I’ve found that with persistence, emotion-based therapies are effective at bringing about healing of chronic physiological illnesses.
Prior to that I’d spent several frustrating years seeking diagnosis for conditions that were debilitating but not apparently identifiable or treatable.
To me they manifested as chronic muscle and joint pain, digestive issues, fatigue/lethargy, skin conditions, signs of inflammation. Medical tests found only mild deficiencies of Vitamin D and iron, with recommendations to treat with diet or supplements but otherwise nothing wrong. Yet the pain and fatigue was debilitating and made it impossible to live a normal life.
In desperation I turned to unconventional therapies and came across a set of techniques that seek to identify and resolve traumas/complexes/phobias stuck in the subconscious mind.
I’ve been undertaking these practices consistently for about 6-7 years now, and slowly but surely my symptoms are subsiding and all aspects of my life are improving.
Why does has it taken so long?
It turns out there was a huge amount of emotional baggage to work through. Not obvious stuff like childhood abuse; just a lot of unpleasant experiences that began from being an anxious child, and snowballed as life progressed.
I’ve now worked through several thousand instances of trauma from throughout my life. Much of it is minor or seemingly trivial, and some of it is profound, but it all seems to play a role, and the process of identifying/understanding/resolving it is directly correlated with the alleviation of my symptoms.
I’m now quite certain that this concept would have a huge impact on the medical world if it were to be embraced by the mainstream, but there’s huge resistance to it so it seems set to remain confined to the fringes for a long time to come.
Recently there's been coverage (on HN  and elsewhere ) of Dr. Gabor Maté, a veteran physician who has studied the role of trauma in addiction and chronic illness. He advocates the position that there is near enough to a perfect correlation between chronic illness or addiction and trauma. From my own experience and from what I've observed in other people I know, this rings true.
I'm not sure what it will take for this notion to be embraced more widely and researched more deeply, but it seems pretty important.
The book The Mind-Body Prescription by Dr. Sarno covers this exact topic, and made a huge impact on my life and the life of a friend of mine. It's a worthwhile read for scientifically-minded skeptics who are feeling frustrated that doctors seem stumped by their chronic pain/illness. I had a worsening pain that jeopardized my ability to work a desk job, and that book resolved it in a matter of weeks.
(1) I'd already spent time and money on traditional treatments with neutral or even negative results. So $11 and a few hours reading wasn't that hard to stomach
(2) I heard it recommended by others who were similarly skeptical, which put it on my radar. Otherwise I may have just given up.
(3) I felt confident I could read the whole book with a truly open mind. I told myself before starting that I'd suspend any disbelief for the duration of reading the book and implementing its practices, and only critically re-engage after that period ended. I.e. I felt I could read it as a practitioner and not a theoretician.
To elaborate on #3, this may sound very uncomfortable, but the book's value is not in accuracy but in efficacy. It's an open question to me if the author's explanation as to why the system works is 100% "true" in a physical sense, but he explains it very well to an audience that is unsure. Regardless, whether it's "true" is ultimately an academic concern compared to the book clicking with a (possibly less rational :)) subconscious part of your mind in a way that resolves your very real chronic pain/illness.
But ultimately you have very little to lose beyond a bit of time to just give it a shot. It very well may not help, too.
I find that open-mindedness can be as simple as questioning and rethinking one's heuristics for detecting bullshit. These heuristics are useful for keeping us sane, but we should recognize them for what they are: epistemic shortcuts that allow us to dismiss something as false without really investigating it. What we gain in efficiency we lose in accuracy, and sometimes we end up missing out on something potentially useful.
- celebrity doctor
- passionate followers
- findings not accepted by mainstream medicine
- touts a worldview I want to be true
Unfortunately, as far as I know, one can’t decrease the size or connectivity of the amygdala. So, one thing to do is to strengthen the executive controlling function of the prefrontal cortex. Some people recommend meditation training and mindfulness for this. And, it’s helpful sometimes. Another theory is to participate in activites that cause other hormones to counteract cortisol, etc. Unfortunately, those types of experiences (e.g. having a solid and broad community of support) are even more difficult in the modern world. So, the only long-term solution that I know of is to remove oneself from stress completely - which is also practically impossible.
I don't mean to prod too much; just curious.
