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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 of depression.

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- faceted).

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 bodymind integrity.

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 multi-faceted potential.

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 blocked arteries.

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 flourish.

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 adopt.

From THE IMMUNE POWER PERSONALITY by Henry Dreher. Copyright @ Henry Dreher, 1995.
Reprinted and located at: http://www.thebody.com/dreher/develop.html
Reprinted by arrangement with Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc. To order the book please call 1-800-253-6476.

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