In this interview in November 2015, Miriam talks about her own journey and personal experience of mind-body medicine.
Miriam, can you tell us something about your own journey to mind-body medicine?
My own mind-body medicine journey began in 2003 when I was completing my psychology honours year. At the time I was working with cancer patients to understand whether spirituality and religion affected their holistic wellbeing. I discovered that not only did spiritual beliefs have a positive impact on their general wellbeing, but I also discovered there were four other factors that played a significant part in their wellbeing too: positive thinking, social support, the ability to attach a positive meaning to their cancer experience, and lastly, the mind-body connection. These four factors kept coming up time and time again, in my qualitative research.
At the time I didn’t understand the mind-body connection all that well, but I was fascinated by the huge difference people could make in their lives simply by connecting with their bodies through their mind. Little did I know I would have my own direct experience of mind-body medicine not long after.
In 2003 my carefully-planned career path took a dramatic and unexpected turn. My honours degree was unexpectedly marked down because I’d taken the controversial route of looking at spirituality within a psychological context. This meant I didn’t succeed in getting into the master’s degree I had set my heart on. Worse, this meant I couldn’t achieve my goal of becoming a psychologist (not at that time, anyway) and I found myself utterly lost and directionless. And here came my own introduction to the mind-body connection: I got very, very sick.
I didn’t realise at the time, but the culmination of the stress from previous year plus the disappointment of not being able to realise my goals had made me very sick. My symptoms got progressively worse, so that within six months I was too sick to walk or think properly. I’d never experienced this level of sickness before, so was astounded to get a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Even more astounding was the response from my GP: I was told that the only solution was a prescription for thyroxine, which I would be on for the rest of my life. There was no explanation of the disease, or exploration of how I got there, or even any discussion of other options. I felt like I had been given my prescription and kicked out onto the street.
The thyroxine succeeded in getting me up and running again, even though I was still a long way from optimum health. But I still couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of being on medication for the rest of my life: when my GP told me my instant reaction was “Like hell I am!” While her intention was to help me, the diagnosis ignited the fighter inside of me and made me determined to find a better solution.
This started me on a journey of personal growth which would never have happened if I’d gone down the path I had planned so carefully. I refocused on coaching as a career path, trained as a life coach and qualified in NLP as well as timeline therapy and hypnosis.
After many years of working as a coach, which I loved, I decided it was time to go back and complete my master’s degree. By this time the University of Adelaide had started offering a Health Psychology master’s program, which was completely in line with my interest in the biopsychosocial model, and I was successfully welcomed onto the course in 2010, and completed it in 2012.
I wrote my thesis on the value of mind-body medicine therapies in traditional healthcare, as well as conducting a systematic review into the efficacy of mindfulness for fibromyalgia. This was published in International Journal of Wellbeing. As one of my placements for my Masters degree, I worked in the pain management unit of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, which gave me some great insights into how multidisciplinary teams work in hospital settings and showed me how effective and accepted health psychology can be in a hospital setting. I also did a placement at Quit SA where I helped people with behaviour change, and spent some time working with people with depression and anxiety. I’m now an endorsed, specialist in health psychology.
And how are you getting on with your own mind-body medicine journey now?
All this education and exploration has always had two purposes: on the one hand helping others improve their holistic wellbeing. And on the other, my own quest to find health, my determination to find a solution to my own chronic hypothyroidism. This has been a long journey, which I have documented and explored with lots of different practitioners and modalities. Through the process of working through my own health issues I came face to face with the reality of how powerful mind-body medicine can be.
In 2012 I decided to wean myself off my medication (a prospect which had always terrified me) over several months. I didn’t consult my GP about it but kept a close eye on myself and resolved not to ignore symptoms if I had them. Eventually, after a period of feeling perfectly fine while taking no medication, I decided to get a blood test to corroborate my physical experience. Interestingly, despite the fact that I was feeling and functioning completely normally, my blood results were still abnormal (rather extremely, actually), which is something that my GP and an Endocrinologist haven’t yet been able to explain.
My fiance and I are now hoping to start a family, so I have taken the extra precaution of taking a natural, alternative source of thyroid hormone, at a considerably lower dose than previously. This feels much more natural and in line with my values. I’ve been told by specialists in thyroid health that I could stay off medication if I am feeling fine, but when it comes to how this may impact a developing foetus, I’m not willing to take the risk. It’s working well, I feel good (better than I have in years), and I feel empowered by my choice. I have also discovered I no longer have the crippling fear of what could happen if I didn’t take my medication.
