Research in the Psychosocial Factors in Chronic Disease

Research has now over a century of studies showing how psychosocial factors may cause the onset and progression of chronic diseases such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. 

Psychosocial Factors Was Excluded for Over 400 years.

The idea that psychological and social stressors might be involved in the causation, exacerbation, and progression of disease began to return in the late 1800's by renowned physicians such as Charcot and Osler. But the relationship that emotions, traumatic events, and  personality have on health was dismissed by most scientists and physicians. Even with the birth of psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics and health psychology that study this relationship, the connection of disease and mental states by modern medicine is still, in many instances, considered folklore:

“it is time to acknowledge that our belief in disease as a direct reflection of mental state is largely folklore.” - New England Journal of Medicine, 1985

Why this split?

All psychosocial factors had been removed from the equation of cause of disease by a philosophical split in the 1600's called dualism that later became eliminated entirely from the equation by materialism (read more on this philosophical split here).

The split of the mind and the body, attributed to Descartes, had been brought on by the need to separate mind and soul from the body and physics to avoid the wrath of religion on the progression of science and medicine at the time. At this time in history, the 17th century, medicine was striving to change the religious authorities attitudes regarding dissecting human cadavers, the church had banned Copernicus's book "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres" concerning the Earth's orbit of the sun and Galileo had to swear to the church he did not believe Copernicus's theories under threat of a death sentence.

Materialism in the nineteenth century removed the mind further from the equation by theorizing that everything that happens follows from the laws of physics and physics only and that the mind is merely a by-product of the physical and has no influence back on it. 

The return of the inclusion of the psychosocial factors on disease and health has been a slow and arduous one.

Belief is a hard thing to change.

Research on the Psychosocial Factors. The Case of MS

"Grief, vexation, and adverse changes in social circumstance are related to the onset of MS"  - Charcot

French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, in 1868, gave the first full clinical description of multiple sclerosis and the idea that psychological stress increases the risk of MS.

Research has found that the mind, stress, emotions, and personality, does influence the body and health.  In the case of multiple sclerosis (MS), as with many chronic diseases, the research has shown this relationship not only exists but, possibly, could be determinant in the onset and exacerbation of the disease.

  • "...emotional stress in the involvement with a parent, a lack of psychological independence, an overwhelming need for love and affection, and the inability to feel or express anger are possible factors in the natural development of the disease." With a common characteristic being "a gradual realization of the inability to cope with a difficult situation that provokes feelings of inadequacy or failure”. “The Role of Psychological Process in a Somatic Disorder: Multiple Sclerosis”, Psychosom Med. 1970 Jan-Feb;32(1):67-86.
  • The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry published several studies, comparing MS patients and a group of healthy controls and the amount of severe events and marked life difficulties proceeding onset or exacerbation of MS was ten times more common and marital conflicts five time more frequent.
  • "Psycho-social variables could serve as predictors both on onset as well as development and relapse". Relationship between Psychosocial Factors and Onset of Multiple Sclerosis (2009). This study marked significant differences of negative emotions, depression, anxiety, obsession, phobia, tense interpersonal relationships, and somatization as well as a larger number of negative life events, family problems, and use of social support between the group with MS and the control group.
  • "People with MS have more unwanted stress or traumatic events between 6 months and 2 years before onset. Additionally, those with MS have between 2 to 3.4 times more childhood trauma than the general population." The Influence of Stress on Psychosocial Factors in Multiple Sclerosis: A Review (2013) recommends completing pharmacological treatment with psycho-social therapies that teach coping strategies and provides social support in order to break the vicious cycle.

Treating the Psychosocial Factors Improves Symptoms

Research has proven that psychosocial factors are indeed significant in the onset, exacerbation and progression of disease and that addressing these factors can improve symptoms. 

The research studying the relationship of treating the psychosocial factors and improvements in symptoms is promising. 

MINDbasedHealing's own case study by founder Eva M Clark, The Effectiveness of Hypnotherapy on Treating Multiple Sclerosis also found positive results from treating the psychosocial factors through hypnotherapy and NLP interventions. The study concluded that "People diagnosed with MS have ingrained habit patterns of the mind specific to their symptoms.  When those habit patterns are transformed using a combination of methods that bring (1) insight into a person’s habit patterns and (2) resources to modify those patterns, the symptoms decrease and frequently disappear. "

Research has now begun to show symptom improvement by addressing the psychosocial factors behind the disease.  The mind does influence the physical body. 

Developing Effective Psychosocial Treatments

MINDbasedHealing's mission is to lead in the development and application of mind-based practices, with a focus on hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), to effectively treat the psychosocial factors determinant in the onset, exacerbation, and recurrence of chronic disease with the goal of restoring health.

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