Here’s something for you to think about, as I think there’s a flaw in your question: do you think the onset of my symptoms was “natural”, just as the recovery was “natural”?
I believe in causality, and I can comfortably accept that chronic illness is a natural consequence of chronic emotional trauma.
Also, there’s plenty of scientific theory and research findings linking stress/trauma with physiological conditions like inflammation, immune weakness, digestion etc, which aligns with my experience.
But again, causality is the key. Illness doesn’t happen without a cause, and in my case, trauma was the most plausible cause, given that my experience of illness maps directly to my experience of carrying unresolved trauma, and no other cause is apparent.
Before I started the trauma-healing therapies, I'd spent about 6-7 years trying to get well using other methods; initially mainstream medicine and mainstream psychiatry including antidepressants, then things like diet (paleo etc), exercise, nutrition supplementation, meditation, yoga.
I believed in them all just as much as I believed in the trauma approach, yet my health continued to get worse. Indeed, when I started the trauma approach I didn't believe in it. Yet it worked far better than anything I'd tried before.
Over the time I've undertaken the trauma healing, I've lapseed in and out of focusing on diet, exercise, etc. These things are of course important; I wouldn't be getting healthy if I was spending all day on the couch consuming burgers and Coke non-stop.
But my experience is that they don't have any positive effect if I'm not also doing the trauma healing work.
Also, you might examine/contemplate what the placebo effect actually is. If it's healing that comes about due a change in emotional state (i.e., belief and optimism that a cure is being implemented) then it serves more to prove the theory than cast doubt on it.
Edit: added the fact that I'd been sought help from mainstream medicine at the beginning of this journey.
Of all of those I think only excercise has proven positive effect on some things. Others are at best proven not to be harmful.
Strenuous exercise actually made my condition worse. That turns out to be a symptom of CFS/ME, I found out later.
These therapies generally proved to be ineffective when I didn't do any emotional work.
Since doing the emotional work, moderate exercise and nutrition work and stretching exercises (yoga/pilates) add to the effectiveness of my efforts.
You remind me of the people that start little unhappy but make themselves miserable for life by strenuously searching their happiness around everywhere.
> moderate exercise and nutrition work and stretching exercises (yoga/pilates)
That actually sounds like reasonable thing to do to your body.
Regardles of my intelectual objections I'm glad you finally started to improve.
Thanks for the kind words and the discussion :)
I understand the urge to be skeptical and dismissive. I've been like that myself over this very topic before I experienced and learned what I have.
Please do keep an open mind and think about what I've tried to convey. After all, the whole reason I shared my experience is because it aligns with aligns with the scientific hypothesis that's in the very article on which this discussion is based. So it's not just something I dreamed up. There is a growing body of research on this topic - though I wish it could somehow grow faster.
Best wishes to you.
Put 20 balls in 10 buckets each. Choose pair of buckets randomly and move one ball from one bucket to the other. After some iterations you end up with buckets withe many balls and buckets with few.
You might think about buckets with few balls as 'ill'. Did their illness have a cause? Of course. The cause was the were subjected to random process. Just like your body is when it lives.
You can easily see how fragile your body is to entropy if you just stop the flow of blood in your body for few days. You go from living being that could stay in decent shape for few decades to pile of bloated rotting meat. And all that due to nothing more than spontaneous random various processes.
There are always causes but Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character for a reason. In real life situation you very rarely can 'eliminate what's impossible' to be left with one possible cause 'however improbable'.
If you end up with improbable then it's nearly always because you eliminated something you shouldn't have or alltogether missed whole bunch of possibilities.
When you have pseudo random generator then everything is consequences of prior conditions yet some buckets will end up 'ill' and some 'healthy' without any singular cause.
Besides, body not being closed system strengthens my point that its state is result of so many factors that pinning something as vague as being healthy on a single cause (especially internal and psychological) is usually not a good idea. Especially if you don't know the mechanism.
My experience is similar to Tom's, and the science is increasingly showing that stress and emotions are linked in pain, fatigue, neuroinflammation, cytokines, etc.
That's pretty weak. I can much easier imagine being prone to inflammation causing psychological trauma than other way around.
