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The Resolution of Stress Underlying

Autoimmune-related Diseases 

           According to scientific research, stress is a root cause of many autoimmune-related diseases (Salleh, 2008). If stress is a root cause of disease, a reasonable next question is: What is the root cause of the stress? It follows that resolving the root cause of stress could potentially lead to improved health outcomes. What does the empirical data show as the root cause of stress? Current data from psychosomatic medicine (Sarno, 1998), psychoneuroimmunology (Tausk, 2008), and psychodynamic psychotherapy (Shedler, 2012), for example, show the scientific answer to the root causality of stress is inconclusive (Jaffe, 2014). Emerging research suggests that the emotional and spiritual intelligences (King,, 2012) could offer new insight for treating the stress causing ill-health issues. The usefulness of this emerging research leads to the notion that stress may be a spiritual phenomenon which could be improved through prayer intervention (Monroe & Jankowski, 2016). Field studies further suggest that psychotherapeutic treatment outcomes may be improved (Garzon & Tilley, 2009) following the administration of operationalized inner healing prayer (Smith, 2005), but the data prove inconclusive, requiring further study of this promising body of research (Garzon & Tilley, 2009). A further study is proposed to examine the effectiveness of combining clinical psychodynamic psychotherapeutic practices with the spiritual modalities of healing. Proposed combined modalities of therapeutic care and treatment may significantly improve resolution of psychic distress, a known root cause of many autoimmune-related diseases.


Psychosomatic Medicine

          So how could the study of the stress-related sciences potentially lead to improved health outcomes? Psychosomatic medicine, for example, is proven by scientific research and makes a central claim that emotional distress causes disease, i.e., chronic pain disorders. Sarno says “Any discussion of psychological factors and hypertension (stress) must lead to an important and widely asked question: can psychotherapy help alleviate hypertension?” (Sarno Divided Mind, 2006). Considerable research has been done by Sarno and others over the last 40 years to study and treat mindbody diseases with excellent results reported by patients undergoing therapeutic care. In approximately 50% of the patients, Dr. Sarno reports that patients simply learning that their stressful emotions could be a contributing factor to the chronic pain—were healed. Simply learning about the emotional component caused the physical pain to become resolved (Sarno, 2006). Others required further psychotherapeutic care to help resolve the emotional distress. Sarno’s studies offer insight into the entire spectrum of psychosomatic (mind/body) disorders, many of which lead to autoimmune-related disorders. The therapeutic work of Dr. Sarno proves to be effective in treating chronic pain from a psychosomatic treatment model—mind/body. This science argues that 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 mindbody stress-related disorders. Thousands of people have become pain-free by following Dr. Sarno's therapies, but admittedly, his work did not go far enough to be permanent. Dr. Sarno lamented that he was not sure how this science works. Nonetheless, his work and findings inform the spiritual and psychic components to the argument that chronic pain has an emotional component contributing to the stress underlying the diseases he treated. Sarno’s work prescribes the psychology responsible for a broad range of stress-related, psychosomatic illnesses. Sarno’s body of evidence points to psychosomatic phenomena (which is in the mind, and arguably, from the heart), which scientifically proves that knowledge and awareness of the process of addressing stress have healing powers. Sarno says “The study of emotions is also in its infancy, to such an extent that many medical scientists are not yet aware of the impact of emotions on bodily function” (Sarno, 2006).



          Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a newer branch of science pointing to a circuit linking the immune system and the brain. “Psychoneuroimmunology is an evolving area of science that will help us further understand the relationship between the mind and the body” (Tausk, 2008). Over the past 30 years of research in PNI, data have “validated the close relationship between the central nervous system and the immune system” (Tausk, 2008). The linkage connects illness, stress, mood, and thought in a whole new way. Stress makes one sick and elicits behavioral change. Researchers have known that behavioral and psychological events can influence the immune system. However, new research shows that the immune system sends signals to the brain through the vagus nerve that could alter neural activity and thereby alter the flows from neural activity, mainly behavior, of thought and mood (Azar, 2001). PNI science provides additional evidence that stress causes disease. The research argues that emotional stress appears to tap into the same immune system that physical stress does. PNI proves that the modalities of healing that address emotional health and physical disease are interconnected systems, reducing emotional distress can alleviate autoimmune-related illnesses. Thus, PNI helps prove that the resolution of emotional distress could lead to the diminishing of physical symptoms that are related. Trausk concludes, “There is a growing body of evidence to support the effect of the psyche—stress in particular— on immune responses and a multitude of conditions… Seeking alternative interventions can only enhance our ability to treat patients” (Tausk, 2008).


Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

          The psychological sciences offer insight into the resurgence of psychodynamic therapy (PSD), which has its roots in psychoanalysis. Psychodynamic therapy recognizes that the relationships and circumstances of early life continue to affect people as adults, and the events of childhood may be an emotional driver to adult behavior (Leichsenring F, et al., 2004). Memories and earlier life events combined with the interpretation of these events are central to the resolution of emotional distress. Shedler states that “Empirical evidence supports the efficacy of psychodynamic therapy…Patients who receive psychodynamic therapy not only maintain therapeutic gains but continue to improve over time” (2012). The PSD approach seems to offer specific modalities of therapeutic care deemed effective for depression, some anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and somatic disorders. This modality supports the treatment of some personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder (Fonagy, 2015). A shortcoming of this approach ignores the spirit of the person as the seat of emotions, as PSD is primarily a cognitive process—which may miss the heart of the problem of resolving psychic distress. Shedler admits, however, “There is a belief in some quarters that psychodynamic concepts and treatments lack empirical support or that scientific evidence shows that other forms of treatment are more effective.” Shedler further considers “evidence that non psychodynamic therapies may be effective in part because the more skilled practitioners utilize interventions that have long been central to psychodynamic theory and practice” (Shedler, 2012). Shedler’s position seems to open the door to other modalities of care that offer resolution to psychic distress. The memory work in this discipline lends this therapeutic methodology immense value in interpreting the psychic events which may cause emotional distress, potentially leading to the resolution of psychic distress at root in many autoimmune-related diseases.


Science of Behavioral Change

          The Science of Behavioral Change (SOBC) is defined the “way to better identify the mechanisms that make behavior change efforts successful, so that we can quickly find out what works—and what doesn’t. We are developing new scientific methods that will reveal how and why people start and sustain healthy behaviors. This new approach will benefit scientists and the public by providing blueprints for effective and efficient behavior interventions that will reliably improve health outcomes” (Derby, 2019). The Science of Behavioral Change states that “understanding the basic mechanisms of behavior change, across a broad range of health-related behaviors, can lead to more effective approaches and interventions, improving the health of our nation” (2019). SOBC produces a substantial body of research with sound scientific analysis of behavioral disorders. However, SOBC prescribes its sole treatment therapy by administering a variety of new pharmaceuticals to improve behavior change. It is mentioned here as a counterpoint to the other scientific research due to the excellent clinical research methodology being deployed. The SOBC program overview says that “Though some interventions may lead to changes in behavior in some people, scientists rarely know how or why they work” (Derby, 2019). SOBC makes the argument for intervention with treatment using unnamed mind-altering drugs. SOBC is true science, yet its therapeutic resolution (along with considerable side-effects of prescribed drugs) is not a cure—simply symptom management while not addressing root-causal issues. Innovative new methodologies could be proposed to examine the effectiveness of combining behavioral change practices, which could significantly improve resolution of psychic distress, a known root cause of many autoimmune-related diseases.


Spiritual and Emotional Intelligences


          Spiritual intelligence (SI) is an emerging body of research resulting in the clinical evidence that spiritual intelligence in patients can be measured qualitatively and quantitatively. King says there are four core components that have been proposed in the realm of spiritual intelligence: (1) the capacity to engage in critical existential thinking, (2) the capacity to construct meaning and purpose in all physical and mental experiences, (3) the capacity to perceive transcendent dimensions of the self and of others in the physical world, (4) the capacity to enter expanded or spiritual states of consciousness at one's own discretion (King, et. al., 2008). SI measures the spiritual quotient (SQ) and provides scientific research to back up the human experience that there is a spiritual dimension to add to mind/body research. SI has come under scrutiny by opponents in the scientific community because the findings of SI research seem at odds with evolutionist theology. Since the mid-1800s, science has embraced evolutionary theory as fact (Pew Research, 2009). Evolutionary science does not have a purview into the spiritual nature of the person. The theory of evolution dismisses any spiritual concepts whatsoever.


          SI theory is now advancing studies connecting it with emotional intelligence theory as advances in the science of multiple intelligences is now a validated fact—proven through rigorous clinical study. “Emotional intelligence was conceived as one's ability to relate creatively to fear, pain, and desire. The concept was thereafter expanded formulating a model of emotional intelligence based on how people appraise, communicate, and utilize emotions” (King, et. al, 2012). King says that “emotional intelligence is the capacity to both understand emotional information and reason with emotions (2012). Kings model of emotional intelligence is comprised of four primary abilities: (1) the capacity to accurately perceive emotions, (2) the capacity to use emotions to facilitate thinking, (3) the capacity to understand emotional meanings, and (4) the capacity to manage emotions although the linking of emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence has been heavily criticized. King argues “that intellectual problems contain emotional information that must also be interpreted in process” (2012). The findings of this research prove that humans possess spiritual intelligence linked to emotional intelligence that can be measured, tested, and improved.


