I am often asked how I came to practice psychotherapy from a mind-body perspective. During my time in graduate school there was a minor focus on holistic approaches to mental health but it was definitely not emphasized. Mindfulness practices were also not mainstream as they were still in the process of building empirical support. If it were not for a personal experience of this phenomenon, I may not have pursued this path as passionately.
Throughout my childhood I frequently suffered from throat infections. I was repeatedly given antibiotics and the infections would subsequently return. As I entered college, and the infections were still occurring, I was faced with the decision of having my tonsils removed as a last resort. That is when a friend introduced me to a holistic health practitioner who completely shifted my thinking on the relationship between physical and mental/emotional health.
My holistic treatment included nutritional changes, herbal supplements and acupuncture but I believe the most significant part of my treatment was the attention brought to a life-long pattern of failing to speak up for myself and express my needs. In fact, when this was brought to my attention, I experienced a profound emotional release – a catharsis both in mind and body. I used this experience as a starting point to explore my emotional and relational patterns more consciously and I used my body as a source of information on my progress. Sure enough as I began to build my autonomy, the infections went away and I still have my tonsils.
In When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté writes, “Chronic emotional stresses sensitize the immune system, so that it becomes overly reactive to any number of triggers.” He goes on to say, “If I chronically repress my emotional needs in order to make myself acceptable to other people, I increase my risks of having to pay the price in the form of illness.” If this is true, we can see the importance in treating unhealthy emotional and relational dynamics for the sake of our mental and physical health. Additionally, if we experience a chronic physical illness, maybe our bodies are trying to tell us something our minds have failed to rectify.