Cognitive Pearl #019 Tevet 1, 5775 December 23, 14

When my son was an infant, he ate something that caused a sudden allergic reaction. My wife called the local ambulance squad (this was before our Aliya). Surprisingly within a few moments a full squad of Hatzola volunteers arrived to render aid. It was only a few minutes later that the ambulance got to us. By that time my son’s reaction was resolving itself; nevertheless because of my past extreme allergies it was decided to take him to the local emergency room to be examined. As the Hatzola volunteers were returning to their homes, I asked them how they knew to come to us. ‘It’s simple!’, one of them explained. ‘We eavesdrop on the city emergency services radio network so we know where we’re needed’.

That story always comes to mind when the mind body connection comes up in discussion. The Western medical tradition long ago decapitated the mind from the body; it’s only in recent years that it’s tried to undo that. It’s no longer considered to ‘New Age’ or ‘Alternative’ to speak of the mind body connection. That’s why when we speak of the various anxiety disorders we assume that the cognitive processes of thought, association, and process influence the physiological state. This influence is brought about through the agency or ‘middle man’ of the endocrine system.

It’s a mistake however to conceptualize the somatic reaction follows the cognitive processes. Similar to the Hatzola volunteers who eavesdropped on the municipal communication network, the somatic systems listen in on the sensory apparatuses. That is why the body is already fully activated before we report to ourselves that we’re frightened and what we’re frightened about. What’s more, is that the soma, oblivious to social pressure and to the variety of extenuating factors that might dilute it’s response to threat, goes full out whether someone has cut us in line or if God forbid there is a fire in the middle of the night. That’s why as cognitive therapists when we suggest various strategies for self soothing we educate our clients about their bodies. We understand the vital importance of helping the client developed a healthy, friendly (and loving) relationship with his body. 

More on this in coming installments.