on October 10, 2012
I wrote a response to one of the 1 star reviews and then decided I had better add my own review. Dr. Sarno is a fine fellow, I'm sure, but he's not much of a writer. His successes with patients don't really lend themselves to proper scientific study because most people don't believe him even if they are carefully educated over days of treatment. His method requires a suspension of disbelief and is in no way comparable to a pill which (placebo effect aside) can be tested in a carefully controlled double blind study.
But it works. Really, really well. If you want it to, consciously, and if there isn't any big objection from your unconscious mind. How the heck do you "study" that? You can't, I suppose.
Over more then 20 years, I have cleared up many serious health problems using Sarno's method. They include back pain (horrible, I couldn't care for my children at one point), fibromyalgia, life long constipation (a family things, we all have it) and much more. Sometimes the problem vanishes for good. Other times, it returns and I "forget" for months or years. Then I "remember" and it vanishes again. Very strange stuff.
If you have a serious health problem and can't find relief, you should read this book (or the one on back pain, realizing you can apply the technique to anything). I don't suppose it would cure cancer but it could very well make having cancer a lot easier.
In short, I think that one day people will look back and feel sorry we caused ourselves so much unnecessary pain by rejecting this brilliant (but hard to accept) new idea.
on July 16, 2012
I've read several of the reviews of Dr. John Sarno's "The Divided Mind" and found them rather extreme. Readers mostly found his book life-changing deliverance from pain, or a total waste of their time, and not much in between. I hope to write a more balanced, rational appraisal of what Dr. Sarno has to offer.
It's about the mind-body connection, how we think and feel influence the functioning of our bodies. We all know this connection exists. Just think about the last time you had a conflict with someone close to you, perhaps your spouse. Go ahead, take a moment, and reconstruct that scene in your mind, reflecting on what each of you said, and how you felt, what all transpired. If you are following me on this, you will notice a slight change in your heart rate, you might be breathing a little faster, perhaps sweating a bit or experiencing a generalized physical agitation. Our thinking influences our emotions, and our emotions have very strong effects on the body, it's as simple as that.
There are lots of ways to demonstrate this connection in the other direction as well. Runner's high is an example. Another example, if you force yourself to smile, a big ear-to-ear grin, and hold it for 20-30 seconds, you will notice a slight positive feeling, a little physically induced spurt of happiness.
Personally, I believe this connection is so powerful that factors in our mind can even produce serious physical problems, malfunctions if you will, pain, illness, susceptibility to infections, etc. I also believe that almost anything that can go wrong in the body can be made far worse by how we think about it. So when a biologist friend recommended this book to me, I dove into it with enthusiastic expectations about what I was going to learn.
On the downside, I have to say that the opening chapters raised a lot of red flags. He talks about a very long list of physical problems, everything from back pain (his main focus) to gastrointestinal conditions, to migraines, even cancer. All of them stem from a single cause, which, according to Dr. Sarno, is unconscious rage. We are not aware of this rage, it mostly dates back to slights, hurt feelings, even abuse that may have occurred when we were young children, and remains hidden or repressed in our unconscious mind. Not only does he attribute all these ailments to a single cause, he also suggests that he (alone) has the cure. He gives case history after case history of people suffering from years and years of back pain who are now walking around totally cured, thanks to his magic elixir! After a while, the cases become mind-numbingly repetitious. I grew very skeptical.
His physiological explanation for these mind-body connections, how the mind can produce back pain for example, has to do with restricted blood flow to a particular part of the body, mediated by the "autonomic peptide system." I found these ideas interesting, which helped allay some of my doubts. I have no idea what the "autonomic peptide system" is, but the idea that the mind could restrict blood flow, resulting in physiological problems, made intuitive sense to me. I looked forward to learning about these processes in more detail. I couldn't wait to get past all these case studies, to learn about his research. Unfortunately, those explanations never came. Just more and more case studies, nearly all of them with very happy endings, a bit like the before-and-after photos for various hokey weight-lose programs. As for the underlying physiological explanations, I began to think he's just making this stuff up.
His psychological explanations are far more detailed and intriguing. They are based primarily on the work of Sigmund Freud, and since I was a big fan of Dr. Freud as an undergraduate, I was enthralled. When you start thinking about your social world in terms of id, ego and superego, in terms of unconscious conflicts, repression, resistance, and denial, everything starts to make sense. You develop a deeper understanding of your own personality and behavior, and that of everyone around you. To me, this was the best part of the book. Of course, Freud has long ago fallen out of favor in most psychological thought, and towards the end of my undergraduate years, I asked an older psych professor, someone I thought of as very wise, why it was that psychologists no longer put much faith in Freudian ideas. Although this was decades ago, I'll never forget his response. He said that for most psychologists, Dr. Freud is a bit like Santa Claus, he's truly great and wonderful if you believe in him, but if you don't, it's all a bit childish.
So I guess my bottom line to potential readers of Dr. Sarno's book is this: If you believe in his ideas, you will likely find them very beneficial, and if you don't, you won't. I hope this helps.