Belief Systems and Health

by Dr Patrick Quanten MD

“When I was a boy growing up in rural New Hampshire, my parents were convinced that wet feet caused colds. If you stepped in a puddle, you had to change your shoes and socks immediately or you would get sick. And in fact, experience bore them out. I found that whenever I did not follow their advice in this regard, I would catch a cold — no exceptions. I also was continually frustrated to see that this rule did not apply to some of my schoolmates; I assumed that they were just heartier. Then, many years later, I discovered that I could spend days in the rain forest with wet feet. My shuar companions assured me that no harm would come of this. And they too were correct! I have since found that I now can get wet feet in New Hampshire without contracting a cold.”

John Perkins, an internationally acclaimed author, environmentalist and activist, gives us a good example of how opinions, our own as well as other’s, strongly influence our lives.

We all know that words and thoughts can influence our surroundings. You know the power of a smile or a few kind words to brighten up someone else’s day. The loving words of a friend can help you feel less stressed. Compare that feeling to the effect angry words have on you. Words of people that we endow with powers of knowledge, like doctors or religious leaders, have an even greater effect on us.

Consider "information" given by Doctors, and more so by Consultants. These days most of the patient information consists of warning people that they might have cancer, that the treatment has tremendous side-effects, that the operation is risky — all to do with covering their backsides in case of litigation, and leaving the person feeling "dead to the world". If you are not aware of the effect of negative expectations and you do not protect yourself against it, it is likely that these kind of words bring on the very effects you would want to avoid.

Bernard Lown, M.D., a professor of cardiology at Harvard University, provides us with plenty of anecdotes proving that the patient’s beliefs are more important than the doctor’s "reality". A critically ill heart attack patient was amazingly helped by a belief formed upon hearing the doctor’s comments to the attending staff: "This patient has a wholesome, very loud third sound gallop" (actually a poor sign that denotes that the heart muscle is straining and usually failing). The patient recovered. He said, "When I overheard you tell your colleagues I had a wholesome gallop, I figured I still had a lot of kick to my heart and could not be dying. My spirits were for the first time lifted, and I knew I would live and recover."

Another very powerful source of influence we find in media messages. Pollen counts, skin burning times, effects of divorce on children, dangers of complementary therapies, all may provoke self-fulfilling prophecies. Considering the creative power of beliefs, perhaps these "warnings" and "information" produce the opposite of their intended result.

Scary information about a disease from the media, the medical profession, and friends can influence people to hold beliefs and fears that negatively affect the outcome of the disease. The belief that certain diseases are terminal and "hopeless", promotes theexpected outcome. If you name the symptoms of an illness you give power to them and they are more likely to stay with you because now you have a documented illness in which you believe. Naming can be helpful to healing by pointing to the appropriate treatment or harmful if it fosters negative expectations and an attitude of hopelessness. The skilful physician communicates truthful information about your condition while maintaining optimism; something difficult to do if the doctor believes your disease is a hopeless condition.

Hopelessness or helplessness is dangerous because it deprives your immune system of support. If your mind decides that it is fed up with any body part, that body part is likely to lose its immunity and becomes quickly devitalised. Be angry, be hostile, experience any emotion which wants to come out, but never fall prey to hopelessness if you want to be cured.

Given the large numbers of negative messages that we receive every day, it is high time all of us learned to use positive affirmations and mental imaging techniques to counteract the influence of those messages that we hear and read. We should embrace the "placebo effect", although our Western scientific research is plagued by this disturbing and uncontrollable phenomenon. Many patients respond to expectations when given pills with no intrinsic healing power, especially if they believe the pills will help them. Since people often are unaware of their true beliefs, many heal whether they think they belief in the treatment or not.

Helpful images are those that represent life the way we want it to be. Images of suffering may be useful warnings, but aren’t valuable as places to dwell. Since we attract to us that which we dwell on, we should pay attention to warnings of doom, but dwell on positive, uplifting, health-promoting images.

True healing is living within your circumstances and learning every step of the way. True healing is going through the process awake, aware, alert, with acceptance, love, and joy. True healing is concerned with the experience, not attached to the end result.

Dr Patrick Quanten MD

August 1997


Patrick Quanten has been a general practitioner since 1983. The combination of medical insight and extensive studies of Complementary Therapies have opened new perspectives on health care, all of which came to fruition when it blended with Yogic and Ayurvedic principles. Patrick gave up his medical licence in November 2001.
Patrick also holds qualifications in Ayurvedic Medicine, Homeopathy, Reiki, Ozon Therapy and Thai Massage. He is an expert on Ear Candling and he is also well-read in the field of other hard sciences. His life's work involves finding similarities between the Ancient Knowledge and modern Western science.

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