The mind-body connection has been gaining ground in Western medicine as scientists, once resistant to the notion, increasingly acknowledge that thoughts and emotions influence health. Meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques are now as mainstream as exercise, diet and medications in the treatment of certain medical conditions.
A landmark 1989 study by Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel helped launch this change in scientific thinking. Spiegel’s study showed that women with metastatic breast cancer who participated in supportive-expressive group therapy not only had better quality of life, they also lived significantly longer than those who received only medical treatment. This research kicked off many new studies examining the effects of psychosocial interventions, such as group therapy, and conditions, such as loneliness, on health and illness.
The role of spirituality, considered by many to be an integral part of the mind-body phenomenon, is emerging as the next point of study and debate in this growing movement:
• Increasingly, medicine is incorporating religion and spirituality into health care, perhaps in response to patients’ desires. One study done in 2001 found that 83 percent of questionnaire respondents wanted doctors to discuss spiritual matters with them in at least some circumstances.
• More doctors are embracing the idea of encouraging patients’ faith as a way to promote healing, but some resist it, saying it raises ethical concerns and can weaken science’s role in care.
• Many medical schools are now training physicians to take patients’ spiritual or religious history and to discuss their spiritual concerns, and conferences are addressing the spiritual needs of patients. According to the John Templeton Foundation, classes on spirituality and faith are part of the curriculum at two-thirds of the nation’s 125 medical schools, up from just three in 1992.
• Research into the mind-body connection is proliferating, including studies of the ways religious or spiritual belief impact health and illness. One federally funded study, for example, is examining whether mind-body interventions such as yoga and meditation can help treat addictions; among other things, the researchers are looking at whether faith-based treatment may be more effective than other approaches.
As the studies and debate continue, reporters can explore a broad range of stories on this developing topic. ReligionLink offers resources and ideas for getting started.
Why it matters
With the move of mind-body medicine into the mainstream, the premise that thoughts and beliefs can affect one’s health is spurring a new area of research on religion and health. Can religious or spiritual beliefs and practices improve your health, well-being and longevity? If so, should they be “prescribed”?
Questions for reporters
• Look for patients whose stories help illuminate how mind-body medicine and spirituality affect health. How do religion and spirituality improve a patient’s quality of life? Are there situations in which they could negatively affect the sick? Do patients welcome physicians who inquire about a patient’s beliefs and spiritual practices? Can such inquiry be intrusive or coercive?
• Should religion or spiritual belief and/or practice be “prescribed” to patients by physicians as something that can improve health? Should religion and spirituality be used in a utilitarian manner to improve health and well-being?
• How important are research studies on the effects of spirituality on health to both doctors and patients? What are their critiques of these studies?
• Are any faith groups in your area involved in mind-body medicine? In what ways?
• Read a backgrounder on mind-body medicine by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
• Read a primer on the techniques of mind-body medicine, including the use of biofeedback, relaxation techniques and spirituality, from the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
• Read about the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute, created in 1987 to promote neuroscience research on the mind, Buddhism, health and meditation.
• Read about the “relaxation response” as defined by the father of mind-body medicine research, Dr. Herbert Benson.
• Read a critique of the literature on religion, spirituality and health by Richard P. Sloan, director of the behavioral medicine program at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, N.Y., and an associate professor of psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
• Read Sloan’s article “Should Doctors Prescribe Religion?” on Fathom Knowledge Network’s web site.
• Read a July 1, 2005, interview with Sloan at PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
• Read “Faith, Healing: Is There a Proven Link?,” about the debate between Sloan and Harold Koenig, founding co-director of the Center for the Study of Spirituality, Theology and Health. The article is from the Nov. 25, 2003, Columbia Spectator.
• Read “An Analysis of the Field of Spirituality, Religion and Health,” by David Hufford for an overview on studies on religion and health.
• Read a 2005 article about the merging of healing and modern science in mind-body medicine by James Gordon, founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C., in Science & Theology News.
• Read a series of lectures from the 2003 conference of the International Center for the Integration of Health & Spirituality. These lectures represent the major proponents (including Herbert Benson and Harold Koenig) of the connection between mind-body medicine and religion/spirituality.
