Mind Over Matter? How Mind/Body Interventions Can Help You

Mind/Body interventions seem to be practiced by people everywhere.  Applications allow us to use them in the privacy of our own home or when we want and wherever.  Psychologists have been using them to help people for centuries in the form of hypnosis.

In this article, I will discuss the three main approaches to mind/body interventions: mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, relaxation training, and hypnosis.

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Mindfulness Meditation

I don’t know of anyone who has not heard something about this mind/body technique.  Therapists, yoga instructors, creative types, and corporate executives seem to be singing mindfulness’ praises and using it to reduce stress, achieve better mental focus, and increase productivity and functioning.  But where did this “technique” come from, and why is it so popular.

“…Some of the benefits of  regular mindfulness practice include increased relaxation, better concentration ability through regular practice, and less reactivity to perceived or actual stimuli….”

Mindfulness has made its way to the west from Hindu and Buddhist practice.  People such as Jon Kabat Zin first introduced it into western psychology practice. Since his formation of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the study of mindfulness’ benefits and its introduction as an adjunct into psychotherapy has grown.  Some of the benefits of regular mindfulness practice include increased relaxation, better concentration ability through regular practice, and less reactivity to perceived or actual stimuli.  It is also helpful in managing intrusive, negative thoughts that can plague a person with obsessive thinking and anxiety.

Mindfulness is often described as moment-to-moment attention, the cultivation of which over time creates a witness stance for the practitioner.  This can increase resilience in the face of distress and has been shown to be effective for other stress-based ailments.

Guided Imagery

Guided imagery has also been a part of psychology for a number of decades.  The seminal book that introduced this to many psychotherapists and clinicians is Imagery in Healing: Shamanism in Modern Medicine (link), by Jeanne Achterberg.

“…Guided imagery is basically using the mind to heal the body by harnessing the power of the imagination….”  

Guided imagery is basically using the mind to heal the body by harnessing the power of the imagination.   For instance, people can suggest to the body that white blood cells are attacking a virus, or in a step beyond, imagine a white healing light is setting the body into healing alignment, and systems can function better.  There is some evidence that this type of technique can assist with the comfort of medical patients and reduce healing time for some procedures.  It is also can be used to harness psychological resources in psychotherapy and provide an increased sense of hope for a positive outcome.

Relaxation Training 

Relaxation training has been a staple of psychotherapy and psychology for several decades. Herbert Benson coined the phrase “relaxation response” in 1975.  Relaxation training combines a number of physiological and mental imagery techniques to teach a person how to manage their nervous system.  It can be used in the management of chronic or acute pain, anxiety and panic disorder, and trauma.  This combination of imagery and physiological training can be quite effective in reducing general anxiety for a person, and with continued use, can provide a person with an overall better sense of connection between mind and body.   Relaxation training is often combined with biofeedback therapy to increase effectiveness and show the patient how the techniques evoke the relaxation response in their body.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis could be considered the “granddaddy” of all psychotherapies as well as all mind/body techniques.  Hypnosis has its origins in the practice of Mesmerism, and through the past 400 years, has undergone significant changes in style and practice.  400 years makes it not quite as old as the 2,500-year-old practice of mindfulness. But hypnosis has always been aimed at therapeutic effect from its inception; mindfulness was and embedded in spiritual practice, only recently being applied in western psychotherapy.

You might hear the word hypnosis and think of a stage hypnotist making people do incredibly silly things, and getting a lot of laughs and applause in the process.  Stage hypnotists are often very talented in the direction of quick and easy effects but do not understand the intricacies of the use of hypnosis in psychology and psychotherapy.

“…Hypnosis is a safe treatment, within the hands of a trained mental health professional….”

Because of the work of stage hypnotists, many people believe a lot of myths about hypnosis.  The main one is that hypnosis is a way to control a person and that it is dangerous.  Both of these myths are not true.  Hypnosis is a safe treatment, within the hands of a trained mental health professional (social worker, counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor). It is also something that provides an individual with more control of the therapeutic process.  You also cannot get stuck in hypnosis.  People can stop the process at their own will at any time. However, it is usually a pleasant experience, and many people are disappointed when a session ends.

Hypnosis is probably one of the most versatile tools that a psychologist can use.  That is because hypnosis incorporates most of the other aspects of the mind/body techniques.  It also prepares the therapist to better understand the nuances of the subject experience of mind/body techniques.

Hypnosis is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to be helpful reducing anxiety, management of acute and chronic pain, improving work, sports, and creative performance, helping in habit change (such as quitting smoking and reducing weight), and working on trauma and dissociative disorders.

What Treatment For Whom?

There is a lot of crossover between mind/body techniques.  Elements of mindfulness are parts of hypnosis and relaxation training.  Guided imagery elements are found in hypnosis, relaxation training, and mindfulness.  Largely, the intent and purpose of the techniques are what marks them out as being different from each other.  Not all of them work for everyone.

If you are interested in working with these techniques with a therapist, I recommend that you meet with someone who is very well versed in them and can help you find the right match for your needs. I plan on exploring these techniques in more detail in further blog posts.  I also have more information on hypnosis and biofeedback at my practice website http://www.chicagopsychservices.com.

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