One of the greatest mistakes that has occurred in Western medicine is the belief that the mind and body are separate entities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humans are after all a bio-neurological organism which is hard-wired to achieve the basics of survival and reproduction. Much of which is rested on our highly sophisticated problem-solving capacities. Social and cultural rules after all merely structured responses to these age-old dilemmas: how do we stay safe and healthy enough to allow successful breeding.
Gil Boyne’s Transformational Therapy is a system where the artificial and unhelpful separation of mind and body is turned on its head, with the premise instead being that the mind-body system is a unitary biosystem. Quite simply in his work he assumes that how we think and feel impacts on our physical functioning and how we physically function impacts on how we think and feel.
At a very basic level most of us would probably agree that this seems self-explanatory. For example, most of us have experienced that when we have the flu, we feel miserable and think life is pretty rubbish. Or vice versa, we are feeling ‘stressed out’ at work, we get every virus going.
However, what I am alluding to is something which is much more profound, and which has significant implications for our health. That is, when the body undergoes repeated emotional stress, it creates organic change in the body; the more prolonged the stress is, the more chronic becomes the condition.
Many of us have heard of the Type A personality – the stereotypical perfectionist who after a lifetime of high levels of arousal drops dead of a heart attack. What many of us do not realise is that the back ache, stomach problems, skin conditions, headaches, sleep disturbances and weight issues that many of us struggle with are often symptoms of a disturbance in the mind-body complex. Often our body is giving us the symptoms we require to deal with deep-rooted, emotional stress. These symptoms or behaviours can appear at first glance quite extraordinary but at an unconscious level are merely the body’s solution to a conscious or unconscious conundrum.
Take Jean* for example, a young, successful business woman in her 30s who had been suffering from ongoing UTIs. The doctors had carried out all the usual diagnostic tests but had been unable to find any organic issues. Jean was very keen to have a baby, but the UTIs were of course making this impossible. We discussed how the body can create a symptom to deal with an underlying psychological dilemma and discussed whether there was the possibility that she was more uncertain about having a baby than she was believed. During the session, as we talked the UTI symptoms disappeared never to return.
Mark* is a professional footballer. He had many issues with impulse control on the field, resulting suspensions and creating real issues for his career. He had been to anger management courses and nothing had worked. I introduced him to the basics of how the autonomic arousal system worked and that the physical symptoms he experienced whilst playing where perfectly normal and were not the indicators of anger. With this knowledge he was able to choose whether to ‘blow up’ or not. The rest of the season saw a dramatic reduction in aggressive outbursts on the pitch.
Martha* had issues with her back. Now in her 70s she had suffered all her life with a rounding of her shoulders. She was very conscious of it and many people are suggested various methods to rid herself of her poor posture. Teaching her tai chi helped her improve her posture greatly, and with time she had the insight that she had begun this posture as a teenager rebellion against teachers who had told her to sit up straight. Over the years her hunched up position had become the normal for her. She now realised that the thinking of a feisty teenager was unhealthy in her adulthood and she could straighten up.
Whilst on first reading these case studies may seem remarkable, they are far from it and whilst all the above clients would certainly have greatly benefitted from deeper therapeutic work, basic mind-body education was sufficient to provide them with great sense of relief. When I work with clients I always begin with education on how our mind-body are intimately linked. Working with the premise that mind-body is one in the same entity, clients can then begin to understand that these systems are often working together to solve problems for us and this knowledge provides clients with the foundation for them to move towards greater growth and health.
*All names changed.