New York Times – The Fountain of Youth

The New York Times Magazine carried a cover story on October 26th that was fantastic entitled The Fountain of Youth. The research has vast implications, including for those in the fertility challenge, because the article is really about the unity of mind and body. Here’s the link:

The article, by Bruce Grierson, is largely about the work of Ellen Langer, PhD. The lead story is about an experiment she conducted in 1981. Eight men in their 70’s showed vast signs of improved health and well-being in just 5 days. How? They lived together in an environment with no mirrors—an environment that was the essence of how their lives had been 22 years earlier, in 1959. TV shows, music, movies, clothing, photos of themselves and other artifacts were from that year. They were expected to inhabit their old selves by enjoying life as they once had and they were treated as if they were younger by the staff. Pre- and post-tests measured strength, flexibility, hearing, vision, memory and cognition. They greatly outperformed the control group who lived together but was told only to reminisce.

Dr. Langer did not publicize her results at the time because the unity of mind and body hadn’t been proven and her research, which was out of the mainstream, would have been held up to criticism. In 2010, after Candace Pert, PhD did her pioneering work which proved the unity of mind and body, a similar experiment was done by another team in which 6 former celebrities had their younger egos rekindled and their bodies, too, followed suit. In one case a man entered the experiment in a wheel chair and left relying only on a cane.

In subsequent experiments, Dr. Langer showed that a psychological prime (like the bell for Pavlov’s dog or here, the environment of an earlier era) triggers the body to take curative measures by itself.

At the same time that this is exciting, and by implication supports mind/body stress-reduction approaches to diagnosis and treatment of infertility, it also runs the risk of leaving people feeling that if they engage in mind/body self-care techniques and experience the feelings of empowerment that ensue, and then they do not conceive—failure to conceive is somehow their fault. (Dr. Langer came to realize the risk in this in her work as well and knows that this needs to be controlled for in new studies.)

I’ve been faced with this dilemma with my patients for the many years that I’ve been doing mind/body work. I make it clear that to engage in mind/body self-care needs to be seen as optimum for health and well-being at a time when that is crucial. An attitude of positive expectation may or may not result in the desired outcome.

Part of my program is clinical hypnosis, which is a quintessential mind/body intervention which is highly effective in reversing the physiology of stress. All mind/body skills give patients a feeling of being back in control of their lives, and puts them in a partnership with their doctor—as opposed to passively lying on a table with their legs in stirrups while their friends are conceiving the old fashioned way.

So with all the effective techniques, why is it impossible to guarantee the outcome of a conception? Here’s what I think:

  • Obviously, if tubes are blocked or a man has very poor sperm quality, conception is unlikely.
  • There are things we may know like is their diagnosis correct? Is their medical protocol optimum?
  • MOST IMPORTANT! There may be unconscious forces at work, perhaps having to do with a fear of being the kind of mother you had (if there was abuse, for instance), fear of getting a child if the husband states he really doesn’t want fatherhood, fear of pregnancy or childbirth, fear of being insufficiently mature, discord in the partnership, an unresolved abortion—and more. If forces are unconscious, then “fault” is irrelevant.

The good news is that in private sessions, underlying issues can be unearthed freeing the body to conceive. Nature loves the truth.

Most people come to understand that mind/body skills cannot come with a guarantee of conception. Even though mind/body skills do not prevent disappointment if a cycle fails, the bottom line is that it feels much better to have the mind/body coping skills that build resilience and thereby make the recovery from upset quicker. And I must add, there are those who swear that the reason they conceived has to do with the physical and emotional investment they made   in learning and practicing mind/body self-care.

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About the Author:

Helen Adrienne, LCSW general psychotherapist, clinical hypnotherapist, and practitioner of mind/body therapy with a specialty in infertility. New York City