cover image The Mindful Body: Thinking Our Way to Chronic Health

The Mindful Body: Thinking Our Way to Chronic Health

Ellen J. Langer. Ballantine, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-49794-4

Social psychologist Langer (Mindfulness) provides a fascinating glimpse into her lab at Harvard, where for more than 40 years she’s been exploring the mind-body unity concept, which suggests “psychology may be the most important determinant of our health” and that reworking thought patterns can impact physical well-being. According to Langer, patients given grim diagnoses often adopt defeatist attitudes and other “stereotypical responses and behaviors” associated with the illnesses, but when one recognizes that diagnosis criteria, cut-off points, and labels “are made by people... we gain a newfound sense of freedom” and “can learn to heal ourselves.” Langer notes that even chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s can improve with psychological interventions, making decisions mindfully, and realizing that every choice offers opportunities for growth and education. While the author’s assertion that “health may be only a thought away” might strike some as overly optimistic, and despite a few less-convincing anecdotes, including one about an 89-year-old patient whose chronic pain disappeared after she disclosed her childhood trauma to a doctor, readers will appreciate Langer’s insightful takes on the close relationship between psychological and physical wellness and attempts to revise a rigid medical paradigm of healing. Those seeking a novel approach to recovery should check it out. (Sept.)