Developing Immune Power Traits
Developing Immune Power Traits by Henry Dreher
By following the arc of mind-body science to the inevitable
terrain of Personality, Immune Power trait researchers have
uncovered relationships between our characteristics, our immune
functions, and our state of health. It is no wonder, then, that
George Solomon has noted intriguing analogies between our immune
systems and our psychological systems. For example:
Our brains and immune systems both have the capacity for memory.
Our minds and immune systems are both designed for adaptation.
Psychologically, we adapt to environmental stressors.
Immunologically, we adapt to environmental invasions.
Our minds and immune systems both serve functions of defense.
Psychologically, we defend against intolerable pain and overloads
of information. Immunologically, we defend against attacking
organisms and agents.
In both systems, inadequate defenses result in vulnerability. In
each system, inappropriate defenses lead to disease--to allergies
in the immune system and neurosis in the psychological system. For
instance, ragweed pollen is not truly dangerous to the allergy
sufferer. Nor are garter snakes to the person with a phobia.
In both systems, prior exposure to a noxious agent can lead to
either tolerance or extreme sensitivity. When we repeatedly
encounter low doses of an antigen, we either develop resistance or
allergy. When we experience early emotional traumas, such as the
loss of a parent, we either respond to later losses with the
strength that comes from hard experience, or we succumb to episodes
These analogies add depth to the notion that mind and body are
intextricably intertwined. Immune Power Personality researchers
established measurable associations between specific traits and
stronger immunity. But similarly intruiging, non-measurable
analogies exist between the seven Immune Power traits and immune
system functioning. The healing personality and the healthy immune
system both demonstrate qualities of keen attention, expressive
communication, hardiness (being committed, in control and seeking
challenge), assertiveness, trust (immune cells must recognize and
"trust" the vast majority of "self" cells it encounters, or else
they will lash out with self-destructive consequences), helping (an
entire population of immune cells are devoted to helping), and
self-complexity (the immune system is incredibly multi-
These analogies don't necessarily explain why Immune Power
traits are linked to immune functions. But the congruence between
our psychological and immunological systems suggests that both are
devoted to the same overriding goals for our organisms: balance and
harmony, communication and connectedness, and maintaining our
One recurrent theme of the Immune Power Personality is that the
power of mind-body techniques may lie in their ability to elicit
Immune Power traits. Hypnosis and meditation fine-tune our
attention and connection to bodymind states. Relaxation,
biofeedback, and guided imagery enhance our sense of control.
Cognitive therapies increases hardiness by changing a relentlessly
negative perspective into a more positive one. Group and individual
therapy nourishes our capacity to confide, and to assert ourselves.
Psychotherapy and even meditation can help us recognize our desire
for healthy relationships; cognitive-behavioral treatments teach us
skills to pursue them responsibly. Support groups foster helping
behaviors, and combinations of mind-body therapy bring out our
Arguably the most astonishing findings in the past decade of
mind-body medicine have been the effect of multi-faceted group
therapies on people with life- threatening illnesses. In brief:
Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel studied
metastatic breast cancer patients who participated in a group
therapy program that emphasized social support, emotional
expression, assertiveness, and self-hypnosis for relaxation. Women
who participated in these groups lived twice as long as members of
a control group who did not participate.
University of Miami psychologist Michael Antoni, Ph.D. has shown
that group therapy for stressed HIV patients-- including
relaxation, emotional expression, cognitive restructuring, and
social support--helped prevent decline of their CD4 cells. Patients
who stayed with the program after its completion were less likely
to develop AIDS two years later.
U.C.L.A. psychiatrist Fawzy I. Fawzy provided group therapy to
melanoma (skin cancer) patients, and followed their progress for
six years. The treatment included relaxation, cognitive therapy to
develop active coping, and psychological support. Compared with
non-participants with the same disease, the group members had one-
third the rate of recurrence and death.
University of California cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D. led a
landmark study in which heart disease patients participated in a
group lifestyle change program, including dietary modification,
exercise, relaxation, yoga, visualization, and group therapy that
emphasized the sharing of emotions, "opening your heart," and
spirituality. Participants experienced marked reversal of heart
disease, proven with scans that showed the opening of previously
Based upon my own readings and discussions with these
investigators, it became clear that all these programs stimulated
development of Immune Power traits. Indeed, these groups may have
facilitated healing by evoking patients' resiliency
characteristics. Being in a group with others undergoing the same
fear and anguish creates an atmosphere in which people's
strengths--their self-care, compassion, and fighting spirit--can
All of us can cultivate Immune Power traits. We each have a
unique way of communicating love, confiding in others, becoming
hardy, asserting ourselves, attending to our needs, finding our
purpose, and expressing our many-sidedness. The differences among
us are based on variations in culture, upbringing, genes, and
style. We must therefore find our own path to each of these
heath-promoting traits. They are not blueprints for who we should
become, they are conduits to realization of our authentic selves.
According to seven visionary scientists, realizing our authentic
selves is among the most powerful health prescriptions we can
From THE IMMUNE POWER PERSONALITY by Henry Dreher. Copyright
@ Henry Dreher, 1995.
Reprinted and located at:
Reprinted by arrangement with Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin
Books USA, Inc. To order the book please call
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