Besides... you tried to treat chronic muscle and joint pain, digestive issues, fatigue/lethargy, skin conditions, signs of inflammation with psychiatry and antidepressants? Initially? That's really bad starting point to approach collection of very probably unrelated problems.
I wouldnt expect antidepressants to be a primary treatment.
"Stress is a state of threatened homeostasis provoked by a psychological, environmental, or physiological stressor."
I think that just rising the pressure, heart rate and increasing few hormones without moving muscles enough causes inflamation. The reason is not important. It doesn't matter if it was caused by your mom telling you she does not love you or by you wining at slot machine or breathing city air or loud noise.
> The reason is not important.
I didn't say it did from an objective point of view, but in order to remove the inflammation you need to identify and discontinue the emotion that's causing it.
Maybe the use of the word "trauma" is a red herring for you. It's any emotional state that causes a chronic negative physiological state.
With myself I observe that I tend to revisit my past minor traumas only when my body is in bad shape. Not enough sleep, flu, not eating enough. Then I obsess about past suffering. But after I get enough rest or flu passes, puff, my obsession with trauma is gone. So I'm not quite sure if traumas are often the cause not just symptom.
That is true for the most part. However sometimes there are ongoing stressors that aren't easily resolved (such as a problematic relationship or job). In those cases the stress is ongoing, and can lead to detrimental health effects.
And even when the stress has been removed, sometimes the illness can continue (as happens in CFS, which I suffered from myself). In these situations it may be the stress and depression from the illness itself that leads to a vicious cycle.
There's no way for you to go back in time, NOT use the emotion-based therapies, and compare the outcomes.
> chronic muscle and joint pain,
Maybe new couch or different chair at work? Maybe bit more walking becsuse you now frequent different grocery store or now park usually bit further? Maybe you don't go anymore to the places where people can pass onto you some virus that manifests in few days of muscle and joint pains? I sometimes get them. I can recognize them because they are sometimes causing few sneezes over few days, way too few to say 'I have a cold' but really hard muscle and joint pains and fatigue.
> digestive issues,
This might be as simple as not eating one thing anymore because they no longer sell it, it's no longer tasty for you or you stopped seeing person you ate it with?
Maybe less stress at work, nothing good to binge on Netflix, or you got bored with that one game you really liked to play, new bed, couch, you nap more often or just developed resistance to coffee fallout?
> skin conditions,
My hands started itching like crazy in the beginning of winter. Atopic dermatitis? Nah my skin just started spontaneously cracking in dry cold weather because it got old (at 30). Now I just use hand cream (what a disgrace) and all the little itching microwounds just seal in 2-3 days.
You skin issues might have gone away because of lighter winters or less time spent in AC or just AC getting old. Or you getting older, or bit cleaner air because patterns of traffic near the sites you frequent changed, or changes in population of local plants.
> signs of inflammation
That's highly unspecific.
My point is, you are deeply dependant of your environment.
Also there is no ideal, healthy you. You are just bunch of cells subjected to billions of organic chemistry reactions that surprisingly manage not to rot when subjected to elements for few decades thanks to miracle of evolution that shaped them.
What your mind experience is generally not important with some exceptions. If you are subjected to stressful emotions that are too long or too strong you potentially get some brain damage that could alter how you function later. But that's not a rule. There are people who had really horrible psychological experiences in life but they don't get anymore trouble because of that in later life then we all get from the environment we live in and our bodies getting old in common and unique ways.
So many illnesses of mind and body were thought to come from what your mind experienced and later turned out to be just bacteria, viruses, or your own genes acting up with age that I think it's better to consider the possibility that nearly all ailments have physicsl causes.
After all your mind is just a function of your physical brain like digestion is the function of your physical gut. You don't think that you have now skin problems because 10 years ago you ate too many pancakes and had a constipation but now you massage your belly a bit to reconcile that past trauma and your skin problems will go away.
The brain is physical. Our experience is physical. Our experience can directly impact our other organs. Why else would your heart rate increase in fearful situations?
Point being, "all ailments have physical causes" includes the brain.
> You don't think that you have now skin problems because 10 years ago you ate too many pancakes and had a constipation but now you massage your belly a bit to reconcile that past trauma and your skin problems will go away.
That's not how I read the comment. Seems like he was suggesting that old traumas led to maladaptive behaviours which led to ailments. That's perfectly reasonable.
