The Dynamics of Psycho-biology in Mind-Body Therapy

How hypnosis opens the door to healing

Hypnosis has proved effective in the treatment of pain, fear, depression, even irritable bowel syndrome, and is backed by sound scientific research. Many are suspicious, believing that we forfeit our free will under hypnosis - a perception probably originating from the stage antics of showmen and their subjects. This misconception could not be further from the truth. "Hypnosis is a skill of the individual, not the therapist,"

Many people view hypnosis as a natural state. Any one of us - while sitting on a bus, watching television or simply looking out a window - moves in and out a trance several times a day. A patient is able to distinguish between different mental functions; in pain relief, for example, a patient can be helped to change the perception of pain and to decrease the sensation of it. It also helps to take the focus away from the problems that pain is causing, such as sleeplessness and frustration.

In the 1950s, there were five mainline research laboratories (including Harvard) studying hypnosis - four in North America and the other in Australia. Studies have shown distinct physiological changes in the brain during hypnosis. Research by US psychologist Dr Helen Crawford has demonstrated that during analgesic hypnosis, the executive functions of the frontal lobe activate to work with other parts of the brain to inhibit the perception of pain.

Psychologists and Practitioners have successfully used hypnosis to help manage chronic pain; nerve damage causes stress, and hypnosis is very useful in overall stress management related to chronic areas of disease,

When people go into a trance state, healing power is enhanced, when you are watching your favourite movie you do not feel pain. You are in a kind of trance state when you enjoy something very deeply, and that is hypnosis.

About 10 to 15 per cent of the population are seen as highly susceptible to the altered state of awareness, we generally call the trance state; the same percentage are not good subjects, and the rest are average. There are clinical measurements to gauge hypnotisability, but the best subjects tend to have good attention abilities and become easily absorbed in activities.

The subconscious mind is the computer hard drive that sometimes makes connections that are not helpful. Hypnosis is an engineering tool for reworking those connections in the subconscious mind.

Regardless of differences in approach, practitioners do agree that hypnosis is a useful tool. It is not seen as dangerous, it is a powerful aid to help patients use the most powerful medical tool in the world; their own mind.

The Dynamics of Psycho-biology in Mind-Body Therapy supplies a missing link between the theory that the mind can make significant differences in dealing with disease and the clinical observations of Doctors that the theory works in enough cases to be taken seriously. This article identifies the pathways by which attitudes or emotions are processed by the body in creating physiological or bio-chemical change. The past 30 years have seen significant advances in the knowledge of neural pathways. We are now more convinced that the mind body reaction and interactions can mediate many physiological problems and states without the necessity of chemical interventions.

Many research projects have examined the interaction of the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system. It is now more impossible to say that hard evidence is lacking to support the belief that what we think and believe can sometimes have a profound effect on our ability to deal with major challenges, whether with respect to disease or the way we function in our daily lives.

Case Study: The problem began approx 2½ years ago with pain in the knee after exercise along the joint line. The patient’s Doctor failed to find any cause. The patient was finally referred to sports injury clinic where the consultant spent approx 2 minutes examining the knee. An MRI scan and X-ray were carried out to determine any damage within the joint suggesting that the joint line was closing up which indicated articular cartilage damage.

During surgery (arthroscopy) a camera showed extensive (grade 3) damage to the lateral femoral condyle, the retro-patella surface; grade 2 damage to the medial femoral condyle, with a loose body floating in the medial compartment and some (low grade) damage to the medial meniscus. Surgery consisted of trimming off the flaps of articular cartilage at the end of both femoral condyles and tidying up the remainder of the damage.

At that point, the patient was informed that they would have to give up their job and stop running altogether as the damage was so extensive that, if they continued, they would need a total knee replacement within 5-10 years. The patient was then referred to me for Hypnotherapy treatment to allow the patient’s body to heal itself and replace the cartilage, which was damaged and removed. The Consultant indicated to the patient that self body repair of the damage was not possible.

The patient continued in therapy, practiced self-hypnosis, and visualisation techniques, and was convinced that the damage to the medial and lateral femoral condyles had been reversed and repaired with new cartilage. The patient’s only concern was that they did not believe that they had managed to sort out the retro-patella surface.

Some time later, the patient underwent surgery (arthroscopy) for a second time. It was clear from the cameral pictures that new cartilage had formed to both the medial and lateral femoral condyles and that the only remaining problem was, indeed, the retro-patella surface. What was also clear was that the problem stemmed from the original surgery, where a small flap of articular cartilage on the retro-patella surface had been left to catch and tear continuously, thus causing the pain. Within a short time the patient felt sure that the knee had now been completely fixed and was pain-free for the first time in 8 months.