• Read “How the Mind Hurts and Heals the Body,” by Oakley Ray of Vanderbilt University.
• Stephen E. Straus is director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, whose annual budget is more than $122 million. Research into the interconnectedness of the body and mind is largely funded by the center, which was created in 1992 (as the Office of Alternative Medicine) in response to the public’s growing interest in alternative health therapies, such as yoga and meditation. Read Straus’ 2005 congressional testimony for details about the center’s programs, research and funding. Contact 301-435-5042, or through the media office at 301-496-7790, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Dr. Herbert Benson is the founding president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. His research on the mind-body connection began more than 30 years ago. In the late 1960s, Benson, originally a cardiologist, discovered that every religion has as part of its practice some type of meditative state that evokes the same physiological changes as he saw in those practicing transcendental meditation. He came to call the state opposite of stress the “relaxation response.” Benson is the author or co-author of 10 books published by Simon and Schuster, including The Relaxation Response (1975), The Mind/Body Effect (1979), Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief (1996) and Mind Your Heart (2004). Contact 617-991-0102, email@example.com.
• The Rev. Joseph Driscoll is director of mission services at the Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Md. He speaks widely about the use of spirituality in helping the sick. Contact 410-442-3224, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Dr. Christina Puchalski is director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., which develops educational, clinical and research programs for physicians and other health-care professionals on the role of spirituality and health in medicine. An associate professor in the departments of medicine and health care sciences, and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, Puchalski works to integrate patients’ spiritual beliefs into their health care. Her new book, A Time for Listening and Caring: Spirituality and the Care of the Chronically Ill and Dying (Oxford University Press), will be published in May 2006. Contact 202-496-6409, email@example.com.
• The Rev. John Lundin is a Protestant minister at the San Diego University for Integrative Studies, which recognizes the relationship between mind, body and spirit as the basis for a socially, culturally, and environmentally relevant educational experience. He has studied Buddhist practice in depth and is interested in using it to help others deepen their own religious practice, whether Christian, Jewish or Buddhist. He is co-authoring a book with the Dalai Lama on Buddhism for Christians. Contact 800-234-7041, NewMandala@aol.com.
• Rabbi Simkha Weintraub is a social worker and director of the National Center for Jewish Healing in New York, N.Y. He co-edited a publication by the center titled Guide Me Along the Way: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Surgery. He is also the editor of Healing of Soul, Healing of Body: Spiritual Leaders Unfold the Strength and Solace in Psalms (Jewish Lights, 1994). Contact 212-339-2320 ext. 215, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Rabbi Goldie Milgram is a social worker who writes and teaches extensively on mind-body medicine and spirituality with her husband, Dr. Barry Bub, a family physician and Gestalt psychotherapist. Based in Philadelphia, they are co-founding presidents of the Guild of Jewish Healthcare Professionals. Milgram is also executive vice president of the nonprofit organization Reclaiming Judaism, which focuses on the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual effects of Jewish practices and conducts applied research on their effects on health care, mental health and educational settings. Milgram is concerned about the use and abuse of spirituality in medical and religious settings. Bub teaches workshops on Judaism, spirituality and medicine and has written about how physicians can respond effectively through a spiritual lens. Contact Milgram at 215-438-2211, email@example.com, and Bub at 215-438-2211.
• Imam Yahya Hendi is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and he is the imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick, Md. Contact 202-687-4272, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is founder and chairman of the Cordoba Initiative at the American Society for Muslim Advancement in New York, N.Y. He is an authority on Muslim law, thought and practice. Contact 917-492-8690, email@example.com.
• Satya Dev Negi is a senior lecturer at Emory University in Atlanta and chairman of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. He has written about traditional Buddhist and contemporary Western approaches to emotions and their impact on health, and he has done other research on the mind-body connection and health. He is studying whether meditation can reduce depression among college freshmen. Contact him at 404-712-9293, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• B. Alan Wallace, who trained as a monk in Buddhist monasteries, is president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies in California. He teaches Buddhist theory and practice in Europe and the United States and has served as interpreter for numerous Tibetan scholars. His academic training is in religious studies, physics and philosophy of science. Contact email@example.com.
