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'Laughter Is Not Enough'

July 06, 1985

I'd expect it from the medical profession, but from you it surprises. Based on your editorial (June 25), "Laughter Is Not Enough," the medical study that purportedly disproves the connection between positive thinking and healing appears to be the flimsiest of research jobs, and I'm surprised there was no holistic-oriented member of your staff to point out the obvious shortcomings.

No one I know who thinks holistically and has thought and read more than superficially on the subject believes that positive thinking alone cures anything. There must also be an understanding of underlying limiting beliefs (most of which are just below the surface of our consciousness or are indeed conscious) that might undermine the desire to be well.

Your editorial stated that the researchers "charted . . . the states of mind" of cancer patients and found "no difference in survival rates between the happy patients and sad ones." I want to know more, like how they defined happiness and how they measured false optimism or a happy exterior that masked a troubled psyche.

Also, there was no indication that they did any study of people who were consciously practicing positive thinking or working with counselors to examine their beliefs. Like any skill, positive thinking requires conscious practice in order for it to work.

That the New England Journal of Medicine was moved to respond editorially to this shallow, ill-conceived study indicates how threatened the medical establishment feels by holistic therapy. Medical science has given us great wonders, but by concentrating on healing the body without understanding the mind, not to mention the soul, it has gotten way off track.

We're just beginning to get glimmers of insight into this most important area. The relationship between the mind's ability to heal and, beyond that, how our belief systems work, is probably the single most important area for investigation by medical scientists, and they should be in the forefront of the movement instead of saying it isn't so.

Let's have more studies. But let's ask the right questions to the right people and not jump to hasty, ill-considered conclusions.


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