Mind-body counselling looks the connections between emotional and physical wellbeing. The mind and body are connected in both directions - each effects the other:
When we are aware of the connections we can make allowances for this. But if we are not conscious of the connections we can get caught up in these problems. Two recognised problems are physical illness caused by the mind (psychosomatic illness) and exaggerated fears of illness (somatisation).
There is a growing list of health conditions where there is a recognised mind-body link. For instance chronic stress takes a big toll on the immune system which contributes to a wide range of illnesses. Such conditions include:
On the other hand sometimes people misidentify body-based emotions as physical illness. One common example is a panic attack being interpreted as a heart attack. Certainly, the surge of adrenalin causes distressing symptoms such as racing heart, sweating, and disorientation that are truly terrifying and that make the mistake perfectly understandable. This is an example of somatisation.
Other examples are more subtle - anxiety, depression and grief can all cause physical symptoms which can be over interpreted. There are many people who harbour secret fears of cancer or some other dreaded illness. Alternatively, they may fear they are a hypochondriac or going crazy. Often it is just the mind-body signals getting a bit muddled (like the sea-sickness or stress examples).
Such problems are often interwoven with anxiety or depression and associated with unprocessed grief, trauma, or abuse from the past.
Such issues are perfectly understandable when we realise that many of us are brought up with limited understanding of the links between physical and emotional wellbeing. For instance, many children discovered that saying they had a sore tummy was better than saying they were scared of school.
Sometimes physical symptoms also even carry a symbolic message such as:
Therapy helps with mind-body problems by working with clients to understand and untangle the two-way connection between mind and body. It is a safe space to talk about and explore what is happening so it can be made sense of. It is also a chance to look at any underlying issues that may have contributed to these problems. The goal is to reintegrate mind and body through insight and understanding.