Revered by some as a saint and dismissed by others as a quack, Dr. Sarno maintained that most nontraumatic instances of chronic pain — including back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, and fibromyalgia — are physical manifestations of deep-seated psychological anxieties.
His books, including the best-selling “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection,” became popular largely through word of mouth. Thousands of people have claimed to have been cured by reading them.
His ideas inspired online support forums that doubled almost as shrines to him, and he received glowing endorsements from celebrities like Anne Bancroft, Larry David, and Howard Stern, who dedicated his autobiography to the doctor.
Another who swore by him, the financial writer and Wall Street trader Edward Siedle, described Dr. Sarno in a Forbes column as “the most brilliant doctor in America and unfortunately, a largely neglected national treasure.”
The mainstream medical community, however, generally dismissed his theories as simplistic and unscientific and felt that he went too far in saying that emotional factors not only worsen chronic pain but also directly cause it.
“His views are definitely considered on the fringe,” said Dr. Christopher Gharibo, a pain management specialist at the Langone Medical Center at N.Y.U. “His position was that almost all chronic pain is purely psychological and ‘all in the head,’ which I certainly disagree with.”
Eric Sherman, a psychotherapist who worked with Dr. Sarno for many years, recalled how Dr. Sarno’s colleagues would belittle him behind his back in lunchtime conversations at N.Y.U., even as some would visit him privately for their ailments.
“It was him against the world, yet he was never afraid of not fitting in,” Dr. Sherman said. “He had a ‘damn the torpedoes’ perspective on his work, and was notoriously indifferent to others’ opinions of him.”
Dr. Sarno, who specialized in rehabilitation medicine, developed his theories over almost 50 years at N.Y.U. He gave the various forms of chronic pain the collective name “tension myositis syndrome” (T.M.S.), which, apart from its psychological roots, he attributed to mild oxygen deprivation caused by reduced blood flow to muscles and nerves throughout the body.
He said most of his patients improved simply by learning and thinking about the psychosomatic connection to pain, and that others recovered by journaling regularly and, in some cases, doing psychotherapy.
Dr. Sarno, a health-conscious man who walked from his Upper East Side home to N.Y.U. every day well into his 80s, said he had gotten rid of his allergies by regarding them as T.M.S.
Untrained as a researcher, Dr. Sarno never conducted formal studies of his methods, saying he preferred to spend his time helping people individually. “My proof is that my patients get better,” he often told his doubters.
Some of his ideas, like his assertion that there is no correlation between chronic back pain and herniated discs, have been validated by research published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
John E. Sarno
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|John E. Sarno|
|Born||John Ernest Sarno Jr.
June 23, 1923
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 22, 2017 (aged 93)
Danbury, Connecticut, U.S.
|Alma mater||Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons|
|Known for||Tension Myoneural Syndrome (formerly Tension Myositis Syndrome)|
|Institutions||Rusk Institute at New York University Medical Center|
John Ernest Sarno Jr. (June 23, 1923 – June 22, 2017) was Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center. He graduated from Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1943, and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1950. In 1965, he was appointed the Director of the Outpatient Department at the Rusk Institute. He is also the originator of the diagnosis of the controversial psychosomatic condition tension myositis syndrome (TMS), which is also called tension myoneural syndrome.
- 1Tension myositis syndrome
- 2Statistical studies of TMS treatment
- 3Notable patients
- 4Hearing before the U. S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Pensions
- 7External links
Tension myositis syndrome
Main article: Tension myositis syndrome
Sarno’s most notable achievement is the development, diagnosis, and treatment of tension myoneural syndrome (TMS), which is currently not accepted by mainstream medicine. According to Sarno, TMS is a psychosomatic illness causing chronic back, neck, and limb pain which is not relieved by standard medical treatments. He includes other ailments, such as gastrointestinal problems, dermatological disorders and repetitive-strain injuries as TMS related. Sarno states that he has successfully treated over ten thousand patients at the Rusk Institute by educating them on his beliefs of a psychological and emotional basis to their pain and symptoms. Sarno’s theory is, in part, that the pain or GI symptoms are an unconscious “distraction” to aid in the repression of deep unconscious emotional issues. Sarno believes that when patients think about what may be upsetting them in their unconscious, they can defeat their minds’ strategy to repress these powerful emotions; when the symptoms are seen for what they are, the symptoms then serve no purpose, and they go away. Supporters of Sarno’s work hypothesize an inherent difficulty in performing the clinical trials needed to prove or disprove the diagnosis, since it is difficult to use clinical trials with psychosomatic illnesses.
Sarno wrote about his experience in this area in his first book on TMS, Mind Over Back Pain. His second book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, has sold over 150,000 copies. Sarno’s most recent book, The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, features chapters by six other physicians and addresses the entire spectrum of psychosomatic disorders and the history of psychosomatic medicine.