I only found out this year that (after having this condition for 11 years) that I actually have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disorder. You would have thought with all the doctors and specialists I’ve seen that that would have been already discovered, but in the end it was my own research that led me to asking my new GP to get the testing done. So now part of my work is to figure out how to switch off my own auto-immune response using the mind-body connection. I’m making good progress and looking forward to where this takes me.
So how did this translate to working with your own clients?
My study of NLP taught me even more about the mind-body connection as my NLP trainers had a particular interest in the growing body of evidence that past trauma and stress can produce symptoms of disease, or trigger genetic predispositions to certain illnesses. As I became more aware of the amazing research in this field, I felt it resonate with my own growing disillusionment in western medicine, and started to explore other healing options including mind-body medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy. And as I became more aware of the mind-body connection I started exploring its use with some of my coaching clients.
Can you give us some examples of ways in which mind-body medicine has helped some of your clients?
Sure. I had a client who presented with a digestive problem which had been with her for a very long time, stretching right back to childhood. Eventually we got down to the root of it, which was a repressed memory of being sexually assaulted as a younger child. Through the process of becoming aware of the incident, and by using Time Line Therapy™ and other healing modalities to repair the original damage, it meant that within six months the symptoms had completely disappeared.
Another client came to me after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew from my research that breast cancer can indicate conflict with the client’s mother or children. My client had a troubled relationship with her own daughter, who had years before been involved in a road traffic accident. By understanding and addressing my client’s relationship with her daughter we were successful in using mind-body medicine to support her recovering from the trauma of breast cancer, including the use of hypnosis, which had such an amazing effect on her blood cell count that it completely baffled her oncologist. Sadly this client also had secondary liver cancer which we found was related to her complex relationship with her husband’s chronic alcohol problem. She was unable to address this issue and tragically died from the liver cancer a few years later.
I have helped numerous clients with chronic pain, which is typically an area that responds well to mind-body medicine where western medicine has struggled to produce results. Techniques like mindfulness are so much more effective than painkillers, which offer varying levels of effectiveness and often become less effectual over time. There is so much potential for mindfulness, hypnosis, ACBT and Time Line Therapy™ to resolve chronic pain by bringing attention to – and healing – repressed emotions and negative belief patterns.
Another time I was working with a couple who had been through multiple unsuccessful attempts at IVF. Once I started working with them it transpired that they had both been responsible for abortions in the past and were both carrying a lot of guilt and other self punishing thoughts. Once we’d resolved those issues for both of them their next attempt at IVF was successful.
So do you believe that all physical health symptoms stem from the mind?
I wouldn’t say that. Physical health is affected by so many things: environmental impact, genetic inheritance, toxins, accidents, amongst other things. But mind-body medicine can certainly help us understand and address a large part of many physical health problems, especially when it’s coupled with good exercise, sleep and nutrition, as well as biomedical medicine where it’s appropriate. Keep in mind, most mainstream mind-body medicine is used to help patients reduce pain, improve mood and anxiety issues, and increase feelings of wellness and resourcefulness.
I’m a strong believer in the integrative medicine model, where multiple different aspects of the mind and body are taken into consideration with the client right at the centre of the model: clients that are empowered and actively involved in the process their own recovery. Mind-body medicine remains part of a the wider school of medicine: a small part, but one that is growing every day.
This is why mind-body medicine is now widely accepted in lots of multidisciplinary clinical settings. What’s more, practitioners love it because it increases the patient’s ability to self-manage, has no side effects, and is extremely cost effective.
What is the main thing mind-body medicine has taught you?
In the last eleven years I’ve done lots of reading and learning and talking to people: all in the aim of finding out how human beings can heal ourselves. I feel we humans have an inherent intelligence and wisdom that shows us how to do that, but over the years we have lost that ability. Almost as if we have become dumber in how we care for ourselves as our medicine has become smarter! I believe part of my purpose is to help people re empower themselves to self-healing.
What makes the Mainspring method different?
The fact that it tackles the root cause. It’s not just a case of picking a technique and hoping it will work: it’s more a case of understanding the events leading up to the health crisis, whether that is trauma, stress, negative beliefs or something else. The Mainspring method is all about getting back to the root of the problem and identifying the structures that may be causing the symptoms. It’s about understanding and resolving issues and helping people to free themselves from the old baggage and burdens of the past so their mind and body can be fully onboard with their recovery. My aim is to enable the client to move forward into a place of deep healing, with a sense of power and freedom from their old burdens.