There was a not-very-funny story that made its way through my family when I was a child: A woman tells the neighbor boy that his father’s illness is all in his head. A few days later she asks if his father still thinks he’s ill. The boy responds, “No, now he thinks he’s dead. We bury him tomorrow.” (The story was a bit of a shot at Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science.)
Most people take an all or nothing approach to this issue. Either it’s all in your head or your head has nothing at all to do with it. The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
I first became interested in the connections among health, healing and mind/belief when I was a pastor in mid-Missouri. A seemingly large percentage of the population experienced a variety of cancers. Since it was a very small community, every case of cancer was well known. The correlation between belief/attitude and disease process caught my attention. Those who believed they had some control over the disease and their treatment did better than those who believed they were victims of and powerless over the disease.
Later, in my career as a pastor, I had the privilege of facilitating a cancer support group. The group consisted of people with a cancer diagnosis who wanted to take charge of their lives and be the primary person on their healing team. Over the four years I was with the group, we worked with over forty incredible individuals. Though not all survived in the long term, all lived longer than expected and experienced a much higher quality of life than those who believed their survival depended totally on doctors and protocols.
Ex-Los Angeles Dodgers manager Leo Durocher is credited with saying, “Nice guys finish last.” This group seemed to prove his point. They were not particularly good patients. They were in charge of their health and treatment. They took charge of their schedules while in the hospital, insisted on getting the information they needed from their docs and did whatever they thought would be useful for healing, even choosing to refuse treatments in which they had no faith.
A few years ago the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” seemed to suggest that we create our own reality. A comedy follow-up movie, “I Heart Huckabees,” implied that we do not. My belief, again, is that the truth lies somewhere between the two. I believe we participate in creating our reality. Our attitudes and beliefs help shape our experience.
So I would say that though it is true that it is not all in your head, belief and attitude do influence health and disease recovery. Those who feel powerless when it comes to health issues would benefit by seeking out those who can help them learn how to use the unbelievable power of the mind to influence the course of disease and recovery.
By Larry Wells