Over the past decades, integrative medicine has proven effective at helping patients manage chronic pain, cope with medical conditions and their side effects, and reduce stress and anxiety, among other benefits.
So it’s no wonder that most of today’s forward-thinking hospitals now supplement their conventional medical practices with a healthy dose of complementary and alternative approaches.
That’s certainly the case at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, where the Center for Integrative Medicine offers everything from age-old techniques like acupuncture and meditation to nutrition counseling, psychotherapy, Reiki, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes. Through these and other efforts, the hospital puts a premium on patient-centered care that focuses on the whole person to achieve optimal health, healing, and quality of life.
As a young mother, wife, physical therapist, and athlete, Jean George was the picture of health. But at age 34, she was struck by an autoimmune disease that robbed her of life as she knew it.
“All of a sudden, I was in constant pain,” Jean recalls. “Walking up one flight of stairs would wear me out. My hands hurt so much, I couldn’t even braid my daughters’ hair.”
Jean sought relief from numerous conventional medical specialists, along with alternative therapies. While some approaches eased the daily challenges of living with a chronic illness, Jean still felt defeated and depressed by her seeming inability to get better. Then she decided to try MBSR.
“Going in, I had no real expectations,” Jean says today. “But by the end of the course, I found my way of responding to my pain and disability had changed dramatically. And I was feeling better for it—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
That’s the major goal of MBSR, explains Stan Eisenstein, MSW, leader of MedStar Montgomery’s eight-week program. Through a combination of guided group instruction and home-based exercises, the program works to reduce stress, pain, anger, and fear by giving participants a new way to relate to whatever challenges they’re facing, in a nonjudgmental and accepting manner.
“Most people have an automatic response to a negative situation or condition that keeps them focused on what it might mean for their future or how something similar unfolded in the past,” says Eisenstein. “Through MBSR, we teach individuals how to hit the pause button … how to temporarily delay that knee-jerk connection between stimulus and response. That little but powerful break gives them the time they need to really experience what is happening in the here and now, and make a more conscious, skillful decision about how to react.”
Backed by years of research, MBSR is an accepted tool within the medical community and has demonstrated success in lowering blood pressure levels, among other measurable factors. In Jean’s case, clinical measures of her inflammation dropped significantly, quite possibly related to the effects of MBSR. While she still has occasional flare-ups, they are neither as intense nor as frequent as before. Furthermore, much of her mobility and quality of life has returned, surprising and delighting even her formerly skeptical medical specialists.
“For months, I was totally caught up in a cycle of feeling worthless, angry, and blaming my body for having failed me,” says Jean. “But MBSR showed me how to reframe my thoughts and see life through a different lens. Even at my worst—when I wasn’t able to run around the playground with my girls anymore—I realized I could still read to them or wipe away a tear. I’m grateful for everything I have and can do right now.”