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Larry Dossey

help improve the situation with modern medicine and reverse those problems?

Larry: For one thing, we urgently need a government-financed, centralized healthcare plan for everybody. It’s shameful that we don’t have it; we’re the only industrialized western country that does not. This is a tall order now, particularly when one political party controls all three branches of government and is opposed to such changes. But there are hopeful signs.

This gives me an opportunity to make a shameless advertisement for my new book I mentioned awhile ago called The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things. In this book I’ve tried to steer the medical conversation away from costly, high-tech, complex things like stem cells, transplantation, drugs, and surgery. This is not because I’m opposed to those things; I really support them. But high-tech, expensive approaches have dominated the efforts of medicine in this country, to the exclusion of many other valuable approaches. So I singled out fourteen really simple, commonplace, freely available things that pay huge dividends in health that are hardly ever talked about.

Some of these things have to do with prevention and with mental attitude. This may sound like New Age stuff, but the statistics show that the health benefit of these things are absolutely huge. Most people in their lives are not going to need things like an organ transplant or stem cells. Ninety percent of us live ninety percent of life needing to focus on a completely different perspective. I’ll just give you one example–optimism. People who are optimistic live longer and have a lower incidence of disease than people who are pessimistic. Who ever talks about this? 

One could single out any number of other extraordinarily simple things that pass under the radar screen yet yield huge health benefits. So we need a greater sense of openness to the simple, the plain, the ordinary.

A part of a physician’s education should focus on prevention, and we need a government that emphasizes prevention through public health measures. We need to provide some sort of safety net for people who get over their heads with horrible illnesses and can never get out again. The need is urgent. For instance, the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America is medical costs, and most of these bankruptcies occur in middle-class families. I’m not a medical architect who sits around at high policy levels and imagines how we might work this out. But I do know we need to spend national energy and federal capital making these things happen.

The emphasis in medical technology and pharmaceutical manufacturing is on shareholder profits. Like what’s the new Viagra going to be? I’m not opposed to corporate profits, but the tail has begun to wag the dog. Today we have this widespread practice of private, academic medical researchers who are in bed with corporations, getting stock options, perks, and kickbacks on products they develop. In many cases, the corporations control the design and reporting of clinical trials. We’ve taken our eye off the ball. The nation’s medical endeavor should be about helping healthy people stay healthy, and helping sick people get well. We’ve lost our way in this mission, and we need to wake up.

David: How did you become interested in the mind-body connection?

Larry: As so often is the case in doctors’ accounts of how they become interested in these matters, it was through a personal medical problem. From grade school onward I had profoundly severe migraine headaches, associated, not just with pain, nausea, and vomiting, but also with partial blindness. The partial blindness was the worst thing, and this almost derailed my career as a physician before it even got started. I actually tried to drop out of medical school because of this problem. I was convinced it was an ethical issue. I was certain that sooner or later I would have an episode of partial blindness and hurt or kill someone, in surgery for example. 

However, my advisor wouldn’t permit me to drop out. He told me that the problem would get better and it got a lot worse. This was really stress-related, but back in those days one didn’t really talk a lot about stress, and certainly the mind-body connection was a term that had yet to be invented when I was in medical school. We talked about psychosomatic disease, but we certainly didn’t talk about the mind-body connection in positive ways. 

In any case, back in the early 70s, biofeedback burst on the medical scene in this country quite by accident. I found out that reports were coming out of biofeedback centers that people with migraines who practiced biofeedback noticed that their symptoms got better. I was desperate because none of the medications that were in common use worked for me. I chased all over the country learning how to do this for myself, and it was a miraculous outcome. It was almost like turning a switch in my brain and my body. I learned about the mind-body connection, about the meaning of relaxation, and the use of imagery and visualization. I took up meditation because it was a short step from biofeedback learning to meditating, and I became absolutely fascinated with the mind-body research area. 

I began to follow it intensely,  got certified in teaching biofeedback, became something of an expert in the field, and established one of the first biofeedback labs in the state of Texas for my patients and the patients of the other physicians in my group. I taught biofeedback for years as part of my internal medicine practice. 

From there it was really easy for me to begin to follow the research in remote healing and intercessory prayer that began to come out of universities and medical schools in the mid-eighties. I was really primed for that. That’s really a fairly short version of how I got interested in the mind-body area, and consciousness in general. I’m not sure that I would have become interested in mind-body medicine as quickly as I did without the impetus of a personal medical problem, and sheer desperation. But I certainly had a personal incentive. My back was really against the wall professionally and personally because of the intractable migraine, for which nothing else was helpful.

David: What role do you think one’s mind play in the health of the body?

Larry: I think that ‘bodily health’ is practically an oxymoron. One can’t talk anymore about the health of the body without bringing in the effects of consciousness–by which I mean belief systems, meanings, emotions, attitudes, feeling-states, and so on. The day is long gone when we can separate the two. It’s just inconsistent with the data. When we try to do this we really come up short, even when we attempt to treat the body as just a physical system and ignore the mind. We have to acknowledge the numerous double-blind, randomized controlled studies that take into account the placebo response, which clearly is an indication that the mind cannot be ignored. The placebo response is simply an expression of expectation, suggestion, and optimism about how a treatment is going to turn out. There may have been a time when doctors could get away with focusing on the body and ignoring the mind, but those days are gone forever.

David: Can you talk a little about the research that has been done in remote healing and why you think that these studies are important? 

Larry: They’re important because they force a total revision of our ideas about the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain and body. The old idea is that consciousness was simply an epiphenomenon of the brain; the brain made consciousness sort of like the liver made bile. In any case, the effects of consciousness were confined to one’s own body. They had no ability, in principle, to reach out and make a difference remotely in someone else–but that’s precisely the new image that is forming on the medical horizon. 

It’s an image of what I call “nonlocal mind.” “Nonlocal” is simply a fancy word for “infinite.” Nonlocal mind is unrestricted to specific points in space, such as individual brains and bodies, and it’s unrestricted to specific points in time, such as the present moment. This sounds nutty and off-the-wall to people who’ve bumped into this for the first time, but if one has the willingness to look at the data emerging from healing studies, I think that the picture becomes quite compelling–at least it has for me and many other researchers in the field. 

So, just to summarize where we stand data-wise, Dr. Wayne Jonas, who is the former director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, recently did a review and came up with 2,200 papers

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