By Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
My wife is 80 years old and has had back pain for years. We recently heard of a book that talks of living pain-free for life. I think it deals with a kind of “mind cure.” What is the Adventist Church’s stance on “mind cure”?
Ellen White was very adamant about never giving our mind over to the control or suggestions of another, as occurs in hypnotherapy. She was also very positive about the effects of willpower correctly directed. We believe strongly that the mind controls a great deal of our health and our response to disease. We do not believe, however, that all disease comes from the mind. It is folly to think one can “will away” a cancer, a raging pneumonia, a case of malaria, or fix a bone without it being properly aligned and splinted.
But pain is an entirely different thing. Pain is not disease; it is a symptom. Pain serves us well. It causes us to pull our hand from a burning hot stove or to withdraw from a sharp object. Pain, therefore, is essential to our proper survival. Chronic pain is different, however; it indicates some nerve irritation, and in some ways can become self-perpetuating by its continued presence.
Our brains have a set of pathways that stimulate the production of endorphins. These are chemicals that function as opiates. Opiates are heroin, morphine, and codeine―derivatives of plants such as the poppy. Perhaps it would be wiser to say, opiates mimic the endorphins.
Failure to have a serious organic problem diagnosed could have disastrous consequences.
There are chemicals that block the actions of opiates, and these medications also have been shown to block the action of the endorphins.
Researchers into the placebo effect,―which is the process by which inert substances will produce relief in approximately 35 percent of people,―have shown the effect to be mediated through the endorphin system. The opiate blockers also block the placebo effect. It is through the power of suggestion that placebos work, so we have here a mechanism through which our brains can suppress pain. But remember, placebo effects work in only 35 percent of people. Consequently, to achieve success, one would have to have a powerful turn-on of the endorphins. Then, too, the pain relief experienced is seldom 100 percent. Of course, when it comes to pain, a reduction of any magnitude will be very welcome.
Studies have shown that the recall of pain relief tends to be exaggerated in the mind of the one for whom some relief was obtained, leading to their recounting greater relief than was actually experienced at the time. Skepticism itself may be counterproductive to the working of such endorphin-activated mechanisms, but we would be less than truthful if we did not express that we doubt 100 percent relief will be obtained for pain that is based in significant pathology. We are also nervous that people might ignore the cause of the pain while pursuing the relief of the pain. Diagnosis should always precede therapy, even if the therapy is going to be a “mind” process. Failure to have a serious organic problem diagnosed could have disastrous consequences.
Your wife, who may have a degenerative condition of her spine for which conventional doctors have little significant curative measures, may well find benefit from mental adaptation to the pain. Remember, too, that prayer, with its casting of the care upon the Lord, may also remove those elements of anxiety that so heighten pain.
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG,
is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C.,
is ICPA executive director and associate director of Health Ministries.