In the Institute’s work, faith refers to our basic orientation. By faith, I mean the level of basic trust we have toward all of life moment to moment. Faith gives rise to specific beliefs but beliefs change with experience, time, education and other factors. Faith, as a basic trust in life, can endure the changing nature of beliefs.
Over the last several decades an appreciation of the connections of faith, mind and body has grown.
Let us begin with the growing appreciation of the mind-body connection over the last thirty years.
Herbert Benson, MD, has been a pioneer in Mind Body Medicine. He has worked to validate Mind Body Medicine through research and to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern medical practices. One of his most impactful books, The Relaxation Response, described how simple meditation practices can positively impact physical and mental health. James S. Gordon, MD, who has used mind-body medicine for years to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma, is among many who have followed Dr. Benson’s lead.
In addition to this development, a substantial amount of research has been done over the last ten years suggesting that religion and spirituality affect the mind and body in positive ways.
Harold G. Hoenig, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center, did a comprehensive review of the effect of religion and spirituality on health and well-being by drawing from peer reviewed journals. The conclusions of Dr. Hoenig’s research indicates that religion and spirituality helped people cope with a wide range of physical illnesses, emotional struggles, and enhanced a sense of well-being, hope, optimism, meaning and purpose, and self-esteem.
A study by D.A. Matthews, D.B. Larson, and C.P. Barry, reached similar conclusions by comparing hundreds of individual studies on the relationship between religious faith and human health. Their study also found that religious faith has a positive effect on reducing depression, improving psychological health, reducing anxiety, reducing blood pressure, and improved physical health.
Years after Dr. Benson had written about the relaxation response he developed an appreciation for the positive potential of beliefs. Dr. Benson concluded that the relaxation response used in tandem with personally important beliefs could be a potently positive combination (134-135, Timeless Healing). Dr. Benson and his colleagues amassed evidence of the beneficial effect of this combination (pp. 145-147, Timeless Healing).
The work of Dr. Candace Pert provides an important addition to the research conclusions listed above. Pert is a pioneering researcher on neuropeptides, the protein-like molecules that enable communication between the cells of a multicellular organism. Based on her research, Dr. Pert concluded that there is a “psychosomatic information network” through which the body and mind communicate. Both the brain and the immune system produce neuropeptides, and through these chemicals information can follow from one to the other. Dr. Pert’s work elucidates the biological mechanism which may be underlying the many and powerful beneficial results beliefs have on the mind and body.
Lastly, it is valuable to add the perspective of Dr. Murray Bowen (1913-90) to this discussion. Dr. Bowen spent a career studying and conducting research on the emotional and psychological lives of human beings. He called one of his most important concept differentiation of self. The term differentiation of self used a word taken from the biological sciences – differentiation – and applied it to human development. Differentiation of self describes the observable range of human maturity. One of the key aspects of differentiation of self is our ability to clearly define personally important beliefs, principles, and goals and be guided by them. Differentiation of self means being true to our carefully derived beliefs and principles while being engaged with the significant persons and groups in our life. Dr. Bowen observed that differentiation of self (degree of maturity) has an enormous impact on a person’s life course, and physical and mental health. Dr. Bowen’s work is another resource for understanding the profound connections between belief , the mind and the body.
All of the above resources, and more, inform the work of the Faith-Mind-Body Institute. The focus of the Institute is on the function of faith, not the content of faith. The point is not to judge the validity of any particular belief but to assess and understand the way our underlying faith functions in our lives.
The purpose of the Faith-Mind-Body Institute is to research and to disseminate knowledge about the ways our religious and spiritual beliefs may positively affect emotional, psychological and physical well-being.
If you have any questions or wish to arrange a speaking engagement regarding this subject please contact Rev. Ed Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org