Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression without Drugs and without Talk Therapy

Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression without Drugs and without Talk Therapy

by David Servan-Schreiber

Americans seek therapy in record numbers and consume more medications than ever before, yet stress, anxiety, and depression continue to rise to epidemic proportions. People can spend years on the psychoanalytic couch without making any progress. And for many psychiatrists, the prescription-writing reflex has become almost automatic, despite the fact that benefits… See more details below


Americans seek therapy in record numbers and consume more medications than ever before, yet stress, anxiety, and depression continue to rise to epidemic proportions. People can spend years on the psychoanalytic couch without making any progress. And for many psychiatrists, the prescription-writing reflex has become almost automatic, despite the fact that benefits often disappear as soon as drug treatment stops. Standard treatments simply aren't long-term solutions.

But psychiatrist/neurologist David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., knows that we can cure our emotional pain. He's seen certain natural methods produce tremendous results in his clinical practice, in that of his peers, and even in war-torn regions where horrific memories can leave deep scars.

Numerous studies in prestigious scientific journals have documented the amazing benefits of these methods on anxiety and depression, but because the mechanisms through which they operate remain poorly understood, they've remained largely excluded from mainstream medicine and psychiatry. Dr. Servan-Schreiber explains how each of the natural methods in this ensemble treatment plan can help us escape the therapy/drug trap by working through the body to tap into the emotional brain's self-healing processes rather than relying on the cognitive process of language.

Weaving fascinating accounts of his first-hand experience and findings together with the research of hundreds of other esteemed scientists, Dr. Servan-Schreiber outlines a program that's becoming, embraced throughout the world as a permanent cure for emotional pain. See how you, too, can tap into The Instinct to Heal.

David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., PH.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and cofounder of the Center for Complementary Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He codirected a National Institutes of Health laboratory for the study of clinical cognitive neuroscience and functional neuroimaging for several years and has published more than 90 scientific monographs. He's lectured at leading international academic centers, including Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, and Cambridge Universities. One of the original seven members of the United States board of Doctors Without Borders/Médicins Sans Frontières, he served on the board for 9 years and provided medical relief in Kurdistan, Guatemala, India, Tajikistan, and Kosovo. He continues to develop mental health interventions for victims of crises and to train therapists in crisis areas.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pointing to the stark statistic that more than 11 million Americans currently take antidepressants, Servan-Schreiber, psychiatrist and co-founder of the University of Pittsbugh's Center for Complementary Medicine, offers seven natural treatments for stress-related disorders. Honed by his travels as a Doctors Without Borders founder, Servan-Schreiber's holistic approach involves neither drugs nor traditional talk therapies (which he notes have never been proven effective), but relies on the brain's own healing mechanism. Combining solid scientific data, diagrams and anecdotal evidence in a highly accessible format, the author smoothly guides readers through alternative therapies, including acupuncture, dawn simulation, heart coherence and nutrition, "a field almost entirely abandoned" by today's mental health professionals, but of vital importance, he notes, to such conditions as postpartum depression and bipolar disorder. While admitting all treatments should ideally submit to a rigorous controlled study, the author laments the lack of economic interest on the part of pharmaceutical companies to study anything unpatentable. A final section, with tips and techniques on improving communication in personal relationships and integrating therapies into daily life nicely rounds out this valuable resource. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
There are some special considerations involved in selecting material on alternative medicine for libraries. On the one hand, patrons deserve (and demand) information on a wide range of treatment options; on the other, as librarians, we also want to make sure that patrons are aware of standards and the best practices. Obviously, the usual selection criteria, such as author qualifications and the verifiability of source information, remain important as well. All these criteria are met by The Instinct To Heal. Founder of Doctors Without Borders and currently at the University of Pittsburgh, Servan-Schreiber has an impressive background. Here he explains the mainstream treatment of depression (a combination of drugs and talk therapy) in a neutral fashion. He then recommends alternative treatments, e.g., acupuncture, dawn simulation, heart coherence, and nutrition, and backs up his recommendations with citations from scientific journals. Material on self-treatment for depression and anxiety is in great demand, and this refreshing alternative is sound. Highly recommended for public libraries. The Natural Medicine Guide to Anxiety does not have the same qualifications. Written by a journalist, it cites mostly secondary sources, i.e., other articles and books written for the general public. Marohn covers several of the more speculative treatments, including psychic healing, flower essence therapy, and homeopathy. However, she does not sufficiently discuss the most commonly recommended treatment of drugs and cognitive-behavioral therapy, so the book lacks context and the solid grounding afforded by Servan-Schreiber in his work. Not recommended.-Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Rodale Press, Inc.
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6.16(w) x 9.36(h) x 1.14(d)