Yes. The question is how lasting and impactful that effect is in normal people suffering only normal life events, not continous abuse.
Your body can get back to normal just a year after quitting smoking. How lasting can be effect of spikes of pressure, pulse and homones many years after they happen?.
> Seems like he was suggesting that old traumas led to maladaptive behaviours which led to ailments.
That's reasonable but this means trauma no longer matters after all the years because it's the maladaptive behaviour that actually does the harm and it might be possible to stop behaviour and the harm without revisiting the trauma or lay the trauma to rest without correcting the behaviour and removing the harm.
You can't really know that for certain, even if it seems reasonable.
> it might be possible to stop behaviour and the harm without revisiting the trauma or lay the trauma to rest without correcting the behaviour and removing the harm.
Agreed, "might be" being the key phrase. But it might also not be possible, or it might even be more expedient or more therapeutic to revisit it.
Point being, it's not nearly so certain as you initially claimed.
Spot on, and it's a very interesting point. Chronic negative emotions can have a direct harmful effect or an indirect effect by leading to maladaptive behaviour.
A chronic anxious state might cause impaired immunity that leads to chronic infections or greater vulnerability to acute infections.
Or it could lead to heavy smoking or drinking or recreational drug use that could cause or compound said immune impairment.
Consider, was someone who died of alcohol-induced cirrhosis afflicted by a primarily emotional or physiological illness?
You might consider that over nearly 15 years experiencing pain and distress, I've done a bit of research and tried a few different approaches.
In fact I've spent at least an hour or two per day for pretty much that entire period, trying various ways of getting well, and learning about ways of doing so.
If a new chair was going to make the difference, I would have figured that out by about year 3 or 4 at most.
In fact, I've tried every remedy that you can imagine and many that you can't, and read every relevant book, research paper and internet forum post that might possibly be useful.
I come from a scientific family and work in a scientific field; I understand logic and reason; my career and health depends on it.
I have no incentive to promote or engage in any ineffective remedy; my only incentive has been to become free of pain and illness through whatever means possible, and having now done so I'm happy to share my experiences with others who want to learn from them.
For what it's worth your position relies on some assumptions about physiology that I used to accept but no longer do (or more accurately, no longer can). Most importantly this assertion: "your mind is just a function of your physical brain like digestion is the function of your physical gut". I'm not going to try and educate you on this as there is ample material around for you to find if you care to, but you need to examine this assumption in order to properly grasp this topic.
My doubt about cause of your problems being psychological traumas of the past comes from sheer number of possible other causes and from how many times those other causes were actual causes of peoples ailments while psychological factors were suspected.
Also slow and partial recovery is suspicious to me. When you find the real cause and remove it, relief is quick and large.
My intelectual objection to your train of thought is that you claimed "I checked everything else." Which is false because there's too much of everything.
You just seen one correlation after years of seeing none and think that's a causation just because of that.
Don't get me wrong I do the same thing. My gf has brain tumors. I give her melatonin every evening just because I've seen some correlation between the times she stopped taking it and started again and how her MRI looked. But I'm telling about it hardly anone because there were too many cases when one thing seemed to work for someone and only after much research it was established that in general it was as stupid idea as it sounded.
My belief that mind is just what the brain does doesn't strongly influence my opinion of your claims. This belief comes from reading about various cases of how brain damage shapes the mind.
Another thing that makes me sceptical is that after what I lived through with my fragile mind I should be suffering for all host of suspicious ailments. But all my ailments can be traced to specific factors like dry air, allergy, working as a programmer, having fun by playing computer games, genetically shitty joints (as my mum's), caffeine poisoning, genetically prone to migraines, skipping eating and drinking, not sleeping enough, being close to 40, not excersising.
> Also slow and partial recovery is suspicious to me. When you find the real cause and remove it, relief is quick and large.
It's not a single cause. It's thousands of experiences/memories, and they need to be found and processed one by one, usually at a rate of no more than a few per week.
That said, some traumas have brought about "quick and large" changes when they've been found; that's how I've known the system was working.
But for thorough healing of deeply held traumas and related physiological ailments, it needs consistent work over a long period of time, and gradual improvement is to be expected.
