From Patient to Respant

IN THIS ISSUE SUMMER 2010

Summer 2010 Issue

How Attitude Affects Healing
Author: Dr. Bernie Siegel

Unfortunately doctors and health professionals, in general, do not study success. We are far more likely to consider an unexpected recovery to be due to the treatment or a spontaneous remission. However, I have learned from my experience with patients and by asking them, “Why didn’t you die when you were supposed to?” that they always had a story to tell. I can recall, as an intern, realizing that the seniors, with hip fractures, who were noisy and demanding didn’t develop pneumonia and die while the submissive, quiet seniors who never raised their voice or caused a problem had a much higher mortality rate.

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From Patient to Respant

By speaking up and becoming a character or problem patient you become identified as a person and not by your room number or disease and, therefore, are far less likely to have a fatal or non-fatal medical error made while being cared for. The word patient derives its meaning from submissive sufferer. That is not a good thing to be when hospitalized or receiving medical treatment of any kind. You need to be a respant, or responsible participant if you want to heal and survive.

We now know from studies how one’s emotions and personality affect survival rates. I was criticized years ago for speaking about many things no one had researched because no one believed they made sense, which are now scientific. Simple things like laughter affecting the survival of cancer patients and loneliness affecting the genes which control immune function are now proven to be true by studies. The fact that women live longer than men and married men live longer than single men with the same cancers is not about female hormones or sleeping with them, but about relationships and meaning in your life. Survival behavior and an immune competent personality are not an accident or luck.

From Patient to Respant

Those in the mental health field are far more likely to be aware of this because of what they see happen to their patients. When people have a sense of meaning in their life, express anger and emotions appropriately in defense of themselves, ask for help from family and friends, participate in their health care decisions, say no to what they choose not to do, find time to do what they enjoy and to play, use their feelings to help them to heal their lives and do not live a role but an authentic life they will always do better than expected. I would add that a spiritual faith and not seeing the disease as God punishing them also plays a role, as well as, their desire and intention to survive. Disease is a loss of health, not punishment, and your health is to be looked for as you would seek to find your lost car keys.

I found a large part of the problem was that people were afraid to take responsibility and participate because if they didn’t get well that would mean they were a failure. Decades ago I invited one hundred cancer patients to attend a support group and live a longer better life. I expected them to bring friends and family members and that I would have hundreds of people to deal with. Less than a dozen women showed up for the first meeting. I realized I did not know the people I was caring for and their will to live. If you do not grow up with parents who love you and give you mottoes to live by and teachers, clergy and other authority figures who love and respect you, then you are into guilt, shame, blame, addictions and self destructive behavior.

I found a large part of the problem was that people were afraid to take responsibility and participate because if they didn’t get well that would mean they were a failure.

Those who showed up became labeled exceptional cancer patients because they were a minority but what they reveal to us is our potential. Difficult patients do not die when they are supposed to. Statistics do not determine their outcome or results. Those with inspiration who transform their lives and rebirth themselves give their bodies live messages and the body then does the best it can for them. Our bodies love us but if we do not love our life and bodies it sees illness and death as a way to be free of our afflictions. Monday morning supports that with more heart attacks, strokes, illnesses and suicides. When you let an MD, or Medical Deity, determine whether you live or die you are giving away your power. I have seen people whose hope was taken away by doctors. Tehy commit suicide or go home, climb into bed, and die. I have also seen others get damn angry at their doctors and go on to survive for many years or be cured of their disease.

You have to start with a belief in yourself and faith in all the things you incorporate into your life and choose as therapy. I know people who have left their troubles to God and been cured of cancer. A patient of mine who was a landscaper, refused treatment for his cancer after surgery because it was springtime and he wanted to go home and make the world beautiful before he died. He lived to be ninety-four and became my teacher. The mind is indeed a powerful thing and not emphasized enough in the medical information we receive during our training. We do not receive a true medical education because it does not contain the tools to help people with their life experience. It is focused on disease and prescribing for them. We do not ask patients how may I help you but rather what is your chief complaint and then we prescribe for them without knowing their life story and why they might be sick at that time.

