Our ancestors believed that illness was caused by mystical forces such as evil spirits, and that the treatment for many illnesses was to bore a whole in the skull (trephination) to allow the illness-causing demons to leave the possessed person's head.  The later biomedical model of disease, on the other hand, argues that any disease of the body or the mind is a disorder of physical processes only. In a similar manner to voodoo death, in our culture one hears of someone dying from 'a broken heart' after the death of a loved one. Your body is an outstanding instrument and functions extremely effectively to keep you alive and well. There are many psychological interventions which can help the body's physiological systems to function in a less damaging way.
Dr Josephine Odber BSc M Litt PhD C Psychol has trained as a Pharmacologist and Psychologist, obtaining a Joint BSc in Physiology and Psychology, a Masters degree in Psychology and a PhD from the Faculty of Medicine at Glasgow University.
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These physical processes, according to this biomedical model of illness, are separate from the psychological and social functions of the brain, and therefore any illness is the result of physical circumstances such as injury, biochemical imbalances or bacterial and viral infection. Stress and heartbreak are modern day voodoo, and all of us have experienced the adverse effects of stress on both our physical and psychological health.
It does this by the mutual interactions of many systems such as your nervous system, your blood system, your immune system, your digestive system and many more. These range from Behavioural Therapy to Cognitive Therapy, and from relaxation to the mere belief that something is helping you.
She has worked in a variety of research areas including depression, premenstrual syndrome, drug tolerance, hormones and aggression. Probably the oldest and most dramatic cases of psychological interplay with physical health are those of voodoo death, where an apparently healthy person dies because they believe that a spell has destined them to die. The modern balanced scientific view of illness, however, is not so biologically rigid and suggests that the mind can influence the body as well as the body influencing the mind.


Stress causes physical changes such as elevated heart rate, increased breathing, in addition to psychological changes such as disruption of your logical thought processes and the perception of things happening in slow motion. When something happens in your life, your central nervous system (brain) evaluates whether this event is stressful, although such judgments are not necessarily conscious. Although not always specified, one of the major aims of a therapy is to weaken the stress messages being sent from your brain. She has also trained in Counselling, Hypnotherapy, Aromatherapy and Reflexology having an interest in alternative therapies and herbal medicines.
The famous physiologist Walter Canon in his studies of voodoo death tells of a woman who ate fruit from a tree that she later discovered grew in a taboo area. If appraised as harmful, your brain activates three other systems in your body to help cope with this stress.
If successful, this decrease in stress causes a reduction of cortisol, blood glucose and adrenalin levels which are damaging to the body if they are high for too long.
Dr Odber is a Chartered Health Psychologist and registered with the Health Professions Council.
A very strong belief in the benefit of something can be beneficial to both your mind and body. With a background in writing for academic journals, she also writes for health and medical magazines. If a belief is able to adversely affect your health, is it also true that a belief can have a positive effect on health? A very spectacular case recorded by Bruno Klopfer in his 1957 research paper Psychological Variables in Human Cancer tells of a patient with advanced cancer treated with, what was unknown to the patient, a useless drug.
After only a few days of treatment, the man made a dramatic recovery, his tumours shrinking to half their original size. If a situation is assessed by your brain as threatening it sends messages, via nerves, to the autonomic nervous system preparing it for a state of 'flight or fight'. The patient, who had been bedridden only a few days before, was now up walking around and talking cheerfully. This system releases adrenaline and its related chemical messenger noradrenaline, which cause an increase in your heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
The Placebo Effect is a real phenomenon where your brain acts to help your body operate more effectively. These actions improve the delivery of glucose (your body's fuel) to your muscles so that you can run away or fight.


In fact, major scientific studies, including a large study in 1998 into the effects of anti-depressant medication found that the Placebo Effect can account for around half of a medicine's positive therapeutic action.
However, researchers such as Dwight Evans, professor of Psychiatry at Penn State University, consider that the benefits of psychological interventions are different from Placebo Effects, although some argue that they may work through the same eventual mechanisms as the Placebo Effect. The difference in this man's case was his desire to recover and his belief that the medication was a wonder drug. In the short term this is beneficial, but if your heart rate and blood pressure are raised for too long, cardiovascular disease such as hypertension or even cardiac arrest can result. In this way, psychological intervention can augment the efficacy of the Placebo Effect, and vice versa.
There are numerous examples of this phenomenon, where sugar pills have produced remarkable recovery in patients who believed that they were taking medication.
A good outlook on life is, therefore, of paramount importance for both your physical and mental health and can complement the impact of both medical and psychological intervention. For this reason, it is important for us all to work on building a positive outlook on life to augment our health and well-being. Your body assesses what is most important – getting out of danger as soon as possible or healing your injured leg. This is because your immune system is sending cells and fluid to the injured area to heal it.
However, in this dangerous situation of the mugging, the greater danger is from your predator and the most valuable immediate line of action is to escape, not to repair an injured leg, which is not life-threatening.
Your body now assesses this correctly, taking into account the fact that your brain has already appraised the situation as very dangerous. Cortisol suppresses your immune system at many levels, including destroying cells called Natural Killer Cells, which play a major role in your body's surveillance mechanism against the development of cancer.
In the short term this is good, as you can escape from the imminent danger and repair your leg later when you are safe from the mugger.



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