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Animals Can Heal Us, Too

At the hospital where I practiced in Pittsburgh, other physicians often asked my advice before discharging a depressed elderly patient after bypass surgery or hospitalization for a fractured hip. Usually, I was the last person they consulted. The colleagues preceding me had already prescribed a long list of medicines: antiarrhythmic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antacid. They expected me to carry the ball and add my own "anti" to the list -- an antidepressant or anxiolytic (anti-anxiety medication).

Often, however, the cause of depression was clear. The old man or woman had been living alone for years, and was no longer going out very much because of frail health. No longer playing bingo with friends. No longer being visited by their children or grandchildren, who had left for California, Boston, or New York. These men and women were idling away the hours in front of television screens. Would these patients honestly feel like looking after themselves? Even if antidepressants could have done them good, would they have taken them every day? Probably no more than those other pills, already so hard to distinguish from each other and to take as prescribed.

I really did not feel like adding my two-cents' worth to that confusion. Medicines are not "limbic regulators." So, summoning up all my courage, I would add my recommendation to the patient's medical record: "As far as her depression is concerned, the best thing for this patient would be to get a dog (a small one, obviously, to minimize the risk of a fall). If the patient considers that would be too much work, a cat would do, since it does not need to be taken out. And if a cat still seems too much, a bird or a fish. Finally, if the patient still refuses, then a houseplant."

At the beginning of this campaign, I received slightly irritated calls from the residents in orthopedic or cardiovascular surgery: "We asked you to recommend an antidepressant, not a zoo. What are we going to write on the discharge prescription? There aren't any household pets at the pharmacy."

However I answered, my explanations seemed convincing only to myself. My colleagues invariably ended up prescribing an antidepressant themselves, mumbling about how useless psychiatrists really were. They were undoubtedly convinced that they were defending the cause of modern scientific medicine against the ever-threatening, obscuring specter of "old-wives' remedies."

I soon realized that my approach was not working and that I was doing damage to my reputation as chief of the psychiatry division of the hospital. Instead of backing down, I prepared a document summing up various scientific studies on the question. From that point on, I attached the document to my recommendations in the patient's record.

I hoped to inform my colleagues of certain remarkable results with which they didn't seem to be familiar, such as one study from the American Journal of Cardiology about men and women whose infarctions had been accompanied by dangerous arrhythmias. The patients were tracked for more than a year, and those who had had a household pet faced only one-sixth the likelihood of dying during the year compared to all the others. Or yet another study, in which older people with household pets had much better psychological resistance to life's difficulties and went a lot less often to the doctor's. I also called their attention to a study from a group at Harvard showing that simply looking after a plant lowered the mortality rate of residents in a retirement home by 50 percent. I cited research on AIDS patients showing that cat or dog owners were better protected from depression. Finally, I referred to the font of all knowledge in my colleagues' eyes -- the Journal of the American Medical Association. In 1996, it published a study about handicapped people who were virtually unable to move around unaided, very similar to the elderly patients I had been asked to see. This study showed that these people were happier and had greater self-esteem and a distinctly larger network of friends and relations if they had the companionship of a dog. In fact, another study found that the mere presence of an animal by your side makes you "more attractive" to others.

