Why the Mind-Body Approach to Psychological Trauma Is Not 'Alternative'

It is a common misconception (and prejudice) that psychological and nonpharmaceutical research is less stringent and reliable than clinical drug trials.
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On a recent trip to London, The Guardian interviewed me during Depression Awareness Week about the UK release of my book "Unstuck". The reporter was particularly interested in Center for Mind-Body Medicine's Global Trauma Relief program and our work to bring population-wide psychological healing to places around the world that are afflicted by war and natural disaster.

I'm certainly pleased that the author recognizes CMBM's groundbreaking efforts to teach and support hundreds of thousands of people in Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Haiti, Southern Louisiana, and U.S. military bases where soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a shame, however, that his tone is so dismissive of integrative medicine and that he fails to recognize the fundamental importance of self-care for psychological and physical healing.

Please note that as of this writing, corrections are being made online for several factual errors, including the following:

  • In Gaza, we trained 90 clinicians initially; only a few of these were "educators" (as the article states).
  • CMBM now has 160 groups meeting in Gaza each week, not 48, as reported.
  • Beyond factual errors, though, I'm disappointed with the tone of the article. I want to emphasize that our approach to psychological trauma relief is not about "belief," as the article repeatedly implies. It is based on hard evidence that is just as rigorous -- actually more so -- than most of that provided by the drug companies he seems to accept as the standard.

    It is a common misconception (and prejudice) that psychological and nonpharmaceutical research is less stringent and reliable than clinical drug trials. Each of the approaches that we use, including meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, autogenic training, yoga, self-expression in words and drawings, and movement and exercise, has a significant research base, one that demonstrates decreases in stress levels and improvement in mood. The CMBM approach combines these into a comprehensive program, and we take great care in scientifically researching, documenting and publishing our findings of our approach in peer-reviewed journals. We recently published a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of our work with war-traumatized children in Kosovo that shows an 80-percent decrease in symptoms of PTSD.

    This was the first RCT of any intervention with war-traumatized children, and at some point in the next few months, we will be publishing a study (in the International Journal of Stress Management) that shows similar results -- an 80-percent decrease in PTSD symptoms, significant decreases in depression and hopelessness -- in war-traumatized youth in Gaza. This study is particularly important because the gains that were achieved over 10 weeks of once-weekly group sessions were largely maintained by the seven-month follow-up -- in spite of ongoing conflict and severe economic hardship.

    The point is that this approach is not alternative. It is fundamental. It makes human and scientific sense. We have an approach that works with large groups of people in developed countries as well as those ridden with disaster. It is flexible, inclusive and culturally acceptable. And the groups in which we train caregivers can be led by anyone -- teachers and religious and community leaders as well as health professionals; and the scientific evidence for its effectiveness continues to accumulate. And as the article states, CMBM will continue to be there to provide our program of mind-body medicine for people suffering from psychological trauma, to teach them and help them help themselves.