Summary: The Mindbody Prescription (1999) postulates that the root cause of many physical ailments such as muscular/skeletal pain, migraines, etc are due to repressed emotions and shows us how they can be treated without medicine or surgery. The author, Dr. John E. Sarno (1923 – 2017) was a former professor at the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University 

the mindbody prescription summary

John Sarno “The Mindbody Prescription” Summary

Book Notes

“Pain, disability, misinformation, fear—that quartet has plagued the Western world for decades and the plague shows no sign of abating. Back, neck and limb pain are rampant, and statistics indicate that the epidemic is spreading.”

“This book is about that epidemic. It describes both a clinical experience that has identified the cause of the pain disorders and a method of treating them.  Sadly, mainstream medicine rejects the diagnosis because it is based on the theory that the physical symptoms are initiated by emotional phenomena.”

In summary, The Mindbody Prescription is about emotions, illness and wellness –how they are related and what one can do to enhance good health and combat certain physical conditions. In other words, it addresses physical disorders that are caused by repressed, unconscious feelings.

“The ideas are based on twenty-four years of successfully treating an emotionally induced physical disorder known as the Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS).”

“What emotions could be so terrible as to induce the brain to subject someone to severe physical pain and frightening neurological symptoms? The answer to this question is basic not only to the understanding of these pain syndromes but to the whole range of psychosomatic disorders.”

“Mindbody and psychosomatic are synonymous terms. In my previous books, I did not use the term psychosomatic because people believe it means “imaginary” and that anyone with psychosomatic symptoms is weak or inadequate.”

“No matter how we react to life’s pressures consciously, another world of reactions exists in the unconscious. “Because we are not aware of those unconscious feelings and cannot, therefore, control them, and because they are so threatening and frightening, the brain will automatically induce physical symptoms to prevent the dangerous feelings from becoming overt, and thus becoming conscious.”

John Sarno tells us that repressed emotions of sadness and rage as well as the fear of these feelings are the root cause of many physical ailments such as back pain and migraine headaches.

“…rage in the unconscious has three potential sources: (1) That which may have been generated in infancy and childhood and never dissipated. (2) That which results from self-imposed pressure, as in driven, perfectionist or goodist people and (3) That which is a reaction to the real pressures of everyday life.”

“I find the analogy of a bank account helpful in describing this to patients. Deposits of anger are made not only during childhood but throughout a person’s life. Because there are no withdrawals from this account, the anger accumulates.

“Thus anger becomes rage; when it reaches a critical level and threatens to erupt into consciousness, the brain creates pain or some other physical symptom as a distraction, to prevent a violent emotional explosion.”

“Although awareness of the existence of rage in the unconscious is essential, to focus on it alone is not enough. We must seek to know the reasons for the rage to fully understand the process.”

“Experiences in infancy and childhood make the earliest contribution to the pool of anger. Also, emotional abuse may occur in the guise of “training.”

“Strict rules of behavior, such as “Children should be seen and not heard” or “Nice little boys and girls don’t have temper tantrums,” and rigid ideas of right and wrong (religious training may impose this) are familiar examples.”

“In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud wrote, “The unconscious itself has no other endeavor than to break through the pressure weighing down on it and force its way either to consciousness or to discharge through some real action.” ”

“When patients become aware of the presence of rage or unbearable feelings, these feelings can cease their struggle to become conscious. Removing that threat eliminates the need for physical distraction, and the pain stops.”

“We can influence unconscious, automatic reactions by the application of conscious thought processes. It is no longer a theory, for we have seen it work in thousands of patients.”

“You must think about the rage rather than the “where” and the “how bad” of the pain.”

“You ask, “What is the sense in producing pain to distract one’s attention from repressed rage? I would rather deal with the rage than have the pain.” That’s logical. But the way the human emotional system is now organized, in evolutionary terms, dictates how it will react, and it is often not rational.”

“I tell my patients that they must consciously think about repressed rage and the reasons for it whenever they are aware of the pain. This is in contradiction to what the brain is trying to do.”

“This effort is a counter-attack, an attempt to undo the brain’s strategy. It is essential to focus on unpleasant, threatening thoughts and feelings to deny the pain its purpose—to divert your attention from those feelings.”

“When the pain is severe, it is difficult to concentrate on feelings, but you must regard the process as a contest in which your conscious will is pitted against the unconscious, automatic reactions of the brain.”

Another method that Sarno recommends to treat mindbody disorders involves self-talk; he explains: “It sounds silly, but it’s very effective. The conscious mind addresses the unconscious, the more forcefully the better.”

“Successfully treated patients report that when they feel a twinge of pain, the kind of thing that used to be a harbinger of an attack, they talk to or shout at themselves and the pain disappears.”

“You tell your mind that you know what it’s doing, that you know the physical pain is harmless and is a distraction from the repressed rage, and that you no longer intend to be diverted and intimidated.”

“We are much stronger than we know, and have the capacity to influence what is going on in our bodies.”

“Where the group of mindbody conditions described in this book is concerned, knowledge of the process, and most particularly knowledge of its emotional sources, is essential and almost invariably results in a “cure.”

“Our greatest enemies are fear and misinformation. In the realm of the emotions, we have two minds and must not make the mistake of judging the unconscious mind by the accepted rules of logic and rationality that are characteristic of the conscious mind.”

“The mind and the body are indivisible and in constant interaction. That makes for a magnificent organism, of infinite complexity and wonder.”