A Mind-Body Therapist's View of Healing: Andy Bernay-Roman, LMHC, MS, RN, LMT

"Every cell in your body is evesdropping on your thoughts."

Deepak Chopra, MD

An innovative body-centered psychotherapist and former ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurse, Andy has served since 1990 as the head of the Psychological Support Department at Hippocrates Health Institute. His formal training has included an emphasis on psychoneuroimmunology (the connection between the mind, the emotions and the physical body). Andy teaches classes and facilitates the ongoing support group (the Healing Circle) at Hippocrates, as well as treating individuals, couples and families privately. He was a 1995 nominee for the Norman Cousins award, as well as the Rosalyn Carter Caregiver Award. Andy is the author of “Deep Feeling, Deep Healing: The Heart, Mind and Soul of Getting Well” (available on Andy’s website or Amazon). He is also a licensed massage therapist and licensed mental health counselor in Florida.

Andy summarized much of what he believes about the ability of emotional healing to facilitate physical healing in the following quote from an article he wrote for the Hippocrates newsletter:

“Just as important as what you eat, ‘what’s eating you’ plays a central role in the disease process, and therefore careful attention to your mental health (with a focus on feelings) is paramount to getting well. Feelings play a major role in the hierarchy of what the body can and will heal. Paying attention to feelings, especially those that may reside in repressed form within the tissues of the body, can unleash great forces for healing by normalizing hormone levels, reducing inner pressure, and generally bringing a sense of resolution to the system…..Remember, the body follows what is in the heart and mind in both illness and cure.”

During the Healing Circle, Andy generally works with one or two individuals from the group. He hopes that during this interaction that other guests will be inspired to begin their own personal journey. He teaches the Psychoneuroimmunology class, as well as participating on the Mind-Body Panel for guests. The latter is composed of a bodyworker, two therapists and others. He described the process of healing as akin to getting into a room. There are many ways to get inside, to reach the soul. Sometimes it’s through the doorway of the mind, sometimes the heart and sometimes the body.

Andy remarked that there is a strong emphasis on self-responsibility at Hippocrates. This is definitely a change from conventional medicine, which tends to disempower patients. The people who come to Hippocrates, in general, are a select group who are highly motivated, open and willing to do whatever it takes to heal. This makes his job easier. He says that the mental and emotional work is integral to the healing process; “Even if it’s not directly causative, it gives them much more energy to use in healing…. Disease happens in our humanity, not in a vacuum.”

There are a number of wonderful observations in Andy’s book and we’re going to offer several in the following paragraphs. His book is well worth reading and there are many client stories that illustrate the wisdom he offers.

He discusses deep feelings as “the good, the bad and the ugly:”

“The first rule is to stop denying that the pain exists. Stop pretending and get real. Over and over in newly formed support groups, sessions that start out as chatty and superficial soon travel deeper towards a feeling core, delving into expressions of genuine loss, caring and despair. The same is true of one-on-one therapy. The urge to be whole, to be real, and to feel, like a dormant seed thirsting for water, creates its own momentum, and once initiated, hopefully carries the patient into the realm of health.”

He also describes the mechanism of mind-body healing (and of the disease process) by explaining more about how our thoughts and emotions directly influence health:

“Memory then, does not reside just in the brain……Memory lives throughout the body. In fact, our cells contain a perfect memory of all experiences and store it. Where do these receptor sites reside? In the soft tissues of the body, including the immune system! These information-carrying neuropeptides are the mind-body link, acting as transducers of semantic and emotional information at the cellular level. Our emotions play a role in every biochemical event that transpires within us, even while we sleep.”

“When our emotions trigger a cascade of brain endorphins, the natural pain killers that yield a sense of well-being, the end result is a calm, life-affirming one. When our emotions consistently trigger the release of stress hormones, designed to keep our system alert in times of emergency, the net result is life-negating and sets the stage for disease. Our emotional tone directly influences the sum total of all biochemical processes.”

“Treatment that ignores the central biological role of feelings cannot bring about lasting change. Mere intellectualizing doesn’t cut it when it comes to imprinted repressed pain.”

In his book, Andy shares a story of research on the chemistry of tears. Inducing tears of both joy and sadness in volunteers, researchers analyzed the chemical composition of each and found something remarkable: the chemistry of the tears of sadness differed significantly from the tears of joy. The only variable that could account for the difference was the change in emotions. Emotions change body chemistry. Psychiatrists use the reverse of this formula and give drugs to the physical body to change the emotions, but the direct connection between the two remains.

As an ICU nurse, Andy frequently worked with patients whose life-threatening encounters with illness “shocked them into a natural regression that often facilitated a healing. I concluded that the body WANTS to integrate at the feeling level.” He described the therapeutic process as a safe atmosphere that encourages self-reflection and going within, a journey he calls “the centropic journey:”

“Repressed feelings emerge along the way. I learned during the process that old nonintegrated feelings dominate the feeling landscape because they NEED to be integrated. They continue to color everything in the present and influence every interaction. Repressed pain robs us of our capacity for joy. Repressed sadness and anger transform into depression or some other form of inner isolation.”

He notes that deeper work can take more time and effort than other forms of therapy “because of the defenses against pain that have kept the source of the person’s problem imprinted within.” He describes this process as “The Hero’s Journey:”

“It involves leaving the comfortable realms of the known, crossing over the frontiers of fear and aloneness, descending into the Valley of Death itself if necessary, and ultimately returning to the surface world renewed. The psychotherapy I practice happens under the banner of such transformation and nothing less.”

Andy suggests that those wishing to heal physically take the following steps in order to maintain a “clean” psychological environment:

And why shouldn’t we try to rise above our negative emotions, to focus only on the positive and relegate the negative to the recesses of our consciousness? Andy explains that negative feelings per se don’t damage us, but it is in suppressing them that damage is done.

“Repression infuses an anti-life message into the body…repression causes the body to cut off from certain parts, and waste energy by keeping feelings down. Reclaiming the heart by reconnecting with feelings clears a path through the jungle of human interactions and liberates us from the past. Ongoing self-discovery and self-acceptance in a practical way stands as a banner that lines the road to peace and health, whereas the ‘get rid of it’ approach ends in a tragic dead end.”

As important as clean, healthy food is to the healing process, Andy says that it takes more to create full aliveness and the balance it takes to heal. He described a study of orphanages in the 1940’s where the babies were well fed, but were not held, rocked or given loving personal attention from caregivers. A large number of these babies simply wasted away; food and comfortable surroundings alone could not sustain them.

“Beyond physical malnourishment, love deprivation stands at the root of physical and mental disease. Love deprivation can mean anything from out and out abuse to the less extreme situation of growing up with a particular aspect of the natural self going through life unloved, unsupported or neglected.”

How to Jumpstart Your Healing Process

There is a simplified and easy to understand explanation of Andy’s thirteen principles of mind-body integration given in his book; these principles set the parameters for his type of therapy. They explain just how dysfunctional and limiting patterns get wired into our systems, and also suggest how we can un-wire them. These principles are definitely worth considering within the context of the disease and healing process.

In conclusion, it seems clear that our beliefs, attitudes and feelings are where the new frontier of mind-body medicine and the science of psychoneuroimmunology are focused today.

“If the simple power of suggestion can rid a person of warts or enlarge breasts (proven facts), and the immune system can be tricked by a placebo, then surely a more thorough investigation into the deeper realm of mind and heart will uncover a veritable genie of healing.”

Perhaps now you now understand why we included Andy and his profound material into this cancer report. If you are experiencing an illness, it is vital for you to understand exactly how your thoughts, emotions and feelings can directly influence the outcome.