When you let an MD, or Medical Deity, determine whether you live or die you are giving away your power. I have seen people whose hope was taken away by doctors commit suicide or go home, climb into bed and die. I have also seen others get damn angry at their doctors and go on to survive for many years or be cured of their disease.

From Patient to Respant

The mind and body are a unit and communicate with each other. I have yet to meet a medical student who has been told that Carl Jung interpreted a dream and correctly diagnosed a brain tumor. I have had the same experience using dreams and drawings by patients to help me guide them to the proper diagnosis and treatment. When patients become empowered they do not just respond from their intellect but use their intuition too. There are times people do not want chemotherapy and yet draw a beautiful picture of it while those receiving it draw the devil giving them poison. It is not hard to know who will have more side effects. When you are submissive and let others prescribe for you, you are in trouble. One young woman refused further treatment and when she drew a picture for me she labeled herself as bald, ugly and horrible and the cancer is crying and saying help me because it is going though the same hell she is. She is sticking a spear in her doctor because of what his treatment did to her.

I know a young man who had a high powered water gun in his hospital room and whenever anyone intruded upon his privacy he drenched them. The nurses and intern respected him for it and when he died his water gun became a gift to empower other children. I created a Siegel Kit for all hospitalized patients. In it are a water gun, noisemaker, magic marker and vital signs. The water gun you know about. The magic marker is for anyone going to the operating room to write “cut here” on one side and “not this one, stupid” on the other. The noisemaker is to get attention when you need it. To quote several patients, “You are guaranteed an hour of uninterrupted silence if you push the call button.” I know a woman who would be dead today if she didn’t have a room mate who went for help when no one responded to her pushing her call button while she was choking on food she had aspirated. The vital signs are not about your pulse, blood pressure, temperature and respiratory rate but about your needs and desires. These are signs you hang on your hospital room door or over your bed telling people what your needs are and how you want to be treated. I also recommend hanging your baby pictures there too. So when people ask who the cute kid is you answer, “It’s me.”

The vital signs are not about your pulse, blood pressure, temperature and respiratory rate but about your needs and desires. These are signs you hang on your hospital room door or over your bed telling people what your needs are and how you want to be treated.

Last but not least one must also choose the therapy you believe in and you can reprogram your mind and body through guided imagery if there are any conflicts. I know of a case where, after repairing the radiation therapy machine, the radioactive material was not replaced. So for one month people were not being treated and yet the radiation therapist did not know this until their routine inspection of the machine was done a month later. He was telling me how terrible he felt about not treating anyone for a month when I said, “You’d have to be an idiot to not know you weren’t treating anyone. So obviously people had side effects and their tumors shrinking because they thought they were being treated.” His response, “Oh my God you’re right.”

From Patient to Respant

That is why I work at deceiving people into health by working with their beliefs and communicating with them in a positive way rather than listing all the side effects they will have and none of the advantages of therapy. Doctors need training in communication and hypnotic techniques. Wordswordswords can become swordswordswords. We can kill or cure with words or scalpels. That is why patients need to be respants and keep their power and feel free to change doctors and criticize them in a constructive way. The best doctors are criticized by patients, nurses and family.

Why? Because they do not make excuses and learn from their mistakes. Believe me if your doctor or their loved ones have suffered a major illness they are no longer a spectator or tourist. They are now a native and understand the experience and a much better health care provider. So love yourself, take responsibility for and participate in your life and state of health. This is not about avoiding dying but about living and its beneficial side effects.


Consider this scenario: a friend or family member asks you to do something you don’t want to do. How do you respond? Do you feel obligated to help but secretly feel resentful, or become anxious about saying no? The answer may have a direct impact on your state of health, says the legendary Dr. Bernie Siegel. Learning to say no means saying yes to what he calls “our authentic selves” and requires self-love and self-empowerment, both of which are critical in the healing process.

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Love Yourself Into Health

Siegel is a pioneer in the medical world, famous for first bringing attention to the role of thoughts and emotions in disease. While still a practicing surgeon, he broke radically from the medical ranks in the 1970’s, hugging his patients, listening to their stories and using drawings and visualization techniques as part of their treatment. Whenever a patient requested music during surgery, refused medication or demanded to be seen as a human being rather than an illness, the hospital staff would nod to each other, “Must be one of Siegel’s.”

