WESTERN medicine is just beginning to understand the link
between thought and ill health, between the human mind and the
human body. The harmful effects of stress, depression, and anger on
the body have been well documented.
Now, many mainstream medical experts say there may be a positive
relationship between happier emotions and healing. Bill Moyers
takes on "Healing and the Mind" in a difficult five-part
documentary series (airing Feb. 22-24 on PBS, check local listings)
that investigates the growing medical interest in and exploration
of the human mind/body link.
The two questions Mr. Moyers explores are: How do thoughts and
feelings influence health? How is healing related to the mind?
Though Moyers takes the viewer through a spectrum of medical
evidence and theory, those questions are left largely unanswered,
because researchers are just beginning to ask them.
"Healing and the Mind" is no walk in the park: A lot of physical
and mental suffering is graphically presented. Many of the
situations presented are heart-wrenchingly sad; the discussions of
death, loneliness, pain, and disease are explicit. The point of
view taken by the filmmakers is limited by and anchored in
contemporary medicine. Only those experiments in alternative
treatment that are deemed compatible with medical orthodoxy are
investigated here. Reached by phone, Moyers said that he
deliberately confined his documentary to the medical realm, leaving
out any investigation of religious healing.
"Healing and the Mind" is therefore a conservative inquiry.
Moyers says in the introduction to his book of the same title (a
companion volume to the series) that he was warned that the series
might encourage dangerously ill patients to "defy the physician,
discard the medicine, stop the chemotherapy, and embrace
Moyers was further cautioned that the series might appear to
support the kind of "mind-over-matter thinking that makes people
feel guilty about their illness." So Moyers frequently reinforces
Western medicine's domination and underscores how little is really
known about the mind's effect on the body. He is scrupulously
careful not to undermine the biomedical model.
Yet implicit in all the information provided is an important
challenge to the medical establishment's traditionally mechanistic
approach to curing: A human being is more than a "ghost in a
machine." The doctors and nurses of this series take their
patients' states of mind into consideration. They treat them as
people, with caring concern, not as diseased organs ("the liver in
room 203"). Caring for the patients' emotional needs is thought to
Part 1, "The Mystery of Chi," looks at traditional Chinese
medicine as it operates today - side-by-side with Western medicine.
Dr. David Eisenberg guides Moyers through the different methods of
treatment, including a highly complex system of herbal medicines,
acupuncture, and an ancient martial art. Chinese medicine
recognizes no mind/body split, but is based on a belief in an
essential life energy, called "chi."
Part 2, "The Mind-Body Connection," deals with the cutting edge
of psychoneuroimmunology. The doctors interviewed study the
connection between emotions and brain function and the influence of
emotions on the immune system. They are trying to understand how
the brain and the immune system "talk" to each other. The focus is
on the biochemical link.
Part 3, "Healing From Within," deals with the unconventional
treatment of chronic pain at the stress-reduction clinic at the
University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where a form of
Buddhist meditation is taught to patients for whom conventional
medicine can do nothing. …