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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
December 2005

Pathways to Healing
by Elaine Zablocki

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CMBM Uses Mind-Body Methods to Limit Stress
New York City firefighters and their families have tried mind-body methods to cope with the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. . .and discovered that they work. Sixty-three firefighters attended a workshop on psychological self-care and mind-body medicine presented by the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), based in Washington, DC.

At first they were very skeptical, recalls James S. Gordon, MD, CMBM founder and director. "One of them said to me, 'this is like some kind of chick flick.' But we asked them to try these methods as an experiment, and he began to realize how much emotion he had suppressed after 9/11. He, and all of them, began to talk with their wives and kids, really for the first time, about what happened on that day." Guided imagery and yoga helped the firefighters become more aware of the complicated, painful emotions left after 9/11. "Instead of just indulging in their anger, they've been able to notice when it arises, pay attention to its sources, and use some mind-body techniques to relax."

CMBM has taken the same methods to the Gaza strip, where faculty including Christians, Jews and Muslims train local mental health leaders to use scientifically validated mind-body skills such as meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback and group support to recover from their own stress and trauma. CMBM trains them to use this approach while working with the many children and adults who suffer from anxiety, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, aggression and emotional isolation—the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Our program is unique because we work with both sides, Palestinian and Israeli," Gordon says. "I recall a Palestinian psychologist who came to our most recent training. At first he wondered whether he ought to spend so much time focusing on himself, while there are so many problems crying out for his attention. In the course of the week-long training, he found that a simple meditation technique helped him feel more relaxed. That very night he got a call from a man who planned to commit suicide. He taught him the same simple method, and it worked for him too. At the end of the training, this psychologist said to us, 'For the first time in many years, I feel hope.'"

Center for Mind-Body Medicine Offers Professional Training Programs
New York firefighters and residents of Gaza are coping with extreme stress. But all of us experience stress in daily life, and all of us need to know how to use mind-body methods to protect and reinvigorate ourselves. Since 1990, the Center for Mind-Body Medicine has been offering workshops in mind-body skills to local residents, and offering training to healthcare practitioners who want to add mind-body methods to their professional practice.

"No matter what our healthcare specialty may be, it's essential for us to be fully present, relaxed and alert, in order to help the people who come to us," Gordon says. "Nowadays training focuses almost exclusively on acquiring new techniques, and this is true in alternative medicine as well as in conventional medicine. That sort of technical professional knowledge needs to be balanced with an education in wisdom, in coming to know one's self."

In its Professional Training Program, the center teaches methods of working with individuals and groups which can be incorporated into any practice. "We have cardiothoracic surgeons and acupuncturists, nurses and alternative medicine clinic directors who come to the training," Gordon says. "We teach a variety of simple, elegant, scientifically proven methods to help people become more self aware and learn how to take better care of themselves. It's not enough to give someone a tranquilizer or an acupuncture treatment. Either one may be helpful, but in the long run, people need to know how to help themselves."

The Professional Training Program lasts for seven days, and combines scientific background, small discussions and experiential sessions in yoga, meditation and a variety of other mind-body techniques. It is designed for all healthcare practitioners, including nurses, psychologists and social workers, nutritionists, and CAM professionals, and usually qualifies for 30 to 40 CE credits. The week includes many hours of small group work, which allows participants to deal with their own physical, emotional and spiritual issues in a supportive environment. The course includes:

  • History and latest research findings on mind-body approaches
  • Self-regulation through biofeedback, self-hypnosis, breathing and relaxation
  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Meditation as a way of life
  • Imagery and visualization
  • Using art, journals, dreams and music
  • Exercise movement and dance as therapeutic tools
  • Medical precautions and contraindications for self-regulation techniques
  • Small groups as a vessel for change

"The first week really focuses on personal experience" says Susan Lord, MD, associate director of medical education at CMBM, and a senior faculty member in the training program. "We discuss the scientific data, but we really want participants to integrate the lessons of these mind-body techniques into their own lives and to understand on the deepest level, the power they have to transform and heal people."

After six to eight months of personal practice, participants may return for a second, advanced training session which focuses primarily on the skills needed to work with individuals and small groups within their professional practices. "We offer coaching sessions on how to give lectures, and also how to work intimately with a small group of people," Lord says. "How do you hold the energy? How do you make a container for a group of people to do deep work? Our approach is not about pathology or telling people what's wrong with them. It's really about honoring their own ability to heal."

The professional training program includes material on nutrition, but because the subject is so intimately connected with health, CMBM also offers a separate training program in Food As Medicine.

In the Mind-Body Certification program, participants are encouraged to form mind-body groups in their own communities. CMBM offers training in how to recruit and interview potential members of the group. The process includes personal, step-by-step supervision, via phone calls and e-mail.

One of the basic themes throughout the mind-body training is finding ways to access the wisdom of the unconscious mind, Lord says. "We do a writing exercise called 'dialogue with the symptom,' in which you ask the symptom why it is in your life, and what it is asking you to do. In these groups we experience a process that is quite different from the top-down approach of Western medicine. The leader facilitates the group, but is also a member of the group. They bring to this role a kind of vulnerability and openness, that helps others to also work deeply within themselves."

For information about the Center for Mind-Body Medicine and its training programs, go to: or call 202-966–7338.

The next Professional Training Program for healthcare professionals who want to integrate mind-body methods into their clinical practice is scheduled January 29 to February 4 (2006) in Berkeley, California.

Food as Medicine, a training program in nutrition which presents the best current scientific evidence and provides guidance for healthcare practitioners who want to take the next step in counseling patients about nutrition, will be offered June 10 to 16, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland

CME and CE credit and scholarships are available.

Elaine Zablocki is the former editor of CHRF News Files and Alternative Medicine Business News.


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