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Psychospiritual Medicine

By Dr. Daniel Shane S. Davidson

I coined the term PsychoSpiritual Medicine in 1996 and Trade Marked it in 1998 as I continued to grow more convinved that there was a solid and concrete interconnection between one's psychospiritual state and eventual state of physical health. PsychoSpiritual Medicine acknowledges the connection between the body, the mind and the soul and their excellent functional inter-relation to wellness and wellbeing.

Throughout the human history we have noticed the referecne to the existance of an inner energy, a source, a being, an existence or a connection that in some way keeps us alive and differentiates us from a physical version of our body without life. Hyppocrates once wrote, “The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.” This statement for example refers to a inner force. 

Being a scientist, I do not accept any statements and claims, unless there is corresponding scientific body of evidence that can scientifically prove its credibility and truth. Otherwise, anyone can make a claim and there would never be a way to differentiate what is to be trusted and what to be ignored.

As such, the measure of every claim and statement in my mind is if there is enough scientific objective, unbiased data to prove that claim or not? For example, the basic philosophy of naturopathic medicine that acknowledges the presence of a “vital force” within all of us that its state of health corresponds to the state of one’s overall health is quite an amazing philosophy! Is this true? As naturopathic doctors, we are taught to acknowledge, stimulate, and restore this vital force, and we are taught that the stronger this vital force is, the healthier and more robust our patients are. The definition of vital force is the energy or the spirit that animates living creatures – the soul. Now that concept is a very foreign concept to Allopathic medicine that I studied in my medical school and if I talk about it with most of my medical colleagues, the chances are that this concept will be either outright rejected or discounted to a concept best left to the church. 

Many of the principles followed in the psychospiritual model originate and correlate with basic naturopathic principles: the healing power of nature, identify and treat the cause, first do no harm, treat the whole person, and physician heal thyself, all of which include addressing the mental, emotional, and physical (body, mind, and spirit) components of every patient.

Addressing the spirit or soul has been off-limits in medicine for over 2000 years. Confronting this soul/spirit presence, and acknowledging this reality and utilizing it as a viable source for healing, has been basically ignored and considered to be a major taboo.

Even René Descartes had an agreement with the Catholic Church that he would leave the matter of the soul and spirit to the church’s control and domain. Descartes, in his Letter to the Sorbonne, published at the beginning of his seminal work, Meditations on First Philosophy, concluded that it is only the mind or soul that can exist without the body. He stops short of demonstrating that the soul is actually immortal. Yet Descartes was adamant in professing that “the mind is really distinct from the body and can exist without the body.” Can minds really exist without bodies? Can thinking occur without a brain? Obviously, there are some profound issues to consider.

A Departure From Descartes

People generally accept the basic concept that humans do possess a soul. Many of us actually cultivate our spiritual essence on a daily basis with a spiritual practice. Why is it that as physicians we often ignore using one of the greatest healing tools available?

As physicians and healers, we are presented with the opportunity to treat the whole person: mental, emotional, and physical (mind, body, and spirit). Observing, acknowledging, and documenting these vital components is essential in determining one’s overall health and well-being. It has only been within the last 50-75 years that conventional medicine has reluctantly accepted the relationship of the obvious interaction between the mind and the body. This was not an easy pill to swallow for those who held onto René Descartes’ reductionism theory. This reductionism school of thought considered mind as merely part of the body “machine,” as we discussed in a previous article. Descartes saw 2 separate parts to man – mind and body. Duality. His hypothesis was that the body could affect the mind but that the mind had no interaction or effect on the body. Mind and its thought processes simply did not affect the body; information flowed in just 1 direction.

The eventual acceptance of the mind-body connection was precipitated by the advent of new scientific findings that proved we are indeed more than the sum of our “machinistic” parts and that the mind did indeed communicate and affect the body. The eventual discoveries of messenger molecules, peptide receptors, and microbiome activity have further validated the fact the body and the mind are indeed connected. The idea of duality and separateness is no longer scientifically accepted even though the idea of separateness is still widely promoted. The added recognition and acceptance of quantum physics – which indicates that consciousness creates reality and that the body has an ongoing communication network with the mind – further legitimizes this connection.


Psychospiritual Medicine

Psychospiritual medicine encompasses the psychological relationship between spirituality and the mind. There are other key factors that influence the psychospiritual medical paradigm, including emotional, social, genetics, familial, and biological; tribal inputs and our personal relationships are also key influences. Psychospiritual medicine is the integration of psychological growth and spiritual attunement. It provides a new and different way of looking at and addressing psychological issues. This involves assisting the patient in learning effective ways of taking greater personal responsibility (a basic tenet in naturopathic medicine) and thereby creating a different response. It also involves viewing the complications of life as not just problems (to solve), but as gateways to a greater understanding of oneself. Crisis can become an opportunity for greater awareness, depending on one’s outlook and what old and dysfunctional habits and patterns one has not yet been able to change.

As practitioners, our goal in utilizing the psychospiritual modality is to respond and treat the different psychological manifestations that keep a patient from experiencing a more healthy and vital life. By bringing attention, focus, and awareness to the psychological issues that are present in a patient, we can better facilitate and move that patient to a place of greater self-realization. In assessing where patients are stuck or holding on to old patterns – patterns that perpetuate their dis-ease and dysfunction – we can better move forward to providing real solutions for essential change. This change occurs most successfully when we connect our patients to their deeper consciousness and awareness and instill an understanding and knowledge that they indeed have the ability to create the life they so desire. Our role as physician is to assist and facilitate this metamorphosis. Yes, we are meant to evolve and become more conscious beings.

