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Relaxation Training

Dr. Jan Mark Burte - Relaxation Training



Relaxation training is a component in the overall restoration of well-being for many individuals. For many individuals, teaching the body to relax at the appropriate time is critical to their overall symptom reduction. Relaxation training can improve academic and sports performance by lowering anxiety levels. It can reduce pain by teaching muscles to relax. Relaxation training has been helpful in treating tension in the jaw and head which if left untreated can lead to TMJ, bruxism, and clenching. Tension in the neck and head can lead to headaches, while muscle tension in the back can lead to pain and other back and sciatic conditions.


The Science


The body responds to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system to a state of arousal, which leads to an assessment of how to deal with the stressor (e.g., a fight or flight response). If the individual sees neither alternative to be a viable option, the body remains in this alerted or anxious state. In some cases, "vacuum behaviors" such as emotional eating, nervous habits, tics or sexualized behaviors can develop. At other times, it may just shut down and allow the stress to continue to impact on it. This is a condition akin to “learned helplessness” and depression. Simply stated, it is "giving up". The mind is in essence seeking ways to lower its physiological arousal. Relaxation training has been demonstrated to be useful in the treatment of insomnia, as well as in treating a range of sexual dysfunctions.


By simply learning various forms of inducing an increased state of muscular and mental relaxation, patients can learn to develop healthier and more productive ways of bringing the body and mind down to more adaptive levels of functioning. In so doing, they can also explore constructive means of more effectively dealing with the stressors they may be facing. Relaxation training may include tension-release relaxation, cognitive imagery techniques, breathing techniques, symptom-focused release techniques, metaphors and story-telling techniques.


When stress levels are very acute, relaxation training can be combined with medication and/or hypnosis to enhance its effectiveness and generalizability.


Relaxation techniques are utilized by professional athletes, public speakers, the military and everyday parents, children and individuals in order to reduce elevated levels of anxiety. When anxiety interferes with everyday activities like driving a car, flying in an airplane, or healthy sexual functioning the relaxation techniques provide a valuable non-invasive tool in regaining a normal lifestyle.


Today, science suggests that many disorders can be affected by psychological variables. Conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, Headaches, Colitis or other gastrointestinal disorders may be sensitive to psychological stressors. In addition research suggests certain viruses which are kept suppressed by the immune system may be more likely to be expressed when an individuals psychological state is worse.


Alterations in the immune system’s functioning consequent to changes occurring in the endocrine system can lead to changes in physiology and changes in behaviors (e.g., sleep, diet, exercise, hygiene stimulation, and rest). Consequently, medical conditions can be impacted by psychological factors.


Working then from this perspective it is also possible that psychotherapeutic interventions directed at the immune system, physiology and behaviors of the patient could have a positive impact upon medical conditions. Many medications have potential side-effects and for some individuals the belief is that these medications should therefore be reserved as a last resort. However, in many instances psychotherapeutic intervention can support significant changes for individuals. For example, psychotherapy can change eating habits and patterns, unblock barriers to engaging in an exercise program and encourage a more positive attitude toward self-control. Psychotherapy may help promote actions which in turn can reduce the reliance on statin-based medications in individuals with hyperlipidemia, psychotropic medication for depressed or anxious individuals, and improve balanced physiological functioning in individuals with endocrine and rheumatologic disorders.


Some researchers subscribe to the the belief that hypnosis and psychotherapy can lead to direct changes in levels of substances in the body known as "helper T cells" and "interleukins", as well as help the bodies ability to modulate red and white blood cell production, adrenalin and cortisol.


Research further supports the idea that psychological inventions may help in surgical outcomes and recovery time. The developing field of psychoneuroimmunology is offering more and more promising evidence that psychological factors may play an important role in the maintenance and expressed severity of certain medical disorders.


Medical Benefits

Medical research also supports that idea that relaxation training, hypnosis and supportive psychotherapy can have a positive effect on physical well-being and improvements in immune system functioning when used in conjunction which standard medical care for a diverse range of medical conditions.


A sample list of just some of the medical conditions for which some evidence supports the adjunctive use of psychological intervention (e.g., relaxation training, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy) as having a positive effect on reducing the onset, exacerbation or maintenance of certain medical conditions, as well as enhancing recovery rates and diminishing the emotional impact and suffering from these conditions includes:

  • Pain disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (CRPS)
  • Acute pain syndrome
  • Chronic pain syndrome
  • Back pain
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Numerous gastrointestinal disorders
  • Colitis
  • Headaches of many types
  • TMJ
  • Bruxism
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Myofacial pain
  • Nocioceptive
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Sciatica
  • Delivery pain
  • Cancer related pain/cancer survival rates
  • Some immunological disorders
  • Tinnitus (i.e., ringing in ears) syndrome
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Arthritis
  • Post-surgical recovery
  • Sexual disorders
  • Dermatological conditions
  • Psoriasis
  • Rashes
  • Herpes
  • Stenosis


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 ( i.e. 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.


Relaxation training and imagery/hypnosis in improving sports performance is a well-documented approach used at all levels of play. Research and actual experience with armature and professional athletes demonstrates the effectiveness of relaxation training and imagery/hypnosis in improving s ports performance. Via visual imagery, breathing and focusing techniques, Dr. Burte has found that athletic performance can be greatly enhanced. Sometimes, as few as 4 to 5 sessions have yielded positive results in the individuals whom he has trained to employ these techniques in their chosen sports.


One needs to only watch any sporting event to observe professional athletes employ these techniques to relax their grip, shoulders and breathing and to increase their focus and eliminate their distractions. Something as simple as creating a positive image and smiling can change physiology and reduce anxiety to the optimum performance enhancing level of alertness.