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Source: Wikipedia.org article, adapted under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ license.

The term “psychoneuroimmunology” was coined by American psychologist Robert Ader in 1981 to describe the study of interactions between psychological, neurological, and immune systems.

Three years later, Jean Achterberg published a book called Imagery in Healing that sought to relate and correlate contemporaneous evidence from the then emerging scientific study of the way mental processes influence physical and physiological function, with particular emphasis on mental imagery, to the folklore she extrapolated from a set of diverse ancient and geographically indigenous practices previously described as ‘shamanism’ by the historian of religion and professor at the University of Chicago, Mircea Eliade; and a number of anthropologists and ethnologists.

The fundamental hypothesis of psychoneuroimmunology is concisely that the way people think and how they feel directly influences the electrochemistry of the brain and central nervous system, which in turn has a significant influence on the immune system and its capacity to defend the body against disease, infection, and ill health. Meanwhile, the immune system affects brain chemistry and its electrical activity, which in turn has a considerable impact on the way we think and feel.

Because of this interplay, a person’s negative thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, such as pessimistic predictions about the future, regretful ruminations upon the past, low self-esteem, and depleted belief in self-determination and a capacity to cope can undermine the efficiency of the immune system, increasing vulnerability to ill health. Simultaneously, the biochemical indicators of ill health monitored by the immune system feeds back to the brain via the nervous system, which exacerbates thoughts and feelings of a negative nature. That is to say, we feel and think of ourselves as unwell, which contributes to physical conditions of ill health, which in turn cause us to feel and think of ourselves as unwell.

However, the interplay between cognitive and emotional, neurological, and immunological processes also provides for the possibility of positively influencing the body and enhancing physical health by changing the way we think and feel. For example, people who are able to deconstruct the cognitive distortions that precipitate perpetual pessimism and hopelessness and further develop the capacity to perceive themselves as having a significant degree of self-determination and capacity to cope are more likely to avoid and recover from ill health more quickly than those who remain engaged in negative thoughts and feelings.

This simplification of a complex interaction of interrelated systems and the capacity of the mind to influence the body does not account for the significant influence that other factors have on mental and physical well-being, including exercise, diet, and social interaction.

Nonetheless, in helping people to make such changes to their habitual thought processes and pervasive feelings, mind-body interventions, including creative visualization, when provided as part of a multimodal and interdisciplinary treatment program of other methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, have been shown to contribute significantly to treatment of and recovery from a range of conditions.

In addition, there is evidence supporting the brain and central nervous system’s influence on the immune system and the capacity for mind-body interventions to enhance immune function outcomes, including defense against and recovery from infection and disease.


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