Dr Goldberg explores the impact of the psycho-spiritual on both the development and treatment of cancer.
It is possible to manage cancer in an integrated way by removing all external and internal environmental agencies that promote cancer growth, creating a positive lifestyle that supports healthy protective systems and providing medicinal substances and therapies that contain cell proliferation and strengthen the immune system. As an extension of this integral approach to cancer treatment, we focus here on the inner psycho-social factors which work as chronic irritants to either activate cell proliferation or weaken cell containment. Central to all these interventions is the patient himself or herself for whom the integrated programme is designed. For the way in which the individual will work with therapy is crucial: the patient, if willing, has the potential to develop mental skills to aid in the removal of these psycho-social irritants.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF CANCER
Cancer develops, when cells of the body begin to grow abnormally and are no longer controlled by the normal surveillance and regulative forces of the body. These are highly complex immune, bio-chemical, genetic and psycho-spiritual functions, the understanding of which are driving modern cancer research today. The goal in treating cancer effectively must be to destroy the unbridled cancer cells directly, or to strengthen those innate containing activities that destroy cancer, without harming the healthy cells of the body.
THE ROLE OF THE PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL IN DISEASE
- Do the mind and the emotions influence the development of cancer?
- Can the mind be harnessed to help fight cancer?
These two questions have intrigued me ever since I began to treat cancer in an integrative way over 40 years ago. During this time I have sought ways to understand these connections and to incorporate this self-healing potential into an integrative cancer treatment programme.
There is growing scientific evidence to show that the outcome of an illness is influenced by active participation in the treatment process. The work of Jon Kabbat Zinn and other researchers using mindfulness-based approaches show the improvement in illnesses when the patient is involved in his treatment programme.¹ In my practice I have found this most certainly to be the case. Cancer patients who have a positive mindset do significantly better than those with a negative attitude to their illness and their long term survival.
It is also well established that emotions such as anxiety, depression, bitterness, guilt, and suppressed feelings affect brain, endocrine and immune functions negatively, whereas joy, laughter, relaxation and creative activities do the opposite. One such article in the European Journal of Cancer linked emotional stress with weakening of the immune system.
This paper concluded that ‘psychological or behavioural factors may influence the incidence or progression of cancer through psychosocial influences on immune function and other physiological pathways.’² The well-accepted science of psycho-neuro immunology has documented hundreds of studies showing the links between the psyche, the brain and the immune system. Multiple studies show that stress especially contributes to increased mortality from already established cancers.3-5
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PATIENT
Self-reflection and self-awareness can guide the patient towards taking responsibility for the deep-seated emotions that can play a role in developing and keeping cancer. The subconscious soul life harbours a host of different personality sub types. We are constantly moving from one sub type to another depending on our changing circumstances and inner responses. When we need approval, we will want to please, when we feel threatened, we may become angry. In one day, a person can express assertiveness or submissiveness, confidence or doubt, fear or courage, gentleness or harshness depending on our internal responses and our interaction with a constantly changing environment. When we turn our attention to these personality sub-types, we identify them and determine whether they are helpful or harmful to our well-being. We discover that we are able to influence their habitual nature by calling up other parts of our personality that can change the behaviour pattern.
NEGATIVE PERSONALITY SUB-TYPE
Early on in life Ms AB learned to suppress feelings because her parental environment did not permit the expression of feelings of vulnerability. This sadly became a habitual pattern in all her relationships. At the same time she learnt to become an achiever because this was encouraged at home and at school. Her ambition drove her to become a top executive, and she chose to put her energies into her work while avoiding committed relationships. A year after her mother died of breast cancer, she herself was diagnosed with the same illness.
Ms AB wanted to do everything in her power to overcome her illness. She was well aware that a mastectomy followed by chemo and radiotherapy was no guarantee that her cancer would not relapse. She realised she had a psycho-social disposition for this illness, that years of suppressed feelings had disturbed her neuro-endocrine and immune functions. The final stress of her mother’s death, where she was unable to grieve or show her emotions, was, in my opinion, the trigger that led to the cancer growth.
If cancer patients are to bring themselves to the core of their integrated healing process and feel in control and empowered, they need to clear their healing path from psycho-spiritual obstacles which in the course of their lives have compromised their wholeness, dignity and strength.
Participatory Counselling, based on Psycho-phonetic Counselling developed by Yehuda Tagar, is a methodology for accessing and exploring such deep-seated psycho-social patterns. Psychophonetics regards the human being as a living body, soul and individual spirit with a potential connection to vast resources of vitality, creativity, intelligence, compassion, intimacy, expanded awareness and spirituality.
Ms AB committed herself to doing several counselling sessions. She had to find the real living partner in herself who ‘wanted to do everything in her power to overcome her illness.’ She had to learn to play this role authentically. This was the role player who undertook to direct her integrative treatment programme and to sort out her internal blocks. She had to find the courage to meet that part of her personality that was terrified to express her feelings. She had to discover another part that was willing to show her feelings. She began to engage and participate actively in the different personae of her own psycho drama and started the transformative work of applying this to her social life, and changing her old habits. She discovered a growing sense of liberation from her own incarcerated emotional life and had the real sense of a healing taking place in her body and mind. Above all she felt that she was in control of her own healing. It was as if she had found her internal physician.
Self-healing in a nutshell
- Be willing to participate in your therapy
- Become aware of the state of your soul life
- Access your deep-seated emotions and explore them with courage
- Show your feelings
- Walk the talk: apply your new positivity to everyday living
- Enjoy your liberation from mental and physical ill health
When cancer patients learn to take full responsibility for their own healing and to participate in their healing transformation, the outcome of their illness can be shifted significantly. This participatory approach to medicine opens up a new way of diagnosing and treating illness, one in which both patient and healing practitioner participate actively in the healing process.
Participatory Counselling / Psychophonetics has become an active and essential part of my practice: please feel free to contact me should you be in need of help.
- Kabbat Zinn J. Participatory Medicine. JEADV. 2000; (14): 239 – 40.
- Kiecolt-Glaser J.K, Glaser R. Eur J Cancer. 1999 Oct; 35(11):1603-7.
- Herbert, T.B. et al. (1993) Stress and immunity in humans: a meta-analytic review, Psychosomatic Medicine. 1993. (55):364–79.
- Irwin, M. et al. Human Psychoneuroimmunology. Oxford University Press. 2005.
- Pert, C.B. Molecules of Emotions. Pocket Books. 1997.