          Historically, influential psychologists like Howard Gardner would argue for multiple intelligences but oddly dismiss the spiritual intelligences—although his research and writings acknowledge it. Gardner is firm in his position that the matter of spiritual intelligence is “better left alone” (Smith, 2008). Sterberg disagrees, offering instead a triarchic theory of intelligence which offers a technical explanation which makes no mention of the spiritual part of a person. Sterberg’s 'triarchic' theory of human intelligence seemingly goes beyond IQ in its conceptualization and implications for assessment. Yet the science of SI/SQ is not included in the triarchic milieu (Sterberg, 1984). Physical and mental health practitioners leveraging the body of scientific evidence are concerned with providing care to patients, so they are targeting ‘improved health care outcomes.’ The targeted ‘outcome’ approach implies that patients co-exist with stress-based, autoimmune-related diseases. Since spiritual/emotional intelligence proven through scientific research proves a spiritual aspect of personhood, the application of spiritual modalities for treatment could help resolve the emotional and physical distress patients are suffering from. Scientific research in SI/SQ is being added to the body of emerging research which suggests that the emotional and spiritual intelligences (King, et. al., 2012) could offer new data for treating the stress causing ill-health issues—when utilized to inform other spiritual modalities of treatment.


Psychology of Religion and Spirituality in Clinical Practice

          The practicality of emerging research as demonstrated in a recent study published in the Spirituality in Clinical Practice Journal, leads to the notion that stress may be a spiritual phenomenon which could significantly improve by administering prayer intervention (Monroe & Jankowski, 2016). In a recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA), the authors studied, measured, and implemented effective prayer intervention, specifically Sozo prayer, in alleviating psychological distress. Monroe & Jankowski offered results in support of the thesis that prayer interventions offered solutions to problems that are emotionally distressing. The authors conclude that receptive prayer, operationalized in the form of contemplative Sozo prayer intervention demonstrated potential to be integrated into psychotherapy (Monroe & Jankowski, 2016). Receptive prayer therefore holds particular potential as a crisis intervention strategy for those seeking to experience more closeness with God as a means to manage their distress. The usefulness of this scientific/spiritual research leads to the notion that stress may be a spiritual phenomenon which could be improved through prayer intervention (2016). In another promising study in the discipline of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Knabb & Wang (2008) produced a scale for measuring and implementing a solution to improve the perceived closeness in a relationship with God. The authors operationalized “communion with God” from an insider (emic) perspective. The research demonstrated with consistency and reliability that daily spiritual experiences were correlated with mental well-being, predictably improving psychological and spiritual functionality (Knabb & Wang, 2019). The researchers concluded that operationalized spiritual modality of contemplative prayer intervention holds potential for integration into psychotherapy. These two studies on the efficacy of combining the spiritual modalities of healing with the psychological sciences, indicate significant gains in emotional well-being as reported by both the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality and Spirituality in Clinical Practice. The research methodology implemented through these two modalities could be further studied and used to significantly improve the resolution of psychic distress, known to be a root cause of many autoimmune-related diseases.


Operationalized Transformation Prayer Ministry (TPM) Methodology

          Field studies further suggest that psychotherapeutic treatment outcomes may be improved and provide more significant recovery of significant emotional distress (Tilley, 2008) following the administration of operationalized inner healing prayer, called Transformation Prayer Ministry (Smith, 2005, 2007, 2020). Dr. Fernando Garzon, in another promising study on lay counseling approaches including Transforming Prayer Ministry (TPM), studied the efficacy of paraprofessionals engaged in inner healing prayer ministry but the data prove inconclusive, requiring further study of this promising body of research (Garzon & Tilley, 2009).



          A clinical study is needed to further examine the effectiveness of administering operationalized healing prayer ministry (TPM) combined with clinical psychodynamic psychotherapeutic practices. The inclusion of a body of scientific evidence from studying and measuring the spiritual/emotional intelligences is merited, which in theory would develop new modalities of care and treatment that could significantly improve resolution of psychic distress, a known root cause of many autoimmune-related diseases. Emerging research on the emotional and spiritual intelligences (King, 2012) offer new data for treating the stress causing ill-health issues. This emerging research leads to the notion that stress could be a spiritual phenomenon, significantly improved through prayer intervention (Monroe & Jankowski, 2012). Field studies further suggested that psychotherapeutic treatment outcomes may be improved (Garzon & Tilley, 2009) following the administration of operationalized inner healing prayer (Smith, 2020), but the data require further study of this promising body of research (Garzon & Tilley, 2009).


          Spiritualpsychodynamics™ (SPSD) is proposed as the combined care and treatment model for the study. Therefore, a study is proposed to examine the effectiveness of combining clinical psychotherapeutic practices, the spiritual/emotional intelligences, and operationalized healing prayer ministry through a new practice called Spiritualpsychodynamics™. SPSD is to be studied, validated, and scientifically proven to increase whole health and well-being for hurting. These new modalities of healing may significantly improve the resolution of psychic distress, known to be a root cause of many autoimmune-related diseases.






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