravity. You don’t have to believe in gravity for it to work. Likewise, you can either consciously and intentionally use the mind-body connection to your benefit and well-being, or ignore it and later discover that you have unconsciously and unintentionally adopted thoughts that your prover proves through aches, pains, illness, compulsive behaviors or other undesirable physical or mental manifestations. The success of your mind-body connection depends on you!
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UPDATED 5/26/13 8pm: This article has also been published in the May/June 2013 Isis Scrolls magazine, available free throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon.
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Dave Berman, C.Ht. practices Clinical and Medical Hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Life Coaching. He is certified by the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association and an associate member of the North Coast Association of Mental Health Professionals. Dave offers private and confidential sessions on a sliding scale in his Arcata, CA office and remotely via Skype. Referrals and inquiries are welcome. Learn more at www.HumboldtHypnosis.com or call (707) 845-3749 for a free consultation.