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McWhorter CNR Blog
mental health treatment

‘Western’ scientific thinking has led to a deep division between the mind and the body. America and many other countries have distinct mental health and physical health professions. This division of care often leads to incomplete or poorly integrated treatment which neglects either the mind or the body. Counselors and therapists are highly skilled at addressing the mental aspects of many conditions but have few tools to address the physical conditions that affect the mind. On the contrary, syndromes and disorders which cannot be seen on an X-ray, scan, or lab result, are often taken less seriously by Medical Doctors. Individuals with these conditions may feel stigmatized by the health care system.

As a result, emerging conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), post-concussion syndromes, endometriosis, post-infectious syndromes as well as common conditions such as IBS, migraines, chronic pain syndromes, are often underdiagnosed and undertreated. Some of these patients may face dismissal as being “psychosomatic” or even face hostility when pursuing treatment. This has become so common that the term “psychosomatic” has come to erroneously mean fake, made up, or “all in your head” for most people.

What does “psychosomatic” mean?

In everyday usage, this term often means “a health condition that is experienced in the body but only exists in the mind.” According to the Cleveland Clinic, “A psychosomatic disorder is a psychological condition involving the occurrence of physical symptoms, usually lacking a medical explanation.” While this definition acknowledges that mental conditions can produce real physical symptoms, it falls short of recognizing the relationship between the mind and body. Physical pain or discomfort has a profound impact on one’s state of mind. Similarly, certain mental conditions can amplify or drive physical manifestations. While most tissues in the body have pain receptors, the experience of pain only happens in the mind. Most people have experienced that an anxious episode can cause the heart to pound, skin to sweat, body temperature change, and can increase muscle tension and pain. The mind and body are a two-way street which influence each other at every level at all times.

Pain after an injury or acute illness is taken seriously and rarely dismissed as “psychosomatic”. Painkillers, opioids, and analgesics are some of the most prescribed medications and most purchased over the counter substances. Chronic pain, idiopathic pain (pain without a known cause), and even pain experienced by minority groups and especially women, are likely not to be taken as seriously. Misuse of the term ‘psychosomatic’ has served to undermine approaches which address this essential integrated relationship between the mind and body.

What is Behavioral Medicine?

The field of Behavioral Medicine reintegrates the mind and body based on research from the fields of mental and physical health. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine defines the field as:

“characterized by the collaboration among multiple disciplines concerned with the development and integration of biomedical and behavioral knowledge relevant to health and disease, and the application of this knowledge to prevention, health promotion, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and care. The scope of behavioral medicine extends from bio-behavioral mechanisms (i.e. the interaction among biomedical, psychological, social, societal, cultural and environmental processes related to health and disease), to clinical diagnosis and intervention, and to public health."

Using this framework, we can see that nearly every diagnosis is “psychosomatic” in the true sense of the term. Every condition has an effect on both the mind and body.

A Naturopathic Approach to Mental Health

Naturopathic Doctors are trained in primary care and in behavioral medicine. N.D.’s are one of many medical and mental health professions which utilize the behavioral medicine framework and its tools. ND’s stand in a unique position between conventional and alternative, between mind and body, between natural and pharmaceutical approaches to human health and well-being. If you feel that you have been dismissed, stigmatized, underdiagnosed, or undertreated consider booking an appointment at McWhorter CNR to experience an integrative approach to your health.