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Provides a review of science supporting the powerful role of intimacy in health & illness, his own struggles w/intimacy.
On Wednesday, March 4, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Dean Ornish, author of LOVE & SURVIVAL.
Dean Ornish: There is a therapeutic value to anything that promotes intimacy. Intimacy with parts of yourself, with other people, and intimacy with something spiritual. And by "spiritual," I mean that on one level we're all separate, and on another we're all part of something that connnects us. To the extent that prayer can give someone a degree of interconnectedness with others, then it can be healing. One study, for example, asked people who were about to undergo open-heart surgery two questions First, do you draw strength from your religious faith, whatever it may be, and second, are you a member of any group of people that meets regularly. Those that answered no to both questions had seven times higher rates of death six months after surgery than those who answered yes to both questions.
Dean Ornish: It's psychosomatic to the extent that the mind affects the body, but sometimes people use the term "psychosomatic" to mean that it's "all in their heads." People who feel lonely and isolated have three to five times the rate of premature death and disease from virtually all causes as compared to those who have a strong sense of love and intimacy in their lives. So clearly it's not all in their heads.
Dean Ornish: It's too soon to tell. But those people who have seen it have given a uniformly favorable response. Some of my friends were concerned that the book was so self-disclosing that it might leave me vulnerable to criticism. But I wanted to be an example, and model, and encourage other people to be self-disclosing.
Dean Ornish: Yes. In my book LOVE & SURVIVAL, I review hundreds of studies showing that people who feel lonely and depressed and isolated have three to five times the rate of disease and premature death from virtually all causes.
Dean Ornish: I need to keep confidential my discussions with President Clinton. I will say that I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with him and Mrs. Clinton during the past several years. Part of increasing intimacy is protecting confidences with people you care about.
Dean Ornish: Awareness is the first step in healing. When we realize how much these ideas matter, then we can begin to take them more seriously. In my new book, LOVE & SURVIVAL, I outline eight pathways to intimacy that I have found to be powerful both in my own life and in the lives of many people with whom I have worked over the years.
Dean Ornish: I think we're beginning to see both ends of the spectrum. For the past 50 years, there has been a radical shift in our culture toward increasing fragmentation and isolation. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease but what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease. Loneliness and alienation and isolation are so prevalent in our culture. We ignore the ideas that used to bring us a sense of community. We ignore them at our own peril. My hope is that this book will bring attention to this problem, so that people will focus on love and intimacy, not only to improve the quality of our lives but also for our survival, as a society and as a culture. When we become aware of how much these things matter, then we can begin to make different choices.
Dean Ornish: I'm not opposed to HMOs, but many of them are moving in the wrong direction, from my point of view. So often the approach to managed care is to try to control health care costs by forcing doctors to see more and more patients in less and less time. If you have to see a new patient every eight minutes, it's hard to spend time dealing with the psychosocial, the emotional, and the spiritual elements of life, when all you have time to do is to listen to the heart and lungs, write a prescription, and go on to the next patient. For the past ten years, my colleagues and I have been training hospital personnel. We're trying to create a new approach for the 21st century, one that's more caring and intimate, and still cost-effective. We're trying to show that by spending more time with patients and addressing these underlying issues, it often can be a much less expensive alternative to bypass surgery and angioplasty.
Dean Ornish: I don't think so. Because we don't fully understand the mechanisms by which love and intimacy exert such protective effects.
Dean Ornish: Good question. Whatever the modality of alternative medicine -- e.g., massage acupuncture, therapeutic touch, chiropractic, etc. -- what most of them have in common is that they spend time with patients, they listen, they often touch patients and make them feel nurtured and nourished. So even though there is so little science documenting the efficacy of alternative medicine, many people are voting with their feet. As you may know, more money is spent out of pocket for alternative medicine than for traditional medicine -- because there is such a strong basic human need to feel heard, listened to, touched, and nurtured. And so little of this occurs in an encounter with many Western-trained doctors. One study showed that the average doctor interrupted his or her patients 16 seconds after they started talking. Patients are voting with their feet, and doctors are beginning to take notice. At UCSF, I am one of the cofounders of a new Center for Integrative Medicine, where we are trying to integrate the best of traditional and nontraditional forms of health and healing while maintaining a scientific perspective. Also, to help bring these ideas of caring, love, and nurturing into all medical encounters, whether "traditional" or "nontraditional." Of course, these are very old ideas that we're rediscovering. In my new book, LOVE & SURVIVAL, I survey literally hundreds of studies showing that these ideas affect not only our quality of life but also our quantity of life -- our survival. I don't know any factor in medicine that has such a profound, across-the-board effect on premature death and disease from virtually all causes as the healing power of love and intimacy -- and yet, we learn so little about these in our medical training. Until now.
Dean Ornish: Andrew Weil has been a good friend for almost 30 years. He's doing great work.
Dean Ornish: I define "intimacy" very broadly to reconnect with parts of oneself that have been disowned as being unlovable, for example, intimacy with friends, with family, with a lover, or with something spiritual -- whatever religious or secular context in which you place that experience. By "spiritual," I mean the direct experience of interconnectedness and oneness. In that context, you can be lonely while walking in a crowd, or you can experience intimacy and interconnectedness while meditating or praying alone in your room.
Dean Ornish: Dr. Denis Burkitt once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted." Some of the most meaningful experiences cannot be objectively verified. And yet much can be. Science is a useful tool for sorting out what works from what doesn't, but experiential understanding also has an important place.
Dean Ornish: Yes, exponentially.
Dean Ornish: When indicated.
Dean Ornish: Yes, of course. And yet technology per se is not the problem. Like any form of power, it has the potential to bring us closer together as we are doing tonight, and it has the potential to further isolate us. Part of the value of chat rooms is that they encourage people to reach out -- but they also limit the amount of intimacy. We can only be intimate to the degree we have the courage to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable to someone else. That's hard to do in a chat room -- but not impossible.
Dean Ornish: Thanks to you. I hope at least some of these ideas have been useful. I have done two one-hour lectures for PBS that are being broadcast this month -- please check your local listings for "Love and Survival" on PBS. Also, I hope you enjoy the book. Goodnight, everyone!