Excerpted from Mind-Brain-Gene: Toward Psychotherapy Integration © 2019 by John B. Arden. The following is from Chapter 4, “The Body-Mind and Health.” Used with the permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company.
“Think with your whole body.” —Taisen Deshimaru
Anna and Michael had been married for seventeen years when both began to complain that the other no longer focused on the rest of the family. They spent an inordinate amount of time ruminating resentments about each other. Meanwhile, their two children were entering the first few years of high school and presenting new challenges for their parents. Both Anna and Michael felt they didn’t have the energy to keep up with the constant attention needed to maintain clear limits and expectations for the kids. Though they did not want to admit it, they felt relieved when their kids began to spend more time on their computers, playing video games and on social media. This meant less monitoring was necessary because the kids left the house less, and they began to match their parents in obesity, fatigue, and dysphoric moods.
Perplexed by everyone’s loss of energy, Anna asked their physician whether the entire family had contracted Lyme disease. They felt ill and did not know why. He ordered blood tests for each of the family members. Though there was no evidence of Lyme disease, he expressed concern that they all had become significantly overweight. He also reported that both Anna and Michael had high levels of C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation), blood glucose, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Anna had developed type 2 diabetes, and Michael had metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions—increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels that includes that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes). Anna responded by saying, “We were already very depressed! Now you are telling us we have bad genes? That makes me even feel worse.” Michael agreed. In response, their physician prescribed Prozac for both of them. With this medication Band-Aid their physician missed the opportunity to offer comprehensive health care and refer them to therapists to avert disastrous long-term mental and physical health. Though he started the consultation constructively by warning the entire family about their weight and both parents of their looming illnesses, the integrative approach they needed was compromised by the quick fix of “mismanaged” care.
What role should psychotherapy play in helping this family? Psychotherapy in the twenty-first century could be renamed “behavioral health,” because self- care behaviors have major effects on the immune system, the brain, and the body in general. These interactions have a profound effect on mental health. It is this relationship that is explored in this chapter…