What are our learned illness behaviors?
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. -
When we were children, most of us concluded that in order to become ill, we had to be “attacked” by something outside ourselves. A “bug,” bacteria, virus, or accident resulted in some kind of mental or bodily breakdown. Conversely, in order to recover from illness, we needed to be treated by something outside ourselves: mom’s kiss, a doctor, or chicken soup.
Many of us never updated our belief about how we become ill or how we become well. According to last five Surgeons General of the United States, over 85 percent of the illnesses for which we seek treatment outside ourselves, are “lifestyle related.” This means that we develop habits that make us sick. Whether or not we are aware of them, these habits create our illnesses, not something attacking us from outside our skin.
The New York Journal of Medicine in 1993 attributed the following six factors as the source of 90 percent of premature deaths: cigarette smoking; excessive alcohol consumption; overeating; high blood pressure; insufficient exercise; and not wearing seatbelts. Notice that all these factors relate to the choices we make, not exposure to bacteria or viruses.
The number one cause of premature death today is cardiovascular disease. Research physician, Dr. Matthias Rath, in his book, “Why Animals Don’t Get Heart Attacks…But Human’s Do,” states outright, “Heart attacks and strokes are not disease, they are caused by vitamin deficiencies. America’s number one killer can be prevented by an optimum intake of essential nutrients.” How many of us know what nutrients are essential to our overall health? How many of us are aware of “nutritional medicine?”
For over 25 years, I have specialized in “behavioral medicine” and “medical psychology.” During that time, I have often felt like a “lone wolf crying in the wilderness” of conventional medical wisdom. Today, however, more and more people, even those in the healthcare professions, are recognizing that general health care exists within the primary domain of psychology. We know there is much more to being well than treating diseases after they occur. We need to treat the person who has an illness, as well as treat the disease a person might have. We could cut healthcare costs in half, eliminate the need for “healthcare reform,” and become much more healthy, if we learned and practiced those habits which prevent illnesses rather than those which create them.
Even after we become ill, there are behaviors, unknown to most of us, which will help us to heal quickly. Behavioral medicine includes psychological treatment of behaviors associated with major illness such as cardiovascular disease; diabetes; cancer; chronic pain; immune disorders; post-traumatic stress disorders; psychosomatic and stress-related disorders.
Certainly, we need all the help from outside ourselves to treat diseases. The best help in the world for those diseases caused by faulty genes, bacteria, microbes, viruses, trauma and toxins, is conventional medical and surgical treatment by qualified medical professionals. However, we can no longer remain ignorant of our own abilities and skills, habits and power to not only prevent diseases from occurring, but also to help ourselves become well and remain so.
We need to become educated at becoming our own best “healthcare professional.” Without guilt, we need to gain a better understanding of our personal contributions to our health or illness. Perhaps we need to become aware that psychological services are not limited to “mental and emotional disorders,” but can be of great value in training us to become disease-free and particularly important, to help us remain optimally healthy both physically and mentally.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.
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Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
3421 Polk Circle West
Wellington, CO 80549