Perception, stress, and biofeedback : implications for health care

The assumption that health is the product of medical care services is too narrow and exclusive. Many environmental stimuli are threatening to health only because of their symbolic meaning for the individual. A new orientation for medicine is needed, focusing on the dynamic nature of the relationship between the mind and body. The purpose of this paper is threefold: (1) to review research indicating the importance of cognitive processes in a person’s interaction with the environment, (2) to explore the implications of using the mind as an adaptive resource for health care, and (3) to present the implications of such a view for health education. The methodology consisted of: (1) an extensive, interdisciplinary review of literature from research on perception, stress, and biofeedback; (2) an exploration of the nature of human adaptability; and (3) a discussion of the implications for health education. In reviewing the literature it was determined that humans organize and construct sensor input according to tacit cultural assumptions and personal needs. The resulting “assumptive” world determines the way science and medicine are practiced. Research on stress, the adaptive mechanism of the body to the changing environment, indicated that the mind and body are one, dynamic, interacting system. For this reason, disease is best understood as a disturbance in the mind/body equilibrium. Finally, literature describing biofeedback demonstrated that humans can learn to self-regulate physiological and psychological processes through cognitive activity. Such a procedure suggests alternative strategies for health care. It was determined that the mind is as important in maintaining health as is the effect of modern medicine on the body. Viewed in this way, the patient assumes responsibility for his/her health and disease is seen as an opportunity for self-exploration. It was recommended that the clinician function to maximize psychological and biological conditions in order to facilitate the patient's own healing processes. It was discussed that health education activities are relevant only as they provide information, applicable to a wide range of circumstances, which maximize human adaptive potentials.