Statistical studies of TMS treatment
Sarno’s books describe two follow-up surveys of his TMS patients. The first in 1982 interviewed 177 patients selected randomly from those Sarno treated in the preceding three years. 76 percent stated that they were leading normal and effectively pain-free lives. A second follow-up study in 1987 restricted the population surveyed to those with herniated discs identified on CT-scans, and 88% of the 109 randomly selected patients stated that they were free of pain one to three years after TMS treatment.
In 2007, David Schechter (a medical doctor and former student and research assistant of Sarno) published a peer-reviewed study of TMS treatment showing a 54% reduction in the average pain intensity scores for a cohort of 51 chronic back pain patients, whose average pain duration before the study was 9 years. In terms of statistical significance and success rate, the study outperformed similar studies of other psychological interventions for chronic back pain.
Notable patients of Sarno include radio personalities Howard Stern and Tom Scharpling, comedian Larry David, actress Anne Bancroft, filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel and television writer Janette Barber. All six have praised Sarno and his work highly. Stern dedicated his first book in part to Sarno. Howard Stern, Larry David, and John Stossel are featured in a documentary about Dr. Sarno.
Hearing before the U. S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Pensions
On February 14, 2012, Sarno appeared before the U. S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Pensions as part of a hearing “Pain in America: Exploring Challenges to Relief”. The committee was chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who was very supportive of the mind-body connection espoused by Sarno based on his personal experience and that of a niece with fibromyalgia. Transcripts of the testimony from Sarno and the other witnesses, as well as a video recording of the hearing, were subsequently posted by the Committee.
All the Rage: A Film About Dr. Sarno, Emotions, and Health
Psychosomatic Pain Is Not All in the Mind. It is in the Mindbrainbody.
All the Rage: A Film About John Sarno MD and Psychosomatic Pain
What do Howard Stern, Larry David, John Stossel, Senator Tom Harkin, and pro-golfer Ben Crane have in common? They all suffered from debilitating pain until they met Dr. John Sarno. All the Rage is a feature film about Sarno and others who are pioneering mind-body approaches to treating chronic illness. I am one of several psychotherapists who treat people suffering from psychosomatic pain and maybe interviewed in the film. To take a look at All the Rage, go to this link after you’ve read this blog or while reading it It will be a real eye-opener.
In an earlier blog, Chronic Pain Syndrome and Other Psychosomatic Illness, I wrote about my friend, on bed rest and awaiting the back surgery recommended by several orthopedic surgeons. I urged her to have a consultation with John Sarno, M.D. at the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine in New York. I had worked there at the beginning of my professional career and found that there were certain patients who did not get better, despite state-of-the-art medical treatment. Some, however, started to improve after talking candidly with me about painful lifetime experiences, matters they had never fully disclosed to anyone.
According to Dr. John. E. Clarke (2007), in more than half of all medical patients, diagnostic tests cannot find the cause of symptoms because most of them are psychosomatic. Yet physicians continue to send patients for batteries of tests that continue to show nothing, running up enormous bills for insurance companies. Most physicians in the western world are not knowledgeable about the psychosomatic illness and do not know what to do about it. Sometimes they will tell the patient that it is all in the mind and may refer them to a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, which makes them angry because they feel that their doctor has not been really listening to them. Their pain may originate in the mind or psychic pain might greatly exacerbate the pain of a physical disorder. But in any case, it is not all in the mind. It is in the mind brain body. It is psychosomatic.
Sarno said in his recent book The Divided Mind The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders (2006):
The enormity of this miscarriage of medical practice may be compared to what
would exist if medicine refused to acknowledge the existence of bacteria and
viruses. Perhaps the most heinous manifestation of this scientific medievalism
has been the elimination of the term psychosomatic from recent editions of the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the official
publication of the American Psychiatric Association. One might as well eliminate
the word infection from medical dictionaries (2006, p. 3), article continues after advertisement
As I wrote (Farber 2012) in my book Hungry for Ecstasy: Trauma, the Bain and the influence of the Sixties,
Long before Descartes (1637) said that the mind and body were separate,
even as far back as Plato, in Western medicine there existed a philosophical
the dichotomy between mind and body, while Eastern traditions saw the mind
and body as coming from the same energy or source. In the West, this mind/
body disconnect has directed the clinical evolution of Western medicine. It
has had a powerfully negative effect on how patients are perceived and
treated, based on the assumption that there is mental pain and there is physical
pain and never the twain shall meet (Farber 2012, p. 166)..