• Balaji Hebbar is a professor of religion at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He has lectured widely on religion, spirituality and the care of the patient. Contact 703-993-1295, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Vasudha Narayanan is a professor of religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville who has written extensively on many aspects of Hinduism. Contact 352-392-1625, email@example.com.
Agencies and organizations
There are many mind-body centers throughout the nation, and many of their web sites include information on research and studies. Some major ones are:
• Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.
• Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
• Institute for Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif.
• Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Mind and Life Institute (affiliated with the Dalai Lama) in Boulder, Colo.
• Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston
• Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco
• Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif.
• Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif.
• UCLA-NPI Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology
• University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Healthy Lifestyle Program
OTHER CENTERS, GROUPS SUPPORTING MIND-BODY RESEARCH
(with a spiritual/religious emphasis)
• Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota
• Center for Spirituality and Health at the University of Florida
• Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health
• Fetzer Institute
• George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health
• John Templeton Foundation
• Reclaiming Judaism
• The American Holistic Nurses Association
• The Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston is a leader in the field and includes a large staff with specific areas of expertise, including mind-body programs in cardiac wellness, motherhood, exercise, weight reduction, chronic pain, menopause, psychology, cancer and diet. Contact 617-991-0102.
• Anne Harrington is a professor of the history of science at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. She is also a consultant for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mind-Body Interactions. Harrington teaches courses on the mind-body connection in modern medicine and has worked on projects studying the placebo effect and the effects of meditation on emotional health in the workplace. Contact 617-496-5234, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Richard P. Sloan is director of the behavioral medicine program at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, N.Y., and an associate professor of psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He examines the link between psychological factors and heart disease, among other issues. Sloan cautions physicians against prescribing religion as medicine, and he urges them to maintain a separation between their role as physicians and their patients’ spiritual lives and needs. Contact 212-305-9985, email@example.com.
• Dr. Bruce Rabin is a professor of pathology, psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, medical director of its Healthy Lifestyle Program and an authority on the effects of stress on the human immune system. His research has contributed to the understanding of how the brain and the immune system interact and influence an individual’s health. He has served on government panels to help promote research into mind-body interactions. His book Stress, Immune Function and Health: The Connection was published in 1999 by John Wiley & Sons. Contact 412-647-6150, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Dr. Esther Sternberg is director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program and chief of neuroendocrine immunology and behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. She studies links between the central nervous system and the immune system, and the connections between disease and stress. Contact 301-402-2773, email@example.com.
• Dr. James Gordon is a founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine and a clinical professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. He is the author or co-author of 11 books, including Manifesto for a New Medicine: Your Guide to Healing Partnerships and the Wise Use of Alternative Therapies (Addison Wesley Publishing Co., 1997) and Comprehensive Cancer Care: Integrating Alternative, Complementary and Conventional Therapies (HarperCollins, 2001). Contact 202-966-7338, JGordon@cmbm.org.
• David Hufford is University Professor and chair of the department of humanities and professor in the departments of neural and behavioral sciences and family & community medicine at Penn State University. He teaches and does research on religion and health and folk and alternative health systems. Contact 717-531-8778, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Dr. Harold Koenig is a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University in Raleigh, N.C., and the founding co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. A major voice in the movement to link spirituality and religion to health, Koenig is also the founding editor of Science and Theology News. His research interests focus on the role of religion in health and aging. He is the author of The Healing Power of Faith: How Belief and Prayer Can Help You Triumph Over Disease (Simon & Schuster, 2001), Spirituality in Patient Care: Why, How, When and What (Templeton Foundation Press, 2002) and The Healing Connection (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004), and he co-authored the Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2001). Contact 919-681-6633, email@example.com.
• Dr. Keith Meador is a professor of the practice of pastoral theology and medicine, and founder of the theology and medicine program at the Duke University Divinity School in Raleigh, N.C. A psychiatrist and minister, Meador recently co-authored Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine and the Distortion of Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2003), which argues that health-based, utilitarian religiosity devalues true faith. Contact 919-660-3488, Kmeador@div.duke.edu.