The medical field has to deal with a lot of Somatoform Disorders (or similar mental issues), but the problem is that once you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. So if it is an uncommon diagnosis and symptoms aren't easy to demonstrate, people often get thrown into that category (or worse a note on medical records stops new doctors considering additional options).
I'm actually extremely enthused about this therapy. My questions more relate around: If it is tried and fails, are the doctors going to consider OTHER medical explanations or just give up, pushing it into the "mental health" catch-all?
Also bear in mind that stress is a known trigger for MS, and psychological therapy has shown to be effective at reducing MS fatigue (see for example, Rona Moss Morris' recent trial, and others), so we're perhaps close to coming full circle with MS, recognising that psychological factors are important in triggering it, and also in treatment. (Although I suspect when I say "close", we're talking about another 50 years before neurologists -- especially in the USA -- get the memo).
The others are left out in the cold.
My impression is the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that the vast majority of patients left in the cold are those who do have mental health problems.
For a lot of these patients, it's not just that the physical symptoms are unexplained, it's that they don't make physical sense. For example, the same arm movement in one context causes pain; in another it's not painful at all. The tremors don't make sense, the seizures don't make sense, the EEG readings don't make sense, whatever. All the other stuff that is plausible is a long tail that overlaps with misunderstood non-psychiatric problems.
And in many cases, it's painfully obvious. Like, someone develops a mysterious unexplainable physical symptom right after they are divorced, or their child dies. Nothing can treat it except antidepressants.
But they're also very defensive about any other possibility other than an unrecognized non-psychiatric problem.
Combine this with the general zeitgeist in medical care where everything non-neurological or physical in focus is ridiculed, and it's a horrible problem.
It's all made worse by a tendency to introduce mind-body dichotomies where they don't exist, to criticize anything that isn't reductionist. That is, the logic is everything is based in the brain, so it's all physical, therefore any discussion of anything at other than that level is ridiculed, even when the people working at the higher level (mental) themselves aren't suggesting any kind of Cartesian duality.
We could go on... like all the modern psychotherapies (CBT) don't actually work any better than anything else when you look at the meta-analytic evidence, that a lot of modern cognitive science is based on two-system theories (Kahneman anyone?) which are essentially psychodynamic in all but name, that these discussions never admit for the possibility that maybe some individuals do fit a classical psychodynamic profile...
I really don't know anything in particular about this guy other than what the article stated, but I'm sort of frustrated by the tendency to think that because medicine went way overboard with psychoanalysis decades ago, that it means there wasn't something essentially accurate about it in some cases, and that every claim by every patient about their symptoms should be taken at face value because it feeds some contemporary medical paradigm.
In any event, I always feel weird defending this stuff at all because I wouldn't say I'm psychoanalytic or anything... it just increasingly seems to me that there's kind of a identity politics that plays into healthcare, where it's not really about actual evidence or plausibility or anything.
False positives and negatives get pushed around in both directions depending on your threshold. If every medically unexplained symptom is nonpsychiatric, you lose the psychiatric problems; if it's all psychiatric, you lose the nonpsychiatric cases.
Lots of evidence over many studies shows that the rate of false positive diagnoses of psychiatric somatoform disorder (that is, something is labeled as psychiatric when it's not) are not any different than for any other diagnostic category. Yet we continue to discuss them as if it's huge.
This is easier said than done. It's quite common to have therapists who have themselves unresolved issues, thus limiting their ability to be truly present with the patient.
People open up only when they feel safe, so the main "danger" underlined by the critics in the article is to cause the patient to close up even more.
I did talk therapy and it was useful, but sometimes I wished it was more "intensive". Unless you are super motivated to open up and bring things to the table, the therapist is perfectly happy to hear you talk , for years if need be.
I think part of the reason for this is that from the therapist and patient's perspective, a talk session will almost always have some effect. Simply to be able to vent relieves a bit of stress (and associated symptoms)... but if the patient keeps his shield up, and the therapist doesn't push buttons... or ask salient questions... then this can just go on and on.
I don't see a problem with the "intensive" apporach described in the article, so long as they are addressing patients with physical symptoms who have been in and out of the medical support for years. Those are typically people who are NOT already open to the idea that they may have unresolved trauma, and even downright averse to it. So they are the ones who would benefit the most I think, for a bit of a button pushing.
