Doc Barb’s Health Corner May – June 2017

Healing with the Mind-Body Connection

The Psychosocial Aspects of Health

The majority of young adults in the United States, at 20 years old, enjoy nearly perfect health; this would be true for men and women.  As life is experienced, young adults begin to accept responsibility for life with responsibilities and activities. For the veteran, a decision to join the Armed Forces with promises to the will of orders and pledging allegiance to the US Constitution.  Many veterans lost wellbeing, health, fitness, and became immune compromised.  Outlook, on life, can make illness better or worse.    

Well-meaning health professionals realize the mind is a function of the brain, which affects the structure of the body and including the brain. The type of thoughts one thinks does matter. Positive thoughts will help heal and maintain health, whereas negative thoughts harm tissue and worsen health. Psychology literature from 70 years ago, include observational reports regarding attitudes on health. Dr. Daniel Amen, Psychiatrist, uses brain scanning with continuing research on automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). He reports on the power of ANTs to cause illnesses in his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. He and other researchers show tangible evidence of thoughts affecting the body.

An unexpected positive analysis was through a work hardening study with an upper body exercise. The people were split into teams with one group given exercises and a coach, one group given exercises and no coach, and the control group were told about the exercises but not required to complete. The in depth study included before and after muscle biopsies and MRI scans of injured arm muscles. The goal was for change in physical abilities and return to work. The surprise was the instructed group had the lowest self-esteem participants who showed the greatest improvement.  The coached group became strong believers of the program with the most progress. The MRI showed increases in muscle densities and biopsies having healthier muscle tissues. The researchers commented the strong believers were not working harder as each team had the same amount of time with similar efforts. The positive thoughts and exercises increased the healthier muscle tissues. How this exactly happens is still not known (to the best of my knowledge).

The main point: how the veteran thinks matters. Humans are not machines as there are mind/body interactions. So, an illness can be made worse by negative thoughts or better by positive thoughts.

The human being is more than a biological machine. Whether an individual is religious or an atheist, the individual human is spiritual in the broadest sense. All humans no matter what culture ask common questions. For example: Humanity wants to know from where did the human species originate? What is the purpose in living life? Is there a life after this life? What is justice? What does fair mean? What is the make up of a proper society?

These questions begin early in the individual’s life and the answers are the subject of philosophy/religion. It is because humanity has the capacity to think and ponder that individuals have the ability to make choices (freewill). This is called the human condition.

For the veteran, war causes pain and sorrow while learning to adapt and ease pain.  Humans do not come into this world knowing about the universe or knowing instinct (hardwired programs). Research on infants over the past 70 years, indicates the majority of human instinct is desire and mechanisms to learn. Over the past 11,000 years, cultures agree a single human does not have all knowledge.  Consequently, the lack of knowledge is often the root of mistakes. However, certain situations are caused by injustices. There are people who choose retribution without consequence. Behavior is as old as humanity as well as recorded history. Psychologically it is far easier to make peace if pain was caused by a mistake. Nonetheless, managing injustices can be problematic creating a disharmony in the body. Internal body stressors accumulate if the mind, body, and spirit lack harmony and balance, which weaken the immune system, and create a condition whereby microorganisms, can thrive causing illnesses.    

The religious veteran often handles psychological traumas and injustices through prayer and forgiveness. The rational atheist often chooses meditation and introspection to diffuse traumas and injustices. Examining physiologically and psychological methods are similar and eventually achieve harmony and balance. Upon discharge, it would be wise for the Armed Forces to hold courses on this topic prior to discharge. As of this writing, I am unaware of any such courses. 

Common to prayer and meditation is the change in breathing patterns.  Though prayer and or meditation, alone, does change the body’s physiology for the better. The breathing changes the blood flow, which allows for clearer thoughts. Prayer is a form of introspection thereby examining events, thoughts, and feelings. Introspection or “self talk” combines the physiological changes found in prayer/meditation; self-talk is a deeper and clearer examination to the subconscious (a good reason why prayer is effective).

What is the difference between the rational atheist and the religious veteran’s prayer or meditation? The rational atheist does not think s/he is speaking to anyone but the self, whereas the religious person states s/he is speaking to God.

The rational atheist examines the feelings, which leads to the values behind the feelings. Next, the value(s) change and the emotional intensity shall decrease. The veteran (or any human) must acknowledge a past event cannot have a different outcome and have no logical importance. The change in value allows the rational atheist to let go. The religious person will lay unsolved traumas and injustices with God, which allows the religious veteran to let go.  I have worked with veterans who have achieved harmony using physiological and psychological methodologies.  The rational atheist and religious veteran can achieve the internal harmony. Through forgiveness, a function of the mind, body, and spirit the veteran can achieve balance, restore harmony and have a positive outlook on life.


Amen, Daniel. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. 1998. Random House.

Phys Ther. 1997 Aug; 77(8):802-9; discussion 810-1.

By law, I must tell you the article is information only and does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship or a prescription for managing health.

**Barbara J. Houk, MD, Psychiatrist (board eligible), Fellow American Psychotherapy Association.  Dr. Houk has retired from clinical practice of Psychiatry. Her chief residency was in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (today known as Psychosomatic Illness Psychiatry) and retains the medical approach to the whole body through integrated medicine.

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