• Oakley Ray is a professor emeritus of psychology, psychiatry and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., who has written extensively on the mind-body interaction in health and illness and about the history of mind-body medicine. Contact 615-343-2068, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Thomas Wheeler is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He teaches about complementary and alternative medicine at the medical school. Contact 502-852-6287, email@example.com.
• Richard Davidson is a professor of psychology and psychiatry and director of the Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has studied the brain activity of meditators and since 1992 has collaborated with the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monks to study the effect of meditation on mental activity. Contact 608-262-8972, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Kenneth Pargament is a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. His research addresses religious beliefs in various traditions and health. His current research program addresses how the elderly who struggle with their religious beliefs and hold negative perceptions about their relationships with God and life meaning have an increased risk of death, even after controlling for physical and mental health and demographic characteristics. Among other research, he has also studied religious coping and the mental health of Hindus in the U.S., spirituality and coping with trauma, spirituality in children with cystic fibrosis, and religion as a source of stress, coping and identity among Jewish adolescents. Contact 419-372-8037, email@example.com.
• Jean L. Kristeller is director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality at Indiana State University, where she is also a psychology professor. Her interests include integrating spirituality into care practice. Contact 812-237-2467, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Mary Jo Kreitzer is founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. Contact 612-624-9459, email@example.com.
• Dr. Elizabeth Bowman is a psychiatrist and clinical professor in the neurology department at Indiana University School of Medicine. Bowman, who also holds a master’s degree in sacred theology, led a panel discussion at the university on spirituality in patient care. Contact 317-274-0180, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Lorenzo Cohen is a professor of medicine and director of the integrative medicine program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Cohen is investigating the benefits of different forms of yoga for women undergoing breast cancer treatment. Contact 713-745-4260, email@example.com.
• J. Scott Tonigan is a research professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque whose expertise in treating alcoholism includes studying spirituality as a variable in alcohol abuse and alcoholism. His work on a study called Project MATCH shows that treatment for alcoholism with Alcoholics Anonymous can affect the degree to which one reports higher God-consciousness and religious practices. Contact 505-925-2384, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Dr. R. Murali Krishna is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and president of the INTEGRIS James L. Hall Jr. Center for Mind, Body and Spirit. Contact 405-943-3921.
• Dr. Claudia Finkelstein is a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle who teaches and writes about mind-body medicine in clinical practice and in the education of physicians. Contact 206-731-5865.
• Dr. David Spiegel is a psychiatrist, a professor of medicine at California’s Stanford University Medical Center and a leader in the field of psychosomatic research and psychoneuroendocrinology/oncology. Spiegel’s 1989 study showed that not only did supportive-expressive group therapy improve quality of life in women with metastatic breast cancer, it significantly enhanced survival time. This research, which appeared in The Lancet (Oct. 14, 1989) and was featured in the Bill Moyers special Healing and the Mind, spawned a new area of research on the health effects of psychosocial support. In 1998, Spiegel opened the Center for Integrative Medicine at the medical school, and he is the center’s medical director. He is the author of Living Beyond Limits: New Hope and Help for Facing Life-Threatening Illness (Ballantine Books, 1994). His laboratory is currently completing a replication trial in 125 women with metastatic breast cancer to see whether supportive-expressive therapy results in longer survival time. Contact 650-723-6421, email@example.com.
• Siroj Sorajjakool is an associate professor of religion and a research associate at the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness at Loma Linda University in California. Sorajjakool wrote When Sickness Heals: The Place of Religious Belief in Healthcare (Templeton Foundation Press, forthcoming in April 2006) and co-edited Spirituality, Health and Wholeness: An Introductory Guide for Health Care Professionals (Haworth Press, 2004). Contact 909-558-1000 ext. 83413, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Wilber Alexander is founding director of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness at Loma Linda University in California. He has been studying the relationship between the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional aspects of illness for three decades. Contact 909-558-7786, email@example.com.