Book Review: The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, by John E. Sarno, M.D., 2006, ReganBooks, pps. 394

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"It is urgent that the information contained in this book be made public. Dr. Sarno's work is so profound that it will change your entire approach to your health and well-being. Dr. Sarno is a messenger who is trying to wake up the populace and take the medical community out of the dark agaes. I beg anyone who is seeking a solution to pain to study the amazing and revolutionary approach outlined here. I did, and it changed my life.
--Howard Stern, tv personality

The author, an orthopedist, believes that normal aging cannot explain certain psychosomatic physical pains which, he writes, have of late become a virtual epidemic. Dr. Sarno's explanation is that such pains are induced by unconscious emotions. Those repressed emotions from our childhood are also the origin of fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, allergies and a host of other maladies.

He has found that the continuation of suffering is due to the reluctance of its victims to intellectually accept the true explanation for the origin of these pains. It's a trick the brain plays on us by depriving a body part of oxygen. He believes that cure rests in the brain finding out that as a victim you do know what's happening! According to Dr. Sarno, you usually don't have to explore that early repressed material. However, as we shall see, some do.

Those early unfelt memories are unfelt for a reason. The brain protects us from the early feelings escaping and causing even greater problems than our symptoms are causing. Its all about protection and self-preservation, not about making us suffer needlessly.

What are the predominant feelings encapsulated away from our conscious mind? Dr. Sarno repeats often, that a lot of it is incredible rage derived from our experiences in infancy, childhood and adolescence. He writes that simply becoming aware of its existence dispels its power -- and cure will then automatically happen.

Because of the symptom imperative the trauma will reveal itself in psychological and physical symptoms. The brain is not particular as either type of symptom will accomplish its objective which is to protect the hidden trauma's existence and hiding place.

The cure is not from positive thinking, blind faith or placebo effect, as sometimes merely reading one of Dr. Sarno's books will effect a cure! Its the information which allows the cure to occur, the author insists. But you've got to be able to accept the diagnosis - that it is not a structural problem with your anatomy which is causing the pain. If you don't accept the explanation, you won't get better. You've got to put your brain in its place and let it know who is boss! Many refuse to accept what Dr. Sarno teaches and they simply don't get better. If Sarno recognizes such types who want to make an appointment, he won't accept them as patients.

Sometimes the rage comes out in primal-type feelings but that is not typical of Sarno's patients. What is typical is that the patient's education and follow-up meetings work in about 80% of clients. And that 80% had consulted many other physicians and therapists before! For many, Sarno's office is the last stop. The remaining 20% who don't get well from his educational model will need to work with his therapists.

Dr. Sarno almost seems to believe that the brain possesses another amima whose function is to distract you from your repressed traumas by making you hurt. The symptoms do that so that you will be encouraged to think about them each day instead of the real issue. In the meanwhile, it is as if your evil amima is figuring out further torments for you. Once your brain realizes you understand the problem it will stop the pain process. If you want to get well, you must convince yourself that your structural anatomy is normal and let go of your preconceived ideas that you have structural, physical damage.

Sarno does not believe that we can get those repressed feelings to "explode into consciousness" and thereby get rid of them He must not have heard about primal-oriented therapies. But, as an aside, then why do primal patients still have "pains" years after beginning primal therapy - years after the repressed material has been "exploding into consciousness?" Perhaps, it is because there is still some critical unfelt rage. Indeed, why do some symptoms arise years after one begins primalling? But then Dr. Sarno must have some confidence in the reliving of those early painful repressed feelings. If not, why would he quote Henry Maudsley from way back in 1918 when he wrote, "The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep."

The author believes that when the patient finds out what he is not supposed to know then the unconscious mind gives up as it believes "there's no sense in continuing the pain." That seems like a simplistic explanation of why his therapy works. But if 80% are getting cured I can't argue with this level of success.

It seems that deep feeling of the repressed is indeed felt in the therapy. He writes, "Gradually, the embraced emotion is experienced not just on an intellectual level but in a full holistic, integrated way." p. 171. Ah, ha! I included the page number as this is definitely not an emphasized revelation in Dr. Sarno's book, The Divided Mind. So how do those who don't feel their feelings in an "integrated way" get well? In any event, this only refers to the 20% who don't get well via the intellectual, educational route. Dr. Sarno is right. If these figures are correct, these are extraordinarily successful results for an educational approach to pain management.

"I had considered Dr. Sarno's idea preposterous, but ten years ago I was talked
into seeing him. I haven't had back problems since."
-- John Stossel, tv correspondent.

The remaining half of the book consists of five chapters which range from hypertension and the mindbody connection to discussions of our psychosomatic disorders by a rheumatologist, orthopedist, sports medicine physician, and family medicine specialist. Interestingly, four of the five physicians began practicing Dr. Sarno's mindbody medicine after they consulted with him for stubborn painful aches for which no one else was able to help them.

The chapter by Dr. Samuel J. Mann on hypertension was so interesting that I ordered the book from which the chapter was derived. I plan to review it shortly. My hopeful excitement, no doubt, the result of six decades of severe hypertension, which after over three decades of primal therapy is finally abating. That may be because I am finally beginning to access huge feelings of fetal rage during the reliving of birth trauma.

The author has also written:

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