Psychospiritual medicine has allowed for an expansion of etiology, or cause and effect. Its development has spawned new and creative ways of looking at the interaction of the soul/spirit, mind, heart, and emotions within the body. In this process, new disciplines have also emerged, and new techniques have been developed that allow the practitioner to deepen his or her understanding of the interplay between the spiritual self, the conscious and unconscious mind, emotions, and environmental conditioning. All of these play a vital part in the creation of the qualities that all humans share, as well as the ways in which those qualities are unique to each individual.

I want to strongly emphasize that there are distinct differences between soul and spirit – that they are, by no means, the same thing, although I may use the terms in similar ways. This confusion is simply another example of how words can get in the way. I hope to write an article in the near future that will explain how exactly soul and spirit are distinct entities.

Clinical Tools

This spiritual inclusion approach recognizes and accesses higher consciousness using mind techniques, mindfulness, meditation, biofeedback, visualization, awareness, imagery, a positive mental outlook, intuition, and other tools, all in the pursuit of greater understanding. Certain brave pioneers believed there must be more effective treatment plans that had not been tapped into yet. One such noble pioneer was Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, who in 1979 recruited chronically ill patients, who were not responding well to traditional treatments, to participate in his newly-formed 8-week stress reduction program – a program we now call Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). These mindfulness-based interventions improved both the mental and physical health of the patients in that original study far beyond anyone’s expectations. This program has become legendary.

In the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, traditional psychotherapy often focuses on the negative aspects of mental health. Although in recent years there has been a move, in both psychology and psychiatry, to focus on the more positive aspects of mental health, many practitioners still find themselves limited to numbing their patients with psychotropic drugs to manage certain psychological issues. The greater awareness of the mind-body connection has shed more light on the significant role spirituality plays in health, longevity, and personal contentment.

Using spirituality in therapy requires the practitioner to pay close attention to the belief system of their patient and to find certain concepts of spirituality that offer a unique fit for that patient. This requires attentive listening for cues, as well as asking probing questions that facilitate this process to flourish. Some patients may be reluctant to enter this new territory of exploration, and it is the physician’s role and duty to meet the patient where he or she is at. In my practice I have found that many patients are at first reluctant to enter into such vulnerable discussions. Simply asking patients what, if any, their spiritual practices consist of, is a basic and functional starting point for beginning this delicate and most intimate discussion. I believe there is a basic inherent desire in all beings to possess and cultivate a deeper soul connection and spiritual development. Some folks just have more difficulty getting in touch with how to accomplish this innate desire. There is a lot of history and fear that keeps people from being willing to risk change. Just listen to certain patients that argue for their limitations, and, sure enough, they wind up owning those self-imposed limitations and remain unfulfilled and unhealthy.

A Positive Mental Outlook, Awareness, Biofeedback, Body, Emotional, Imagery, Intuition, Meditation, Mental, Mind, Mind Techniques, Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Physical, Psychospiritual Medicine, Spirit, Visualization

How Does Mindfulness Meditation Help Pain?

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine conducted a study published in PAIN in July 2022 to investigate the effects of mindfulness meditation on pain perception and brain activity. They found that mindfulness meditation interrupts the communication between brain areas involved in pain sensation and those associated with the sense of self.

This interruption reduces the individual’s sense of ownership over pain sensations, leading to decreased pain and suffering. Participants who underwent mindfulness training reported a 32% reduction in pain intensity and a 33% reduction in pain unpleasantness. Brain scans showed reduced synchronization between the thalamus and parts of the default mode network during mindfulness-induced pain relief. This study suggests that mindfulness meditation could offer a non-pharmacological method for pain treatment by decoupling the self-referential appraisal of pain.

Remembering ‘Selfless’ Experiences

Dr. Raphael Millière from Columbia University New York and Professor Albert Newen from Ruhr-Universität Bochum examined whether memories of selfless experiences triggered by psychoactive substances or meditation are credible. Their analysis, published in the journal Erkenntnis on May 12, 2022, suggests that such memories are plausible. They argue that while our everyday consciousness revolves around the self, there are indications that selfless experiences can occur, such as in individuals with neurological impairments or during meditation. The Bochum model of memory suggests that memories are constructed, with self-involvement and mineness of memory being separate aspects. Even if the original experience lacked facets of the self, these aspects can be added during memory construction. Therefore, memories of selfless experiences should be taken seriously.

Living with Schizophrenia

A study by psychologists at the University of Georgia revealed that people with schizophrenia struggle to regulate their emotions effectively, especially as negative emotions increase. Unlike healthy individuals who tend to manage their emotions better as stress levels rise, those with schizophrenia are less likely to employ coping strategies or attempt to change their emotional state when experiencing intense negative emotions.

This abnormality, termed “learned helplessness” or “defeatist beliefs,” may contribute to their reduced efforts in managing emotions during high-stress situations. The researchers suggest that understanding this aspect of emotion regulation could lead to tailored psychological treatments for schizophrenia, potentially aiding in prevention efforts.