Even stockbrokers feel better if they have a household pet. With one of the most stressful professions imaginable, they are constant victims of market ups and downs over which they have no control, yet they still have to meet their sales targets. It is hardly surprising that a good many of them suffer early from high blood pressure. Karen Allen, Ph.D., from the University of Buffalo, conducted an unconventional study on a group of brokers in her city. Antihypertensive medications brought their blood pressure down below the initial alarming average of 160/100. However, in moments of stress, they still showed sudden peaks of blood pressure above those numbers.

To a randomly selected half of the stockbrokers, Dr. Allen allocated either a dog or a cat. (They had the opportunity to choose one or the other.) Six months later, the results spoke for themselves: Those who had received household pets were no longer reacting to stress in the same way. Not only had their blood pressure stabilized, even in periods of stress, but their performance on stress-inducing tasks -- such as rapid mental arithmetic and public speaking -- was significantly better. They made fewer mistakes, suggesting that they had more control over their emotions and thus over their concentration. In another study, Dr. Allen was able to show that older women (over 70) who lived alone but with pets had the same blood pressure as women of 25 with active social lives.

My "enclosure" turned out to be effective. After that, nobody ever made the slightest comment. I no longer heard interns snicker behind my back when I left one of my "zoological" recommendations in their patient's file. On the other hand, alas, I do not think that a single patient ever went home with a cat or without his or her prescription for Prozac. The idea that a loving relationship is in itself a physiological remedy, comparable to taking medication, rests on sound scientific ground -- but it simply has not yet taken hold in the medical establishment.

Reprinted from: Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D. © 2003, 2004 by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold.)

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What People are saying about this

Judith S. Schachter M. D.
Judith S. Schachter, M.D., past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association
This timely and comprehensive review opens many doors and may be read with pleasure by a wide audience.
Michael Lerner
. . . essential reading for all those who want to understand the frontiers of mind-body health.
—(Michael Lerner, PH.D., author of Choices in Healing)
Robin S. Rosenberg
. . . engaging and highly readable, and packed with concrete suggestions about how to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
—Robin S. Rosenberg, PH.D., clinical psychologist and coauthor of Psychology: The Brain, The Person, The World)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Written with grace and elegance, this book might well become the most important mental health landmark of this generation.
—(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PH.D., bestselling author of Flow, Being Adolescent, The Evolving Self, and Creativity)
Antonio Damasio
. . . The Instinct to Heal . . . offers an alternative that may work, and, by so doing, offers hope.
—(Antonio Damasio, M.D., PH.D., author of Looking For Spinoza, The Feeling of What Happens, and Descartes' Error)
Jonathan D. Cohen
Jonathan D. Cohen, M.D., PH.D., director of the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior at Princeton University
This book, the translation of research findings into meaningful clinical insights and practice, bears the unmistakable signature of Dr. Servan-Schreiber . . .
Professor Francine Lecas
Professor Francine Lecas, chair of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery, Sick Children Hospital, Paris, France
This book has love on every page.
Gerald G. Jampolsky
David Servan-Schreiber is one of those rare scientists who truly listens with his heart and perceives the larger connection.
—(Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D., bestselling author of Love is Letting Go of Fear)
Larry Dossey
The Instinct to Heal is an inspiring overview of the internal healing potential that exists within everyone . . .
—(Larry Dossey, M.D., bestselling author of Healing Beyond the Body, Reinventing Medicine, and Healing Words)
Daniel Goleman
David Servan-Schreiber has done a brilliant job of bringing together insights and information of vital importance for well-being.
—(Daniel Goleman, PH.D., bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence)
Bessel Van Der Kolk
Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., professor of psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine
. . . Servan-Schreiber shows that for healing to occur, one needs to . . . influence the emotional brain by acting directly on bodily experience.
Joseph LeDoux
The Instinct to Heal is a fascinating account of unorthodox approaches to treating the emotional brain and mind.
—(Joseph LeDoux, PH.D., the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at New York University and author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self)

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