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:

  • Patch up any resentments and unfinished business. Do whatever it takes so at least you know you’ve tried.
  • Make room for feelings and practice honest, appropriate expression to your present family, or to others in your relationship system. A free flow of feelings is like the healthy flow of blood in the body.
  • Focus on the love and appreciation you have for the other members of your system. This fosters an upward spiral of acceptance and ease in being together.
  • Make conscious agreements on how to handle the negative emotions like anger or jealousy. A good rule of thumb about those types of feelings is they generally don’t stand alone, but overlay a deeper layer of hurt or fear. During those negative periods of time, make the choice to share the whole spectrum of truth, including the more vulnerable feelings. Let yourself be vulnerable in order to cultivate trust.
  • Actively respect the integrity and otherness of people in your system. Avoid the traps of right and wrong. When you make someone wrong, you are literally hurting yourself.

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.

  • What’s out there goes in, and what’s in there comes out. Our nervous systems are very suggestible and absorb much of what is happening around us. Then our beliefs tend to look for evidence for back up.
  • The system responds to stress long after the source of stress is removed. The more traumatic the stress, the more recovery time is needed.
  • The system responds to perceived/imagined reality in the same way as it does to actual reality, and to beliefs as it does to truth. Just the memory or reminder of a trauma can elicit a response identical to the original situation.
  • The system processes input via the laws of parsimony, or the path of least resistance, which makes the known dominate new input. And so, we tend to understand new events based on what we already know or are already familiar with.
  • The system maintains a record of all experiences with a triune memory, which includes body-response, emotional charge, and personal meaning.
  • It takes effort to move from a trance state (where imprints from the past dominate experience and we cling to the familiar) to something new. The tendency to make the world familiar is hard-wired into us, explaining the automated or learned ‘knee jerk’ response.
  • The system operates on the biological imperative to avoid pain. This is also hard-wired into us and is more intrinsic than the Freudian pleasure principle. Avoidance of pain defense mechanisms cause the conscious mind to dissociate from trauma and to fragment feeling.
  • Experiences repressed out of consciousness remain imprinted in the system in their original form. Painful feelings can get tucked away into unconsciousness so that we can continue functioning. Andy believes that this may explain the auto-immmune response in which the body initiates an attack on the immune system as it attempts to destroy any internalized foreign matter, and may actually perceive the vague presence of encapsulated feelings as this.
  • The system operates on internal deductive logic. This is not rational logic, but a loose set of associations and emotional charges. Conclusions about reality are based more on things verified by our feelings, than anything else.
  • It takes energy to keep material repressed from consciousness. Repression takes on-going vigilance; defenses require energy that could be used for healing.
  • When repressed material returns to consciousness, the pain associated with it, and the energy required for the repression, does also. All the energy required for repression now becomes available when the pain is integrated. That’s very good news.
  • Every disintegration of experience sets integrative forces into motion. The quest for wholeness is also hard-wired into us. The drive to become real thus has biological fuel. This is also good news.
  • Every access is a reframe. Just by accessing memories and remembering, we alter their meaning. When we attempt to reframe without full integration of feeling however, we end up thwarting the process of fully updating our systems. Positive thinking used as an overlay on top of painful feelings can become just another neurotic strategy to keep us from our pain.

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.