I read Sarno’s Healing Back Pain many years ago. I’ve mentioned Sarno on this blog at least once. Sarno claims to alleviate many medical problems with his psychological approach. Whenever my wife or I get a migraine or flare of low back pain, we jokingly refer to is as “repressed anger.” Dr Sarno helped Dr Stephan Guyenet (PhD) with his low back pain.
From Paul Ingraham:
Sarno is articulate and has some important ideas, yes — but he’s also gotten into the business of selling miracle cures. The more recent the book, the less he sounds like a doctor and the more he reads like a mind-body medicine guru trying to convince you that you can heal anything if you can just master the right mental attitude.
Yuck. I don’t care for that. I don’t like it any better than I like the opposite extreme: denying the importance of the mind in medicine is just as foolish as exaggerating it.
History has shown us that it is all too easy to sell books by promising that the “power of the mind” can do whatever you want to believe it can do. Sarno has jumped on that old bandwagon. And so, unfortunately, it is not possible for a serious thinker to take Sarno at his word straight through his books. It is necessary to take the good, and filter out the exaggerated, the grandiose, the empty promises.
Source: Critical Analysis Review of Dr. John Sarno’s Books & Ideas
Steve Parker, M.D.
I consider myself a critical thinker. I’m in grad school rn. I went to a top-20 school for undergrad. Got perfect grades, etc. But I had severe chronic pain in neck/back for years. I always assumed it had a physical cause (how could it be otherwise?) I did multiple rounds of physical therapy, medication, adjustments, etc. And I scoffed at the idea that chronic pain/dysfunction could have a psychogenic origin when someone suggested to me. Fast-forward a few years, I have no pain in my neck and back. It was a miracle—but it didn’t happen overnight, and took work on my part . A remarkable thing happened as I started healing—I started experiencing emotions, especially anger. When my pain was at its worse, I almost never got angry. I remember my roommate and I having this conversation. Looking back at my life, I had many reasons to be angry, but I had lost touch with them and became preoccupied with its physical manifestation. The structural treatments failed me for years because they were based on a fauly structurak diagnosis (bad science). Since then, I’ve seen several people get well from various symptoms (one of my friends said his fibromyalgia no longer bothers him!) And it’s the same story over and over again. Human beings experience pain and discomfort when we are emotionally stressed (current life stressors, unresolved trauma, or prefectionistic, people-pleasing personalities that make us unhappy inside). In hindsight, I’m shocked I never made the connection before and that modern medicine for all it does exceptionally well is inept at treating the ailments that people most commonly suffer from.
I understand that Sarno’s ideas are counter-cultural in this mechanistic age, but they wouldn’t work unless they were scientific. And they aren’t a placebo because he describes the process by which it works — based on knowledge of the cure, not ignorance. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read his reviews on Amazon or http://www.thankyoudrsarno.com Sure, there are some structural, generic causes of illness, but today I’m convinced the vast majority of chronic pain/dysfunction is emotional in nature. And there’s a lot of other doctors—not just Sarno (James Alexander Hidden Psychology of Pain, Gabor Mate When the Body Says no). To my mind, our problem as a species is that we are emotionally sensitive. And emotional healing, which naturally leads to physical healing, can seem like a miracle to people with the wrong knowledge.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts+experience. And I just saw at the end of your post that you are an M.D. so I hope that my comment didn’t come across as condescending or tone-deaf. I know you know a lot more about the human body than I ever will. Take my thoughts as a patient sharing his medical history.
Ben, thank you so much for sharing your experience. Even many years after reading them, I still remember many stories like yours in the reviews of Sarno’s book at Amazon.com. I’ve had some very difficult low back pain patients in my medical practice, and have recommended Sarno’s book to at least a few of them. The Sarno phenomenon is fascinating, and I think more is going on than placebo effect.