What is Psychoneuroimmunology?
Psychoneuroimmunology is the science that recognises that the workings of the mind nervous system and immune system are inextricably linked. Over the last 30 years or so, this has led to exciting work in the field of healing.
History of PsychoneuroimmunologyPsychoneuroimmunology has its roots in ancient healing techniques. The Egyptians and Ancient Greeks would put the sick in a deep trance and get them to use mental images to create healing in the body. Over the centuries, these healing techniques were lost sight of and the development of modern medicine led physicians in new and different directions. The body itself began to be treated as a conglomeration of separate units each with their own pathology and each requiring their own approach to healing.
In the 1970s, Carl Simonton, an American physician, was working with cancer patients using imagery to help them manage their disease. In one study, of 159 patients he was working with, 63 were still alive 4 years later. Of these, a percentage made a complete recovery.
Knowledge about the body was also beginning to change. Once, the immune system was thought to work in an autonomous way but investigations were beginning to reveal that nerve fibres could be found within the organs of the immune system. The neuroscientist Candace Pert discovered that endorphins, and other chemicals that are involved with our emotional state and traditionally thought to only be found in the brain, are in fact found throughout the body.
Perceptions about the way the body works were being revised along with the scientific evidence to back it up. By the 1980s, physicians were beginning to explore the ancient healing traditions again with a realisation of the effectiveness of mental imaging in the healing process.
Why Imagery?The human body is designed to regulate itself. Most of the time the body does just this. This state of dynamic equilibrium is called homeostasis. The part of the brain responsible for regulating the body is called the hypothalamus. We also know that the nervous system we have today has not really changed much in the last 3 million years and that written language is only about 10,000 years old. This is why the nervous system responds so well to pictures. By using imagery for healing, we are sending messages to the hypothalamus to stimulate the various systems of the body.
Imagery and the Immune SystemThe defence system of the body is the immune system. Here the white blood cells which fight disease are manufactured. All disease and illness occurs because the body's defences have been breached. By using imagery, an individual is taught to mobilise the immune system to fight the disease. In the case of cancer, this means encouraging the person to use imagery that is meaningful to them which would involve seeking out and destroying the cancerous cells.
Fighting imagery is necessary to deal with cancer. Where hypnotherapy is used, this would likely form a part of the treatment plan. Other treatment might be aimed at dealing with unresolved issues that could have contributed to the disease and maximising the effects of any medical procedures being carried out, whilst minimising side effects.
Psychoneuroimmunology is a relatively new science and therefore one that is developing all the time. More research and increased understanding about how the body can heal itself using these techniques will doubtless lead to further changes in the practice of medicine in years to come.