Magyar Szó

"Documenting the life of the Hungarian community in New Zealand"
- Az új-zélandi magyar közösség lapja.

Issue 79 - March 2005

The Power of the Mind

A reader of ours remarked, that my previous article, "Treatment versus Cure" offered no conclusion as to the efficacy of the various treatment methods available to the public. It was not my intention to do so. I simply wanted to point out that it takes more than hospitals or a prescription pad to bring relief and to alert the reader to the possibilities of spontaneous healing. I am not conversant with all these practices and therefore I would not attempt to evaluate them. Goal setting is an individual matter. It is up to the individual to study all the available treatment methods, in order to decide what action to take. The person will need to understand the nature of his illness to know whom to turn to for help. A good place to start is the review of what conventional medicine can do effectively and what it cannot. Taking advantage of the diagnostic capability of standard medical practice, one does not have to commit oneself to a particular treatment. For example, the article "Holistic Medicine" (TIME, Feb. 28), describes a variety of alternatives in dealing with pain. Modern pain management draws on a full range of options: i.e. painkillers, acupuncture, vitamins, self-hypnosis, life-style changes, "mindfulness" therapies and employs the treatment that best fits the patient and his condition.

In addition to allopathic practice there is a bewildering array of therapeutic choices. However, osteopathy, chiropractics, naturopathy, acupuncture are regarded by doctors as heresies. Mind cures, faith healing are cast in the orbit of witchcraft or quackery.

Follow-up studies indicate that all of these practices yield some results. The healing power of BELIEF is partly responsible for achieving relief. Belief should not be confused with willpower. Belief is a quality of the mind which releases the innate healing capacity of the body. People see practitioners for getting better. Their belief in the practitioners may be more important than what the healers actually do. The practitioner's faith in the system of treatment, combined with the faith vested in the practitioner, can produce miracles.

Since belief can elicit healing, the occasional successes achieved by various treatments are not mysterious. Given the importance of belief as the crucial factor, it is necessary to look closely at its role in the general context of mind - body interaction. As there is no consistency of treatment, i.e. different practitioners employ different healing methods, the only common element seams to be the belief vested in them. It would be valuable to be able to identify and to understand the underlying mechanism, as it could explain the way non-physical factors shape the physical body. Existing scientific models cannot yet explain these phenomena.

However, the absence of knowledge of the psycho-physical mechanisms involved does not empower conventional medicine to dismiss the power of the mind and regard certain practices as witchcraft. There are various ways to observe its existence. A popular demonstration of it is hypnosis. A German doctor, Mesmer (1734-1815), was the first person to recognise the power of suggestion to affect the physical body. Its wide use did not help shake off the aura of charlatanism. The American Medical Association gave it legitimacy only in 1951.

In terms of the underlying philosophies, the real difference that exists between general medical practice and mind-cures is the assumption that there is a direct relationship between treatment and cure in the former, whereas belief as a factor in treatment suggests only an indirect relationship between treatment and healing. The problem is that since belief or the mind is invisible and immaterial, scientists - who are materialists - cannot explain these events using their models of science. For sure, the nervous system is involved in the process as the belief has to be carried from the mind to the body organ involved. However, the mind has no identified centre in the brain and it has no known direct connection to the nervous centres, which control psychosomatic events. "The mind cannot exist without an integral brain-mind is coextensive with the brain. Some of it", he decided (Wilder Penfeld, world-renowned neurosurgeon) "exists apart from the brain and can function independent of it. Human consciousness, particularly, ego consciousness (will) seems related to the activity of the cerebral cortex; the control centres of normally involuntary functions (immune system, placebo responses, innate healing) seem to be located far from the cortex, in deep midline structures. These centres certainly respond to some suggestion and beliefs." (pp. 251-53, "Health & Healing" Andrew Weil, M.D. ISBNO-7515-1766-6; 1998.)

It seems that there is some structural basis for the above assumption that people cannot just will themselves to activate their innate healing mechanism. Belief is ineffective at the verbal, intellectual level. It has to penetrate the deeper strata of the mind, often below conscious awareness. However, understanding the power of belief and the ways in which to unleash it make people aware of their own potential to deal with illness. It is up to the individual to decide which healing method to select. If one does not want to accept this responsibility then others will decide for him.

Dr Endre Maurer

Magyar Szó Issue 79- March 2005