Mind Over Matter, Use Your Brain to Ease Your Pain
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Psychosomatic Illness - Fact or Fantasy?

By Susan Bishop

What do you think of when you hear the word psychosomatic? Do you think of a weak, lazy person plagued by problems that are all in his or her head? Do you think if a doctor tells you that your headaches may be psychosomatic that your pain isn't really "real", or your doctor thinks that you are not quite sane? Or, on the other hand, do you think it means that if you have bad thoughts, you're going to get cancer? Does it mean that if you have the right attitude, that nothing bad will ever happen to you?

What an interesting word - psychosomatic. Taken to it's roots, psycho means mind (or soul) and somatic means body. So psychosomatic means mind and body. Mind and body together affecting your health - what a simple and logical concept. Do you believe that what happens in your mind can affect what happens in your body? For example, if you're stressed or unhappy, are you more likely to get sick? Do you believe what happens in your body affects what happens in your mind? If you're sick, are you more likely to get stressed or unhappy?

If you do, you have a lot of company. I believe so strongly in the mind-body connection that I named my business Mind Over Matter. As a practicing Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, I see dramatic support for this connection. By tapping into the power of the subconscious mind, I have seen people create dramatic changes in their bodies, and how they feel. For just one of many examples, I helped care for a client who was suffering from an aggravating sciatica. Sciatica is an inflammation of the sciatic nerve that causes pain to radiate down the leg and buttocks. Under hypnosis, this person realized that she was holding anger in that part of her body. She could see the anger as a red hot rod sitting in her back. When she released the anger, the pain left too. The pain has not returned. When she realized the importance of words and self talk, she also decided to stop calling her job a "pain in the butt".

The mind body connection is also accepted by mainstream, Western medicine. There is a whole branch of medicine called psychoneuroimmunology that studies how the mind, the nervous system and the immune system interact. But there's an easy way to think about all this. I'm sure you've all heard about placebos. If you give a group of people suffering from just about anything - let's say they are headache sufferers - a new treatment, and tell them the treatment will help, about one third of these people will improve. Their headaches will be less painful, or happen less often, or maybe even go away altogether. The treatment may be sugar water, but if a person believes it will help, it does help. We tend to dismiss this - Oh, just a placebo. But think about this - the power of belief can help a headache go away, or a cold heal quickly, or even help a tumor to shrink. There is even something called a nocebo. A nocebo is when you believe that something bad will happen, and it does. For example, a doctor tells you you're not going to get better, and you don't. Some people very obediently heal, hurt and even die on schedule. What is going on here? Is the person any less cured because they did the healing themselves? The mind is affecting the body.

So what does all this mean? Once you know that what you expect and how you live affects how your body performs, you can take back some control of your health. If somebody else can make a headache go away, or stop an asthmatic reaction, or anything else by the power of their own mind, what can you do? Psychosomatic doesn't mean your illness or pain isn't real. Of course it's real - you know how you feel. It also doesn't mean that you've been careless and thought bad thoughts, so now you need to suffer the consequences. It does mean that you can affect how your body feels and functions by taking care of your mind, and you can affect how well your mind functions by taking care of your body. If you can believe yourself sick, maybe you can believe yourself well. Worth a try, isn't it?