A character in a Woody Allan movie once said that he doesn’t get angry, he just grows tumours! Instinctively we all know that there is an intimate link between our emotional wellbeing and our physical health … but is there any evidence to link the two realms?
In fact the evidence that connects the health of the mind with the health of the body is overwhelming. If you have a bought of stress, for example, you are more likely to experience a cough or a cold. If you suffer from chronic (long term) stress, you are more likely to develop cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, motor neurone disease … and in fact a whole range of other diseases. In other words, if you don’t find a way of dealing with your emotional problems, your body will find a way of expressing them for you.
The science that explores the mind body link is called psychoneuroimmunology. I know it’s a mouthful. It basically looks at how the emotional system, immunune system, nervous system and endocrine system work as a unified whole. The basic finding is that psychological stress suppresses the immune system. If the immune system is suppressed, disease cannot be controlled by the body, and is therefore expressed as symptoms.
The implications of this research is that if you want to live a healthy life, or you want to have the best chance of curing a physical illness, you need to consider ways of processing your emotional pain. Denial and suppression, quite simply, is lethal.
In one study, a cohort of cancer patients was randomly divided into two groups. One received treatment as usual; the other was given six sessions of group support and psychotherapy. The death rate of the group offered a chance to emotionally heal was one third of the death rate of those who received treatment as usual.
If such a simple intervention can save lives, why is emotional healing given such a low priority in conventional medicine?
Well one reason is the very idea of the mind body split itself. It is a peculiarly western phenomenon, which other systems of healing, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, refuse to follow. Yet it is anti-scientific. You cannot, from a scientific point of view, hold that the mind and the body are separate entities. The physician Dr Gabor Mate, in his book “When the Body says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection” suggested that mind-body research in medicine disappears into a ‘Bermuda Triangle’. That is to say, it is consistently produced, but rarely taken up by the medical profession itself.
This, of course, is unsurprising. The myth of medicine is that there are discreet disease entities with physical causes that can be reliably diagnosed and treated with discreet surgical or pharmacological interventions. The model makes available a vast medical industrial complex for financial exploitation by business. The subtle, time consuming and messy business of emotional processing of childhood trauma and working through the implications for acceptance and autonomy in adult life is less easily commercially standardised and exploitable.
Yet it’s what we need to do if we don’t want our emotions to kill us.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt) for men in Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and Skype counselling for men wherever you live
- Supervision and consultative support for therapists in Manchester
- Mediation for employment disputes in Manchester and the UK