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Dr. Jan Mark Burte - Psychoneuroimmunology



Psychoneuroimmunological intervention involves simultaneously treating all three aspects of the patient's functioning. We need to learn to effectively cope with, and if possible, overcome daily stressors, which may range from minor (e.g., being stuck in traffic) to severe (e.g., death or loss of a loved-one, life-threatening medical conditions, significant financial or family problems).


Cognitive behavioral forms of psychotherapy have proven extremely effective in this arena. We learn to develop coping skills in order to speak to ourselves in more rational and positive ways and to place things in perspective by utilizing rational emotive therapy.


Simultaneously, a neurological or central nervous system response needs to be addressed. This means that under stress the body gears up for a “fight or flight response”. In our complex society, this is a good adaptive response. Physiologically, we are not greatly different from our earliest ancestors. The burst of adrenaline (norepinephrine) and the consequent changes in blood flow, heart rate, hormone chemistry, muscle reactivity and pupil dilation prepare us to face or fun away from our ancestral predators ( e.g., sabertooth tigers or each other). However, stressors today are more chronic (e.g., financial and job pressures) and our cognitive societal expectations for health, longevity and prosperity foster a state of physiological arousal, which often leads to debilitating, medical and psychological conditions (e.g., irritable bowl syndrome, insomnia, and headaches) or contribute to the maintenance of other medical/psychological conditions.




Relaxation training, imagery hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy and medications can all help reduce physiological arousal. Eventually the continued physiological excitability of the central nervous system fosters a chronic state of hormonal changes. Cortisol and other stress mediated hormones alter to meet the requests of the central nervous system. It is believed that the immune systems defense mechanisms, helper T-cells, N-killer cells and interlukin levels change and the body becomes more vulnerable to the exacerbation of preexisting conditions and illnesses (e.g., herpes zosters/shingles, arthritis, fibromyalgia). Some research supports the idea that even very serious illnesses such as cancer are impacted by the events that occur at the psychoneuroimmunological level and that learning to effectively intervene at these levels can provide additional assistance to traditional standard, medical interventions at the endocrine level guided imagery and hypnosis have been utilized to help promote changes at this core level of care.


Most importantly, psychoneuroimmunological processes are bidirectional. This means that what happens in any one area affects all the rest. The endocrine system (i.e., hormones, immune system) impacts upon the emotions and cognitions of the patient. Fear, depression and even chronic fatigue syndrome can reflect the endocrine systems dysfunction upon the central nervous system and the psyche. In turn, the alerted state of the central nervous system can impact upon the psyche and the endocrine system. Finally, the psyche can cause both the central nervous system and the endocrine system to react.


The scientific literature is clear in identifying the effectiveness of medical and psychological interventions in improving the functioning of the immune system, and adjusting physiological reactivity as well as improving cognitive and emotional well-being.


» Psychoneuroimmunology Article by Dr. Burte