Descartes held that that the mind is a nonphysical substance. This is true but what he did not understand was that the mind is a function of the physical brain, interacting all the time with the body’s various systems and hormones and chemicals. the body produces. The body has been described as an enormous switchboard housing trillions of interconnected pathways, and as a giant pharmaceutical factory that manufactures powerful, mind-altering chemicals. (Milkman and Sunderwirth 1987). This is how the mind and body are connected. article continues after the advertisement
The title of the film, All the Rage, is provocative. It refers to unconscious rage, believed to be a major contributor to psychosomatic pain. And it occurs in some of the nicest people you will meet. In fact, it occurs because they may be too nice for their own good If you tend to be a people pleaser, caring more about pleasing others than doing what you need to do to take care of yourself, then you may be among the huge group of people Sarno described as tending to have psychosomatic pain.
John Sarno, a few physicians, and a number of psychotherapists, myself among them, know what to do about psychosomatic pain. Filmmakers Suki Hawley, David Beilinson, and Michael Galinsky (RUMUR Inc) are currently in post-production on All the Rage. It took ten years to make, beginning as a profile of Dr. John E. Sarno, a back pain and rehabilitation specialist who has pioneered a successful mind-body approach to treating chronic pain.. He wrote several books on the subject, including the New York Times best-selling Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection (1991) . Others include The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain (1999 ), and The Divided Mind (2006). The first three focus on muscular-skeletal pain because that was what Sarno was most familiar with. In The Divided Mind, Sarno broadened his understanding to include all kinds of mind-body illness. Amazon.com described it as follows.
The Divided Mind is the crowning achievement of Dr. John E. Sarno’s distinguished career as a groundbreaking medical pioneer, going beyond pain to address the entire spectrum of psychosomatic (mind-body) disorders.
The interaction between the generally reasonable, rational, ethical, moral conscious mind and the repressed feelings of emotional pain, hurt, sadness, and anger characteristic of the unconscious mind appears to be the basis for mind-body disorders. The Divided Mind traces the history of psychosomatic medicine, including Freud‘s crucial role, and describes the psychology responsible for the broad range of psychosomatic illnesses. The failure of medicine’s practitioners to recognize and appropriately treat mind-body disorders has produced public health and economic problems of major proportions in the United States. One of the most important aspects of psychosomatic phenomena is that knowledge and awareness of the process clearly have healing powers. Thousands of people have become pain-free simply by reading Dr. Sarno’s previous books. article continues after advertisement
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Sarno retired recently at age 90 but continuing his work at the Rusk Institute is Ira Rashbaum, M.D., who studied with Sarno there. He wrote a chapter in The Divided Mind about how he came to understand psychosomatic illness Several other physicians contributed chapters as well,
Beginning in the 1970’s at Rusk, Sarno came to understand the problem and predicted the epidemic of chronic pain. When comparing his patients’ charts, more than 80% had a history of at least two other psychosomatic illnesses like ulcers, migraines, eczema, or colitis. It occurred to him that the stresses of life might be causing the pain. When he talked to his patients further, he found that most were perfectionists who put themselves under unreasonable pressure to be perfect and good. When Sarno suggested his patients make the connection between their emotions, their tendency to put themselves under such pressure,- and their pain, most rapidly improved. He came to understand that the unconscious mind was activating the autonomic nervous system.
Chronic psychosomatic illness is all about experiencing terrible physical pain in order not to tolerate feeling the emotional pain in one’s life. In other words, as bad as the physical pain is, for the person who has it, it is preferable to feel the emotional pain. The workings of the unconscious mind make this possible. Sarno popularized these ideas, which come from a psychoanalytic understanding, and made them quite understandable to the reader. The great majority of people suffering chronic psychosomatic pain start to feel better after becoming educated about the nature of psychosomatic pain. To heal, Sarno’s recommendations are two-fold: Individuals need to address their unconscious anger and, since the pain they are experiencing is psychological, should resume all normal physical activity. For some, however, this is not enough. They require psychotherapy with a psychotherapist experienced in the
treatment of mind-body disorders.
I treated one man who had had the back surgery recommended by several orthopedic surgeons and still suffered terrible pain. It began lessening after the first session. As much as I understand intellectually how this works, when I see people who have suffered for years start moving around without pain, it feels like magic, to them and to me. It is an extraordinary experience. Around a year ago I began treating a woman who had been bedridden for six weeks with a severe case of shingles, a dermatological condition for which a pain management doctor had prescribed hydrocodone, a narcotic painkiller. She knew of Sarno’s work and went online to find a psychotherapist experienced in treating mind-body problems. By the end of her first session, after telling me of a painfully abusive childhood, she was feeling so much better that she stopped her pain medication, to which she had become addicted, and tolerated the withdrawal symptoms so that she could be free of it. It was such a dramatic recovery that it seemed to her, and to me too, like the religious miracle healings seen on television.
Link for his books:
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