The amazing mind-body connection to healing is well known to anyone reading this newsletter, but it’s always wonderful when research confirms it.
Recently, researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that when doctors expressed concern for the feelings of their patients– and paid attention to their concerns– those same patients were sick for an average of one day less than the patients of doctors who acted like Sgt. Joe Friday in the old Dragnet series: “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts”.
Empathy is hard to establish in a four minute visit at your local HMO where patients frequently feel like little more than a number: Wait in the room, “Doctor” will see you soon (meaning anywhere from 30-60 minutes later), four minute interview (“what are your symptoms?”) write the script, call it a day.
But empathy and caring might just be among the most healing commodities on the planet.
The body’s immune system is a wondrous thing, but there’s a direct pipeline between what happens in the head and what happens in the body. (The study of this amazing interaction is called psychoneuroimmunology.) Interleukins are chemicals that “turn on” all kinds of armies in the immune system, sending out troops to fight invading microbes. Guess when interleukins are turned on the most?
When you’re happy, excited, pursuing your bliss and generally enjoying life.
Interestingly, in the University of Wisconsin study I just spoke about, there was a direct relation between a doctor’s empathy level and his or her patient’s level of Interleukin-8, one of the chemicals that sends out signals to the immune system cells to get busy and start fighting!
The randomized control trials also showed that the colds of patients who were assigned to “low-empathy” docs lasted a full day longer than those assigned to physicians known to be caring and empathetic.
Empathy helps to heal. And it’s something you can give freely.
It doesn’t require a prescription.
It doesn’t require a checkbook.
It just requires a heart.