My interest in this subject started several years ago. I wanted to learn what everyone was speculating about, but no one really seemed to understand outside of restricted medical and psychological circles. Is it possible to use the mind and mental methods to heal body illness? My own experiences with patients proved the case in my mind, although it has been an up hill battle to convince the ‘institutions’ of the effectivity of the mind-body connection.

There are many forms of Mind Body therapy, but they are governed by six basic principles:

  1. Mind and body are interrelated, not only with one another but also with the external environment. Mind Body interventions help physically as well as mentally, and physical interventions help mentally as well as physically.
  2. Stress and depression contribute powerfully to chronic disease. "Fight or flight" stress responses usually compromise immunity, and so does depression. Stress and depression can double mortality from certain illnesses.
  3. Demonstrably, the mind affects the body through psychoneuroimmunology, a medical discipline that monitors the physical effects of the mind mediated by the central nervous system, peptides, neuropeptides, and hormones. These biochemicals help regulate immunity.
  4. Mental outlook has an impact on physical health. Health is improved by optimism and acceptance, and is diminished by anger, pessimism, and unrelenting, chronic stress.
  5. Placebo effects can induce healing. They can have a profound influence on many physical characteristics, and are an important element in many Mind Body interventions.
  6. Social support enhances and sustains health. Friends, family, and supportive clinicians bolster both effective conventional and CAM therapies.

Clinicians and researchers acknowledge these basic principles after observing the effectiveness of various Mind Body interventions. Researchers also surmised, after observing hundreds of studies of Mind Body therapy, that there are several fundamental qualities that make Mind Body therapy a potent medical approach.

Among these approaches are: Relaxation: Breathing: Psychological growth: Exercise and movement: Social support:

The existence of the mind’s influence on the body (and vice versa) has long been known, appearing in the earliest writings dating back thousands of years. The elemental relationship between these structures is easily demonstrated by observing typical human behaviours. Feeling sad brings tears, anger reddens the face and clenches the fists, sudden fear readies the body in a heightened physical state, and laughter soothes and relaxes the body.

The role of the human mind is an intriguing yet controversial issue in the ‘art of healing’ domain. Not long ago, the notion of using the mind body connection as a form of therapy to prevent or treat illness was viewed by organized Western medicine as nonsensical, even bordering on quackery. Fortunately, these opinions are being discarded, particularly in light of the discoveries in scientific research during the 1970s demonstrating the tangible benefits in treating a patient’s illnesses through the techniques of Mind Body Techniques.

Only a few decades ago, even the routine operations of the brain remained a deep mystery. However, in the last decade or so a second wave of research emerged from the use of ultramodern brain imaging techniques that provided a deeper and more detailed understanding of the mind body relationship. Brain-mapping studies and other techniques have uncovered areas of the brain associated with specialized human traits.

The other key discovery about the mind body connection is that the brain, as well as its neural pathways, is more plastic (adaptable) than any other part of the body. Plasticity, in this case, refers to the fact that the brain is reacting constantly to outside stimuli and can actually rewire itself according to information it receives. This concept also lends support to the idea that the experience of feeling emotion is based, in part, in the brain’s dynamic neural interconnectedness, which is a reflection of the brain’s continuously adaptive internal state.

The brain plasticity concept is nicely demonstrated using the emotional experience of depression arising in an individual suffering from chronic pain. The constant barrage of painful stimuli to the brain essentially causes a rewiring of the brain’s chemical pathways that opens the door to emotional depression. This depression, it seems, is all but assured in chronic pain sufferers. In fact, these patients must actively defend themselves against the onset of depression, primarily by using techniques derived from mind body techniques.

Mind Body Techniques

The basic principle of mind body techniques is that there are healing resources within the brain that can be used to help heal the body or its emotional state. Increasing evidence is showing that the mind is capable of mobilizing the body’s immune system. The “troubled mind” can dampen the immune system, which contributes to physical disease, while the “positive mind” has an opposite effect and promotes healing.

Mind body techniques have several points of impact for the treatment and prevention of illnesses:

  • Improved biological functioning (e.g., improved blood pressure);
  • Reduced risks factors for disease; and
  • Improved behavioural, psychological, and social functioning.

It is able to do so, in part, because of the mind’s interconnectivity with (and influence over) key systems of the body: cardiovascular, immune, hormonal and metabolic, and reproductive.

