Mind-body medicine blends conventional treatments with self-healing
By Friederike Albrecht Jan 2, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - While conventional and alternative medicine, such as naturopathy, often seem incompatible, there is growing realization among practitioners from each side that this is not necessarily so.
'Integrative medicine' combines elements of both, allowing more effective treatment of disorders. It includes 'mind-body medicine,' which uses the power of a patient's thoughts and emotions to complement conventional care.
Focused concentration on one's body can benefit healthy people as well as ill ones.
'Basically it has to do with self-awareness, relaxation and lifestyle changes,' said Anna Paul, a researcher and instructor at Germany's University of Duisburg-Essen's Chair of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, which was established in 2005.
Mind-body medicine, which is a very complex field, originated in American scientific and academic institutions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services and the country's medical research agency, defines it as 'practices that focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behaviour, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health.'
The health-promoting potential that lies dormant in every person can be awakened in various ways.
'As is so often the case in naturopathy, it depends on the people themselves,' Paul said. The basis for the success of the method, which is also called lifestyle management, is being mindful of oneself.
'We foster people's ability to be mindful of themselves,' she said. Subsequent steps in mind-body therapy deal with nutrition, exercise, relaxation response and stress alleviation. They can include techniques such as yoga, qigong, autogenic training, an individual exercise programme and a healthy diet plan.
At the Clinic for Naturopathy and Integrative Medicine in Essen, mind-body medicine has been practiced alongside conventional medicine since 1999. The spectrum of maladies treated is broad, ranging from cancer, rheumatic diseases and pain syndromes such as migraines, to coronary heart disease.
'For us, integrative medicine means we select what's best for the patient from the medical systems,' said Paul, head of Mind-Body Medicine and Organizational Development at the clinic, which is attached to a day hospital.
Most of the about 20,000 patients who have been treated at the clinic now pay more attention to self-care in their daily lives, remarked Paul, who said records showed that they took fewer medications and had more energy.
People without any physical complaints or diagnosed illnesses can also benefit from the body's self-healing forces - namely to stay healthy. Tobias Esch, a German general practitioner and neuroscientist, has set out to make mind-body medicine available to the healthy population.
'I've always been fascinated by what it means to focus on activating healthy people's inner potential and self-healing forces,' Esch said. So he and his wife, who is also a physician, founded the Institute for Mind-Body Medicine in Potsdam in 2007. It offers the elements of mind-body medicine to companies as well as individuals within the framework of health training.
In order to convey the elements and efficacy of mind-body medicine in a workplace health-promotion programme, Esch said, a different name for it sometimes has to be used.
'This might mean that in a business context the instruments of mind-body medicine are offered as 'stress management' or 'health coaching,' for example,' remarked Esch, who also established a course of studies in integrative health promotion at Germany's Coburg University of Applied Sciences.
With psychological 'burnout' a hot topic in Germany these days, Esch noted that more and more companies were opening up to burnout-prevention programmes focused mainly on stress management. Along with the everyday stress in our hurry-up world, many people lack the ability to pause and reflect, he said.