An Old Idea: What Ails the Body Is Rooted in the Mind - New York Times
May 2, 2006
An Old Idea: What Ails the Body Is Rooted in the Mind
By BARRON H. LERNER, M.D.
When the woman, having experienced her fourth miscarriage, visited her physician, he gave her a surprising diagnosis: psychosomatic abortion. That is, she had lost the fetuses because of stresses in her life, particularly concerns about her religious affiliation and her husband's unwillingness to help out at home.
The doctor's recommended treatment? A series of vitamins, abstaining from sexual intercourse in future pregnancies and, most notably, psychotherapy, intended to explore childhood conflicts and other anxieties. The patient, according to her physician, Dr. Carl T. Javert, an obstetrician at Cornell University Medical College, subsequently had three successful pregnancies.
The diagnosis and the treatment fit the era in which they occurred. It was the early 1950's, and the field of psychosomatic medicine � based on the notion that many diseases have their origins in emotional distress � was in its heyday.
Was Dr. Javert onto something or was he hopelessly misguided? Do his psychosomatic theories retain any currency today?
Throughout history, many doctors and patients have posited that emotions influence health. But it was not until the middle of the 20th century that efforts to prove an association accelerated. A driving force behind psychosomatic medicine was Dr. Franz Alexander, a Hungarian-born psychiatrist trained in the teachings of Freud.
Dr. Alexander, who taught at the University of Chicago, drew connections between specific personality types and diseases like hypertension, stomach ulcers and asthma. Chronic emotional disturbances"