Practitioners of mind body techniques emphasize that it is more important to understand the person having the disease, rather than to understand the disease within the person. Mind body techniques is a tool that helps a patient gain control over the obstacles and effects of disease presented to the mind and body. Mind body techniques also can help a person live life with a greater measure of contentment and less vulnerability to the harmful effects of stress, anger, or frustration, so that they can live their lives more fully - whether or not they have a chronic disease.

Psychoneuroimmunology is a new field in health care dedicated to examining the interactions between the nervous system and the immune system and the relationship between behaviour and health.

The mind's influence on the body (and vice versa) was noted in the earliest writings dating back thousands of years and is fundamental to current Eastern medicine practices.

Psychoneuroimmunology explores how the brain and body interact through the immune system to influence health and disease. Until only a few decades ago, the workings of the brain were unknown, seemingly impenetrable to the curious eyes of researchers. However, within the last decade, a new wave of mind body research has been made possible by ultramodern brain imaging techniques as well as new laboratory methods to decode the immune system's chemical messengers.

The major breakthrough, in terms of understanding the mind body relationship, was the discovery that our immune system uses a two-way flow of information. This is achieved primarily by using the vocabulary comprised of specialized messenger molecules (i.e., peptides and cytokines) that flow via immune cells between the brain and the body. In other words, it is believed that immune cells may have a primitive sensory capacity and, like their nerve cell counterparts, can detect threats - real or impending - and then relay chemical messages to alert the brain or to modify its current activities.

Another example of the brain-plasticity concept is demonstrated by the relationship between emotional depression and chronic pain. Here, the constant barrage of painful stimuli to the brain essentially causes a rewiring of the brain's chemical pathways, which try to dampen the incoming pain signals. Unfortunately, the system used to suppress the pain, if allowed to run long enough, opens the pathway to emotional depression.

Mind Body Medicine: A New Avenue for Treatment

Healing resources exist within the brain that can be called upon to assist in repairing the physical body or its emotional state. The power of this mind body resource is dramatically demonstrated by comparing the placebo and nocebo effects.

The placebo effect is typically defined as the healing response initiated by a fake therapy (e.g., sugar pill), and is every bit as real in those individuals receiving the fake therapy as it is in those receiving the real therapy. The nocebo effect is lesser known but is somewhat more dramatic in its unhealthy effect upon a person. This negative health effect is seen in a real-life case where an individual was convinced by her doctor that she had a fatal disease (in this case, AIDS) although she really did not have an HIV infection (the doctor had been given the wrong blood test results). As time passed, the patient developed the physical signs of AIDS. Fortunately, she moved to a new city and had to change doctors. The new doctor discovered the error and informed the patient. She spontaneously recovered.

There is an increasing body of evidence showing that the mind is capable of mobilizing the body's immune system. It appears that this mobilization is achieved through the release of peptides and cytokinins. One's state of immune system preparedness is, in part, determined by which of these peptides and cytokinins has the most influence when they are transmitted from the brain. Worry, fear, and loss of sleep, for example, tend to promote the release of the peptides and cytokinins that at first over-stimulate the immune system, which is later followed by exhaustion of that system.

Mind body medicine emphasizes the importance of understanding the person, not merely understanding the disease within the person. Mind body medicine is a tool to help the patient gain control over life's daily hassles or the difficulties one faces when disease is present. Mind body medicine can also help an individual to live life with greater quality and less vulnerability to the harmful effects of stress, anger, or frustration.

If you are interested in learning more about Mind Body techniques, I am running two day intensive workshops for experienced and qualified Hypnotherapists, to learn more on how to join our exciting program contact me at

Cautionary advice. In the United Kingdom, there is only a small cadre of the medical and psychological fraternity that does not denigrate the effectively of Mind Body Therapy. I have proved the case many times in my own practice. Psychological academia is taking a front seat in this sector and many interesting research projects are in process. Until Hypno-psychotherapy gains the status of regulation, certification, and licensing, all mind-body practitioners are cautiously advised to ensure that their clients have received the benefit of full medical attention and that they work hand-in-glove with an appropriate Medical Practitioner, Surgeon, or Consultant.

About the author:

Article written by Ian Clancy
Psychotherapist, Hypno-psychotherapist, Counsellor, Coach, NLP Practitioner and Trainer.
Works in private practice in Didcot, South Oxfordshire within Orchard Counselling Practice. UKCP Registrant.

Author: Ian Clancy
Copyright © 2023 Ian Clancy. All rights reserved

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