What You Expect is What You Get

In our previous posts ‘Perception and Expectations’, we discussed some of the ways a person’s self-perception can be conditioned by his or her expectations. A fascinating article on the Science-Based Medicine website has suggested some applications this same principle might have in treating various illnesses and pathologies:

“Much of chronic illness is learned behavior. Would sufferers from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia recover faster if they could somehow re-map their neurons into healthy patterns?… A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine described the effects of mild traumatic brain injury in soldiers returning from Iraq. These soldiers had a high incidence of associated health problems, but when they controlled for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, there was no longer any significant association with adverse health outcome.”

“They discuss the implications of telling a patient he has a traumatic brain injury versus telling him he has recovered from a concussion and his symptoms are due to treatable, transient depression and/or stress reactions. They say, ‘…the most compelling efficacy data highlight the importance of education to normalize symptoms and provide expectation of rapid recovery.’…

“In psychotherapy, when we delve into childhood traumas, are we reinforcing brain maps for the sick role and the victim label? Wouldn’t it be more effective to concentrate on the current life situation and reinforce what coping skills the patient already has? Instead of ‘Poor you, you can’t get along with your boss because your Mommy didn’t love you’ what if we said, ‘Good for you, you’ve overcome a bad start in life and have finished school, you have a girlfriend, you have become good at making friends, and you coped with the recent death of your dog by playing sports to keep your mind off your grief. You’ve done well, so let’s look at how you can use some of those strengths and coping skills to help you solve this current problem.’ What if we helped consolidate the positive brain maps and helped prevent negative brain maps from wiring together? If nothing else, the concepts of neuroplasticity can contribute to a brain-based understanding of what various psychotherapies can accomplish….”

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