Just look into any decent book on myofascial release massage, or rolfing, or somatic meditation -- our long-term emotional states, repression, etc. directly affect our muscles, posture, digestion, back pain, etc., and releasing those emotional states can be achieved via a combination of psychotherapy to address the emotional sources, and massage/rolfing to simultaneously address their physical manifestations.
Performers like actors and singers tend to be especially aware of this, as becoming physically free enough to perform at a high level often requires both extensive therapy and bodywork, depending on your background. I've heard Broadway singers talk about how reaching that level of tone production is 90% psychological and only 10% technique.
True, most doctors as well as the general public seem mostly unaware of this, but it's not exactly a secret or new either.
I think the Alexander Method, and Feldenkrais method were described as being beneficially used to help actors (including voice actors) and performers better their craft.
noted here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Technique#Uses
see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feldenkrais_Method
I am sure several types of exercises can benefit voice and acting - certainly tai chi, yoga, chi kung, breathing exercise in general.. this new 'laughing yoga' I've heard about - surely would make things better and not usually worse - probably measurably.
Here’s one of the threads where I mentioned it:
While I've seen and felt the benefits of how healing the body can heal the mind is that phrase "storing trauma in the body" literally true or more of an phrase that just helps people start talking better care of their body?
That road is full of drama and pain, and I’m very glad to have discovered Carl Jung, Alan Watts and Robert Bly.
Health wise, it may be too late, but I’m still very very thankful, and wish I discovered all this earlier.
If anyone here is suffering, send me a message. I will do my best so you suffer less in this world.
The body is the mind and vice versa.
"Mysterious illness blabla. Look what happened when unexpected blabla!"
"Canadian psychiatrist claims unexplained physical symptoms can be caused by unresolved emotional trauma"
I'm sure some people will still find it worth reading.
Scientific progress calls for ideas and evidence to be evaluated on their merits. Accusations of "guilt by association" when a particular idea happens to vaguely resemble something else that has been debunked aren't part of that.
If you did, you'd see there are glaringly obvious relationship between what is discussed in the article, and the basis of Dianetics; not just 'similar' they are effectively describing the same thing.
" resemble something else that has been debunked aren't part of that."
'Dianetics' has not been debunked so much as it hasn't been studied because it's full of all sorts of things that don't make sense (it would be pointless). But - there are some interesting and possibly valid points in there, for example - the idea described in this article. And consider that everything in psychology seems to be 'debunked' as we still don't have a good framework for understanding the human mind. To boot - most psychological 'science' can't even be reproduced in 2018. And I literally mean most .
Dianetics is mostly nutbars, but the similarity between what is described in the article, and what was popularized by Dianetics long ago is not superficial, it's quite strong. It doesn't matter that L Ron Hubbard was a hustler.
The comment effectively accused the doctors of charlatanism.
I said there was an obvious relationship between some of the underpinnings of Dianetics and what is described in this article.
This is patently obvious to anyone who's read Dianetics, and the article.
I don't support Dianetics overall as anything reasonable because it's mostly rubbish, but again, some of the ideas expressed in there are nary identical to what is described in the article, which is just a fact.
Not everything is black and white: a lot of current psychology is scientifically rubbish, and a lot of ideas postulated in the past by not-so-straight people are at least interesting, and may have shades of validity.
But not only is the rough observation of 'previous episodes of trauma causing seemingly irrelevant malaise and illness' interesting ... the methods is similar in some case as well.
For example, for soldiers with PTSD, one of the more beneficial therapies seems to be having a health professional help the soldier 'revisit' the experience. They do this over and over until there's less PTSD associated with the event.
This is remarkably similar to the process of 'auditing' in Scientology - at least in terms of discovering and revisiting points of trauma. They call it 'processing'.
As far as I am concerned they are the same thing, point blank.
But I also agree that Dianetics probably did not entirely originate this, rather making the point that this has been popularized already for some time.
Wow. That's quite a leap.
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
That doesn't strike me as a faithful analogy. The original proposition is: emotions caused ailment at time t1, so why can't emotions cause ailments at time t2?
That's a perfectly valid hypothesis reached from simple deduction. You assert a false equivalence of the two key propositions (lift one's spirits/make one happy) which invalidates it as an analogy.