How to Be a Survivor

Mind-body expert Bernie Siegel on love, laughter, and talking back to your doctor.

For more than 25 years, surgeon Bernie Siegel has been a pioneer in mind-body healing. In his best-selling "Love, Medicine & Miracles" and "Peace, Love & Healing," he wrote of his unorthodox approach to dealing with cancer patients-encouraging them to express their feelings, participate in medical decisions, and use healing methods such as meditation and guided imagery. The founder of ECaP (Exceptional Cancer Patients), Siegel has a new book, "365 Prescriptions for the Soul," coming out in January 2004. He spoke to Beliefnet about the wellness movement.

What was the reception initially to your ideas on healing, and how has it changed?

Literally 40 years ago I wrote to deans of medical schools I either went to or I was working at to tell them that they made me a wonderful technician, but I didn't know how to take care of my patients or myself. The administrators, doctors-you just got into arguments and yelling matches about how much money it would cost to change the policy at the hospital. Or you got ignored. So I just stopped and did things myself--and a few years later you're talking to a room full of doctors and no one's yelling at you because they've seen that it works.

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It seemed as though these ideas have become widespread. But are health professionals really listening?

When a dean of a major medical school [Case Western Reserve] introduces you, you know you've come a long way. I think they are listening. That's why I gave up my practice ten years ago. I realized that if I could talk to a group of physicians or medical students, it was going to have a greater impact on numbers of patients. So now I'm lecturing and teaching.

You've said that love heals-have you seen any studies that bear this out?

There was a study done of Harvard students-asking them, did your parents love you or not? Of those who said yes, 28% had suffered an illness by midlife, roughly 35 years later, compared to 98% of those who said "My parents didn't love me." It didn't matter if the parents had divorced, committed suicide, or were alcoholics, the important question was did they love you or not. So when you have self-esteem, self-worth, and love, you live a different life.

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Interview by Wendy Schuman
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