His impact on the profession has been huge; today, practices that were considered outlandish when he began them are accepted as commonplace. More importantly, scientists have conducted an avalanche of studies documenting the impact of thoughts and feelings on the body. Siegel, meanwhile, continues to share his stories of what he calls “Exceptional Patients” who took responsibility, not only for their health but for their attitudes and beliefs that contributed to disease. SuperConsciousness talked with him about love, empowerment and the health benefits of changing your mind.


SC: You’ve said that the fundamental problem most patients face is an inability to love themselves. How so?

BS: The biggest public health issue on the planet is parenting, because the first few years of one’s life one is in a hypnotic trance, literally. Anyone giving you negative messages sets you up for a very difficult life. These are quotes from people: “My mother’s words were eating away at me and maybe gave me cancer.” Now that was a woman who was told she’d be a failure, was dressed in dark colors, and had to get a life-threatening illness to buy a pretty dress and to start living her life.

Go into a high school and ask the students to write a suicide note for homework, and then write a love note about themselves for homework. You’ll get three to five pages on why I ought to commit suicide, and lucky if you get a full page on why I’m worth loving. Seventy percent of high school students have considered suicide, and it’s the fourth leading cause of death among ten to fourteen year olds. So here we go.

One woman, whose parents told their children to commit suicide and then they did, is alive today because I said, “I love you and I care about you,” and I listened to her pain. She was able to empty it out.

What you do is rebirth yourself. If someone comes along and loves you, and is not indifferent, does not reject, does not abuse, but persists in loving even if they don’t like what you’re doing, what I found with my patients was that three to six months later, they began to realize that they were worth something.

SC: What if they don’t have that outer reflection and want to work on loving themselves – what can they do?

BS: Quiet the mind. That’s the key. When you quiet your mind and your life, that might mean abandoning your past; you let go of it so you’re not in constant turmoil. A quiet mind, a quiet life, you can see your reflection through new eyes. I am a swan. I am a beautiful creature. But if you don’t quiet it, it doesn’t matter who comes along and who helps you. If all you want to do is be bitter and resentful and angry, you’re never going to find out who you are.

Quiet the mind. That’s the key. When you quiet your mind and your life, that might mean abandoning your past; you let go of it so you’re not in constant turmoil.

Listening helps, too. It isn’t just visual. When you’re willing to sit and listen, like I did with that woman whose entire family committed suicide, she was in such a rage that I didn’t know what to do for her. I just sat and let her scream and yell and rant and rave. After a few months it all emptied out and she calmed down and started a new life.

SC: How do you see the relationship between loving yourself and empowering yourself?

BS: When you’re empowered, you don’t have a problem saying no. One of the most important queries is what’s called ‘immune competent personality questions,’ being asked to do something you do not want to do, how do you respond? This can be family or friends asking you to do something, and you don’t want to do it. What do you say? Nurses have a lot of trouble with that. They’re busy saving the world, so the majority of them say, “Oh, I’d go do it.” You see, then you’re not empowering yourself – you’re saying ‘no’ to yourself. So when you have self-worth and self-esteem, you pay attention to your life time. You don’t waste it doing what others impose on you. You say, “no” and then you’re empowered. It comes from self-worth, self-esteem, self-love. You’re not being selfish, you’re just doing what feels right and living your authentic life.

If you’re living a role, it’s bad for your health. These are quotes from men: “If I can’t work any more, what’s the point of living?” and the family is sitting in the room. Women say, “I can’t die until they’re all married and out of the house.” When the kids are all married and out of the house, her cancer comes back and she dies. It’s getting them to be empowered, live authentically – not a role.

SC: How have you seen what happens when people do transform themselves and their relationships to health?

BS: People with incurable illnesses rebirth themselves and don’t die when they’re supposed to. It could be that instead of dying in two months, you live five and a half years, but I also know people who, instead of dying, lived over twenty years and died at age ninety-four.

When you do what makes you lose track of time, you’re in that kind of trance state. If you get into something really creative and have no sense of time, you’ll also have no sense of your body, and your body will feel wonderful. I always say, you can’t grow old and you can’t be sick if you never know what time it is, because you’re in an incredible state. I say this from personal experience, whether in the operating room or painting.

