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TIMELESS HEALING by Herbert Benson


The Power and Biology of Belief

by Herbert Benson & Marg Stark

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81441-2
Publisher: Scribner

An elaboration, a rehash even, of Benson's Beyond the Relaxation Response: How to Harness the Healing Power of Your Beliefs (1984). Benson uses the analogy of a three-legged stool to describe how health and well-being rely on the balanced application of (1) pharmaceuticals, (2) surgery and procedures, and (3) self-care. Greater utilization of self-care has been his career focus, and here he recounts his discovery of the relaxation response, his research into the placebo effect (renamed here ``remembered wellness''), and his identification of ``the faith factor.'' Benson proposes that religious convictions enhance the relaxation response dramatically. He contends that as a species aware of its own mortality, human beings are ``wired for God,'' that is, through evolution we have become genetically programmed to have faith in some absolute power. Further, he argues that affirmative beliefs, especially faith in God, have many positive effects on health. In 60 to 90 percent of doctor visits, he says, remembered wellness and other self-care techniques can be the treatment of choice, and he lists numerous specific conditions—asthma, insomnia, hypertension—in which studies show that belief plays a major role. The flip side of the coin is that negative thoughts elicit powerful negative effects, and he offers some ideas on dealing with these. Benson's utilitarian approach to religion may offend thoughtful believers, and his spiritual approach to healing may not sit well with the scientific crowd. An appendix plugging a video and 17 audiotapes on relaxation available from Benson's Mind/Body Medical Institute gives the whole project a self-serving air. For those familiar with Benson's work, there's not much new here.