The mind has an incredible power. We see it as we go through our everyday activities, constantly displaying the wonders of logic, thought, memory and creativity. Yet, can the mind be more powerful than we know? Is it possible to reduce or even eliminate pain, illness and disease by using the natural powers it possesses? Can the mind heal? Many researchers and scientists have explored that question, and while the exact answer still eludes us, the facts seem to bear out that the mind does have the power to assist in both healing and conversely, bringing on disease as well (Benson, 1979). A few examples of mind and body healing are hypnotherapy, laughter, and meditation. In this particular study, I will explore public opinion of whether or not the mind, through these methods, has the ability to heal certain ailments. is the reconditioning of certain sensory reactions to unpleasant stimuli so that physiological symptoms such as ulcers and headaches will not be produced (Strong, 1895). Habitual reactions of the patient are altered under hypnosis. After the therapist has changed the patients anxiety-producing sensation system, the subject is trained in the use of the new responses in life outside therapy. This type of healing had existed long before modern medicine, but exactly what hypnosis is has yet to be explained. (Hilgard & Hilgard, 1983). There is, however a couple of theories that explain how this phenomenon works. The first states that hypnosis is simply an altered state of consciousness, by which a patient can be placed in the hypnotic state by undergoing induction, which is by concentrating and focusing their attention on a particular object such as a coin or medallion. The other theory says that hypnosis is based largely on suggestibility. This means that some people are more open to the power of suggestion and can change a facet of their life simply because another person tells them to do so. Although the effects of hypnosis have undergone much criticism, they can be studied by interviewing those who have undergone the process. This would involve interviewing patients who have used hypnotherapy as means of alleviating pain symptoms and then having them rate the effectiveness of the treatment. Another way the effects of hypnosis can be studied is through manipulation of a suggestion during a hypnosis session and then observing whether or not the manipulation appears after the session has ended (Hilgard, 1979). This type of hypnosis was used by one of Franz Mesmers followers named Marquis de Puysegur. He learned that while in a somnambulistic state, which is the sleeplike state during hypnosis, patients are highly suggestible. For instance, he found that when individuals were told something was true, they consequentially believed it to be so. He also found that diseases such as paralysis or pain in general could be moved around the body solely by suggestion. When an individual was told during hypnosis that a certain part of their body had been anesthetized, they were able to tolerate a painful stimulus such as burns or pin pricks to that area of the body with little or no distress (Roccatagliata, 1986). New research, however, has found that even though the individual reports feeling no pain, they still experience the physiological changes consistent with pain such as increases in respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure (Orne, 1980). Laughter has also been thought to have healing benefits. Laughter is caused by temporary pleasant stimuli, which, in turn, causes increased happiness.Studies have shown that with increased happiness, health conditions seem to improve. This has been suggested as a cognitive strategy in mediating stress and symptoms in patients (Dixon, 1980). This type of healing received much attention through a man named Norman Cousins, who was able to recover from a terrible form of arthritis through laughter, or so he claimed. Nevertheless, this has yet to be proved as a successful way of overcoming ailments in further research (Safranek & Schill, 1982). In other experiments however, laughter has been found to be a successful way of improving ones psychological well-being and does seem to help lessen stress and pain associated with ailments (Anderson & Arnoult, 1989). For instance, in one experiment, after showing a humorous video to participants, they produced a type of infection blocker in their saliva, but did not produce it when shown an unfunny video (Dillon et al, 1985). Finally, meditation or relaxation training is the practice of getting in touch with ones self and eliminating any stressors that were previously experienced and is thought to carry emotional and mental benefits as well (Gelhorn & Kiely, 1972). Meditation is believed to increase parasympathetic activity and to decrease sympathetic activity in the Autonomic Nervous System, or ANS (Borkovec et al, 1984). This method has yet to be a useful technique in completely healing an ailment, but it does seem to have effective means of reducing anxiety and stress associated with pain. Through experimental methods of teaching patients the art of meditation and then questioning the benefits or lack thereof, it has been found that it decreases arousal and augments the functioning of various parts of the immune system. However, it was found that this method does not produce long-term effects within the patients (Hall et al, 1992).
There are two types of meditation. The first, called non-structured meditation, involves having an individual sit in a comfortable position in a quiet and calm surrounding while repeating a word or a sound called a mantra mentally. The other type is called structured meditation. In this type, the individual is also placed in a comfortable position in a quiet place, but involves a structured form of breathing by exhaling every time the word is repeated (Benson, 1975). The effects of these forms of meditation can be studied by placing several participants in the relaxed state, who are experiencing stress or pain involved with any kind of disease, and then having them report any healing benefits of the exercise.
Even though there have been many individual cases of those who were able to heal themselves by none other than the power of their own minds, science dismisses it as being simply the placebo effect”. This is the theory that people do not act normally when they know they are being involved in an experiment. It is postulated that they try to find out exactly what the experimenter is looking for and then act accordingly by producing what they believe to be the results of the independent variable. This has been researched through experimentation by giving some individuals a real medication and others a sugar pill to see if they produce the effect. However, it was found that the sugar pill actually created physiologically authentic results (Wolf, 1950). This produces evidence that the mind can actually heal itself if the person actually believes a certain form of therapy will help them recover from an illness. To gather evidence of these phenomena in a scientific manner, the researcher must follow four rules of evidence. First, they must be observable, meaning that a researcher can actively observe and subsequently record all of the data obtained through the observations. Second, the occurrence must be measurable, which means that there needs to be a way to quantify it by answering questions such as How much? or How long? Thirdly, it must be predictable or testable in that there is systematic manipulation and it is possible to predict what will occur. Lastly, the phenomena must be reproducible. This means that the experimenter and others can replicate the exact results repeatedly. If all of these are present, it is possible to prove causation. Because it has been found that not all people can be hypnotized, it is not possible to satisfy all of these requirements for that particular event. Therefore, correlational methods can be used to study its effects.
Correlational methods include case histories, which is the obtaining of detailed information on a specific person who has experienced the benefits of certain phenomena. This can involve observations, asking them questions about the event, asking others who have seen the occurrence in that particular individual, etc. In cases such as hypnotherapy or meditation, the researcher can find any relationship between how much pain or symptoms the individual experienced before and after being treated in this manner. Another method is observation. This can be done naturalistically, which involves seeing and recording data in a natural environment wherever the happening occurs with no real control. It would be hard to do this with meditation or hypnosis, because those are generally done in private settings. Structured observation on the other hand, can be done by gathering volunteers who would allow the researcher to watch their session take place. However, it is possible that the volunteers may put on an act, which can become a confound in the data. Another way of gathering evidence is by surveying individuals who have experienced one of these techniques. This can be done in a couple of ways. A researcher could administer a questionnaire and distribute it to randomly selected individuals. It can also be done through individual interviews where the researcher would ask and record the participants thoughts and feeling on the matter. All of the data would then be compiled and generalized to represent the population as a whole. Whichever method of gathering data is used, it is important to use a large amount of control to deeper explain the phenomena. By analyzing all of the data presented, formulating key factors that explain the occurrence, and comparing data to other collected data from past research, it is possible to draw conclusions on correlating evidence and confirm or revise the original theory on these phenomena. However, it is important to realize that correlation does not prove causation. Even so, with a successive amount of data that shows these occurrences really do exist, it is worthy of further research. References Benson, H. (1979). The Mind/Body Effect New York: Simon and Schuster.
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