When you do what makes you lose track of time, you’re in that kind of trance state. If you get into something really creative and have no sense of time, you’ll also have no sense of your body, and your body will feel wonderful.

SC: You work with people’s belief systems in order to heal them, and whatever they believe in is empowered, so it works. Have you worked with people who believe that they are the ones actually doing the healing, rather than crediting Christianity or biofeedback, etc.?

BS: I think there is potential in the person. I also know that others can heal me, because I’ve had that happen. So I think that both things are possible. Do you have to believe? Yes. The mind is incredibly powerful. If you believe you’re being treated, you respond as if you are. I’m talking about things like chemotherapy, radiation – when people think they’re getting drugs or think they’re getting radiated, they react as if they are. Some of them react in a positive way, tumors shrinking, and others react with all kinds of side effects, even thought they’re not getting any treatment.

If you believe you’re being treated, you respond as if you are. I’m talking about things like chemotherapy, radiation – when people think they’re getting drugs or think they’re getting radiated, they react as if they are.

One doctor who really impressed me is a radiation therapist. He said he had just done the routine inspection of his machine and realized that he hadn’t treated anyone for a month, because when they’d repaired the machine, they forgot to put the radioactive materials back in. He was telling me that he felt terrible, and I told him, “You’d have to be an idiot to not know that you’re treating people. You’re obviously having people whose tumors are shrinking and are having side effects, so you thought you were treating them.” His eyes almost bulged out of his head when he really stopped to think about how people reacted, even though he wasn’t treating them.

I often use the term, “I try to deceive people into health.” Would you be mad if I lied to you and you got well? No!

SC: It seems like the next step is for all of us to have that faith in ourselves.

BS: There’s a sentence I love from Ernest Holmes, the founder of religious science: “What if Jesus was the only normal person who ever lived?” I’m sure he was laughing when he wrote that. What I try to get across to people is, think about your potential. Don’t die because of statistics. It’s about not dying because of someone’s prediction.

SC: Based on your own experience and what you’ve seen, what is actually happening during visualization and why is it such a powerful tool?

BS: Actors were on a stage and a graduate student handed them a script, first for a comedy, then for a tragedy. This was part of his research, and he drew their blood while they were reading this script. While they were performing in the comedy, their immune function increased and their stress hormone levels went down. The opposite happened with the tragedy. He was amazed.

So when someone comes to me and says, “I’m having surgery,” I say “Draw yourself in the operating room.” Literally, this one lady drew a black box, nobody is there taking care of her, and she’s lying on a table that only has two legs. The only crayon she picks up out of the whole box is black.

I told her, “Three or four times a day, I want you to stop and visualize yourself going to the hospital and having surgery. It’s successful, you feel well, and then you’re going home.” A week later she came into the office and I said, “Draw another picture.” It was gorgeous. There’s four legs on the table, the room is filled with doctors, and her family is right around the table. There’s a window in the operating room where God’s light is shining in. It’s just such a healing scene. It was obvious that she could go now and do well.

The visualization can reprogram you, because your body doesn’t know you’re not experiencing it. When people anticipate, it’s imagery. When people say, “I’m going to get chemotherapy,” their immune function is already going down as they’re driving to the hospital, because they’re imagining what’s going to happen. They’re already living it.

SC: How has your understanding changed since you began this work?

BS: I accept my mortality as my therapist. If I’m here for a limited time, I don’t give my power away to people. I’m only in control of my own thoughts, so I don’t spend my time being miserable because of what somebody else has done to me. I resolve it some way, let go and move on. I don’t want that to keep robbing me of a joyful life.

For more information about Dr. Bernie Siegel, go to http://www.berniesiegelmd.com/index.htm

Related Multimedia:

Bernie Siegel Love, Medicine and Miacles

Bernie Siegel Love, Medicine and Miacles

Part of the World Healer series, well known author Dr. Bernie Siegel (Love, Medicine and Miracles) discusses how giving people hope improved their lives and gave those with illness a fighting chance....

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This article appeared in the Summer 2010 ISSUE,

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