A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

by Thomas Hersh, Ph.D.
Published in: Santa Monica Organic Garden and Nutrition Club Bulletin, June 1998. Volume 37, Number 2, pp. 1-2.

(Dr. Hersh, member of our Club, spoke to us on gardening several years [weeks?] ago. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and has taught as an associate professor. He has been on the faculty of Cal State Northridge, UCLA Extension, and Immaculate Heart. He has had much experience as a clinical psychologist and currently is devoting considerable time to research. Editor's note.)

[July 27, 2011: The following are the Club secretary's published notes from the talk. I do not have a copy of the original paper, so the following is not a completely accurate outline. The goal of the talk was to raise, in dramatic form, the possibility that one's psychological attitude can cause illnesses and that, on the other hand, a stable psychological state can probably have a positive effect on some illnesses. This led to fantasizing about how long we might live if, somehow, we were all in a completely tensionless state throughout our lives.]

How big a factor in illness and cures is the mind? If serious illnesses can be caused by psychic pain and cured by uplifting experiences or hope, if the desire to raise a child can keep a mother with cancer alive until the child reaches a certain age, then is it possible that all disease is caused by psychic disturbances? Is it possible that, if a person were completely pure, spiritual, he would live disease free, able to resist any impurities, or germs, or out-side forces? Is it possible that death itself comes because of some lack of belief or lack of spiritual cleanliness? If we could become pure, if we could believe in immortality and not embrace the collective belief in the inevitability of death, could we live forever?

 Amazing things do happen. There are [apparently] well-documented cases of people who never ate, who maintained that they had lived on sunlight alone. Tibetan monks live for a week in the snow, naked! Maybe we could put off death itself if we had the right attitude. It would take a tremendous psychic effort to remain young indefinitely in a society that expects everyone to age.

How to treat the psychosomatic aspect of illness? If it is tension or psychic imbalance that causes problems, what can be done? One way is some direct intervention on the tension through yoga or some meditation or stress reduction exercise or biofeedback or massage or good food or imagery or hot baths or herbal or medicinal treatment. One has to find the pain or discomfort, figure out the cause and a method of relief. Each person is different; so each treatment would be different. Some people smoke for 80 years with no problems; others get cancer from smoking once.

That method treats symptoms; so the problem recurs almost as soon as the treatment is stopped.

The second approach tries to find what causes the tension and then eliminates it — overwork, greed, wrong attitude, anger, etc. The idea is that a religious or spiritual attitude has to be developed to relieve oneself from psychic suffering and thereby to cure the illness. Here psychological treatment can help diagnose the problem and provide a cure.