Can your mind control your health?



Bio | Email

Posted on April 18, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

When he was seven, John Cressman fell into a fire pit.

"I put my hands in to catch myself. I remember looking down at my hands and seeing the skin almost melted," he said.

He was surprised when the bandages were removed three weeks later.

"The skin, which I still remember them peeling off, had re-grown. I know the power of the mind is amazing," he said.

It's that power that psychotherapist Peggy Huddleston tries to capture for surgical patients.

"No one is going to have positive emotions about surgery. Everyone has negative emotions, so it's taking those negative emotions about whatever the surgery is and finding a way to reframe it so they're welcoming the surgery," she said.

Huddleston created a five step program. A Harvard study reports that it reduces anxiety and promotes healing. Steps include listening to a relaxation CD.

Step two: turning worries into positive thoughts.

"The third step is my favorite one. They ask their friends and family to think of them wherever they are in the world and to wrap them in a blanket of love," said Huddleston.

Step four: Patients take healing statements and tape them to their hospital gowns.

Dr. Nina Carroll was skeptical, but patients changed her mind.

"Instead of being in bed, uncomfortable, the frown on the face, distant with the post-operative pain experience, they were like, 'Hi, Doc, how are you?' I'm fine. Look at you!" she said.

The last step: meet your anesthesiologist. A Harvard study found that you'll be calmer. Another study shows calmer patients use 50 percent less pain medication and go home earlier.

"It really seemed like my body was listening to the suggestions that I was imagining in my mind," said patient Debra Burns.

But some say positive thinking will not affect your outcome.

"They imply that all you need is to assume a positive attitude, and everything will be OK. That's very different from being characteristically optimistic. There's no evidence you can assume a positive attitude and survive," said Richard Sloan, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Medicine, Columbia University

But Debra said she knows her surgery was different than any other surgeries she's had before.

Expectation is a big part of mind over medicine. A Duke study found that when scientists  gave volunteers identical dummy pills before and  after an electric shock, those who believed they were  getting a more expensive pain pill reported greater relief.

More information