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How To Find An Expert You Can Trust

Shannon Harvey

I had spent more than $30,000 on specialist doctors, drugs, nutritionists, and alternative therapists. I had tried everything from group therapy, to acupuncture and kinesiology. I had read books about healing my life and changing my thoughts. I was still sick.   I was at a point where I didn’t know who I could trust. People seemed to offer a solution, but often all I received was a bill and another appointment.I didn’t want to imagine a future where I was riddled with arthritis and flat with fatigue. So I kept searching.  

I came across a PDF document written by Australian academic Dr. Craig Hassed from Monash University. It was called Mind-Body Medicine: Science, Practice and Philosophy. It had been published in 2006 but it was compelling reading. In the document he explained some of the key research areas in mind body medicine such as the cause and effect of stress, the definition of the mind and the brain, research on placebo and the emerging field of research called psychoneuroimmunology.  

I felt like I had struck gold. Here was a medically trained doctor who was in academic medicine, telling me that science was showing that there was a connection between my mind and body when it came to health outcomes. Some of the research he referred to also showed that there were things I could do to improve my health outcomes.

His paper turned out to be a drop in a vast ocean of material looking at the science of mind body medicine. And before the cameras started rolling in November 2012, I had read just about every book and paper I could find on the subject.   Anyone who’s started looking into this emerging field would know that trawling through all the information out there can be challenging.  In a mass media world where there are thousands of self help gurus and so called experts, how does the non-scientist trawl through all the information and sort out the quacks from the real deal?  

In deciding which experts we included in The Connection, we consulted Professor Ann Harrington from Harvard, whose book The Cure Within looks at the history of mind body medicine.  She told us look for the people who are willing to both talk about the evidence that proves a mind body connection, but also those willing to talk about the research flaws and outstanding questions. So the experts who appear in the film do exactly that. They are willing to talk about the evidence that shows our mind can heal our body, but also evidence that shows it can’t.  

For example Dr. David Spiegel appears in the film because of his pioneering work at Stanford with the use of clinical hypnotherapy, but also his research into the power of group support in breast cancer survival.  In 1989 Dr. Spiegel stirred up a storm when he published a study in the The Lancet showing dramatic benefits of support groups. His study of 86 metastatic breast cancer patients found those women who were randomly assigned to attend support groups for one year experienced less depression and pain and lived 18 months longer than those who weren’t.  

Since then, there have been 17 similar trials and 8 of them show that psychotherapy can actually affect positively survival time for cancer, however the remainder showed no difference.  The studies did show that group support improved the quality of the women's lives, which prompts Dr. Spiegel to highlight that the work is about living better not living longer. But he notes that both the medical treatments and the emotional climate for breast cancer patients have improved dramatically since his original 1989 study, making it more likely for patients to live longer even without the benefit of psychotherapy. Times have changed and this kind of research is difficult to put into a lab.  It is his willingness to openly discuss the veracity of the research that meant we decided to include him in the film.  

Dr. Ali Domar is another expert who appears in the film because of her research and success in using mind body medicine to treat infertile women. Her research is indicating that her mind body programs are associated with nearly tripling the pregnancy rate for infertile women.  She looks at the role of emotions, specifically depression in infertility but she openly says we don’t know for sure whether or not these things cause infertility.  

In The Connection we focus on the evidence that proves a mind body connection.  That’s because when you look at the balance of the research  - whether it’s on stress and meditation, on depression and the power of psychological treatment and community support, placebo and belief or epigenetics and the ageing of telomeres, it all points in a very clear direction. The mind and body are connected and our health is directly, inextricably linked to that connection.

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