Thursday, July 13, 2006

John E Sarno: The Divided Mind

Some two years ago, I read in Publishers Lunch that John Sarno's agent (Al Zuckerman, no less) had struck him a deal with Regan Books for a new book about psychosomatic medicine: The Divided Mind. Ever since then I've been keeping an eye open for it, and it now appears that the book came out in April 2006 without my noticing.

In case you are feeling that this is a bit of a non-event, I advise you to have another think. Do you quite often suffer from back pain, a stiff neck, or headaches? If you do, this book is essential reading. And even if you have other disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or gastric reflux, this book may be relevant to you.

By now you are probably thinking, Oh yes, this is just another 'It's all in your mind' type of book. Well, it isn't. I haven't actually read it yet, but I think I've read all Sarno's other books, particularly Healing Back Pain, and this is an updated and expanded version of his earlier theories.

As far as back pain is concerned, Sarno's thesis, crudely stated, is that much back pain is generated by emotion, particularly anger. The pain in your back is real, genuine pain -- it's not your imagination. What you are feeling is muscular pain which results from the muscle being held in tension for long periods, which deprives it of oxygen (tension myositis syndrome). But Sarno argues that what is causing you to hold that muscle in tension, for far longer than is required in normal physical activities, is a largely unconscious group of emotions. Learn to understand your emotional reactions to events, and the pain can disappear.

Over the past couple of decades, Sarno has had a remarkable level of success in treating patients who suffer from back pain of this kind, and now he has extended this work to give sufferers some insight into the possible psychosomatic causes of other physical disturbances.

Sarno is now 83, by the way, but he is, or has been, Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center. As he will be the first to tell you, his work on back pain is not accepted by the scientific community, for a variety of reasons relating to 'academic rigour'. However, I think there are good reasons for supposing that the 10,000 patients whom he has successfully treated for back pain probably don't care too much about that.

Readers' reviews on Amazon naturally have to be viewed with some caution: sometimes the readers are simply the author's friends, writing to order. But I was particularly struck by this comment on The Divided Mind, written by a psychiatrist:

As a psychiatrist in private practice I had my world turned upside down by reading Dr. Sarno's book. Under the spell of modern, biological psychiatry I have often answered the question of what causes depression with the pat "Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance." During the reading of Sarno's work, for the first time it occurred to me to ask, "What caused the chemical imbalance?" One cannot understate the significance of this book in its explanatory power and its power to heal. Modern medicine is wasting billions of dollars and prolonging the suffering of innocent people in blind, ignorant materialism. Medicine fails tragically in so much of its diagnosis and treatment by being enthralled with the laboratory and treating the patient as an organism or thing, ignoring the person, and the source of the pain.
There are several other enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, including one from a chiropractor.

At present, Sarno's new book is only available in a US hardback edition, and it is therefore (superficially) a bit pricey. On the other hand, if it helps you to feel better, it could be cheap at the price. A paperback is due out next year. Personally I've ordered the hardback.

Later note: If you are interested in learning more about TMS there is now a wiki-type site which contains a great deal of useful information. In particular, it contains many first-hand reports by former pain sufferers who explain how Dr Sarno's ideas, and his practical suggestions for treatment, have helped them to feel better. I warmly recommend it. The web address is tmswiki.org.

13 comments:

Joe McNeely said...

Michael -

I was thrilled to read your blog about THE DIVIDED MIND by John E. Sarno, M.D., and I share your enthusiasm for it.

However, I must admit that I am a bit prejudiced, as I am the audio publisher. Want to know the power of this work - after having spent the last fifteen years working in the audiobook business, when I couldn't get my company to buy the audio rights to this project. I started my own direct-to-download audio company and THE DIVIDED MIND was my first audiobook.

Anonymous said...

I read his other books and my upper back and neck pain (that I had since a teenager, starting 25 years before) went away almost immediately. It still flares up from time to time, but I then think about what he wrote in his books and it goes away much sooner than it used to.

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STICKYBOI - said...

sounds better than chiropractic treatment. had a rather painful introduction to that the other week and i don't think i will be going back for more. Thanks for the advice - i will look out for the book when im in town next. right now, im off to buy a memory foam mattresses because ive heard they can work wonders for people with consistant back pain. For the past 9 months i have been sleeping on one of my mates futons which he kindly let me borrow during the recent house move and im not sure if this has contributed to my deteriorating posture?! i can't see it to be honest, its pretty sturdy and flat...

Ste said...

I also highly recommend one of the new memory foam mattresses currently flooding the market. If you have back pains and it keeps you awake at night i highly recommend you buy one of these. You can pick one up for a reasonable price and you will instantly notice an improvement when sleeping... I bought one and i am pleased to report that within two to three weeks the pain had almost vanished...

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LaPortaMA said...

I've been a primary care internist for almost 30 years and I was relieved when Sarno's came out because I'd been advising these considerations for years with only intuitive support. I've giving away 40+ copies and I've advised it to hundreds, most of whom, as predicted, will ignore it -- to their detriment. The way I found out about the existence of the book is itself quite the journey and lent itself to additional credibility. And thank you for posting the psychiatrist's comments.
Mark
Mark Antony LaPorta MD FACP