How the Mind Affects Surgery

By David Servan-Shreiber, Ode Magazine

Surgery, the glory of Western medicine, is ultimately technological. Perfect sterility must preside; every move is calculated, codified and monitored by machines as efficient as they are relentless. Nevertheless, the achievements of the last 50 years—from microsurgery of the hand to heart transplants and hip replacements—have changed the patient into a passive object of scientific inquiry and the surgeon’s dexterity. Once patients have agreed to an operation, how can they conceive of themselves as active participants, especially when they experience surgery under general anesthesia?

Although that question seems absurd to the majority of surgeons—and patients—a revolution is underway. Scientific studies are beginning to show what some observers have long suspected: The patient’s attitude and mental preparation play a major role in the way the body responds to that “well-intentioned aggression” we call surgery.

Although we don’t yet know why this is so, it has now been demonstrated that explanations about the nature of the operation and about what the patient should expect reduce blood loss and complications during and after operations. Instruction in relaxation and training in hypnosis to condition the body’s response during the operation contribute to this effect, also reducing post-operative pain and even the length of hospital stays.

The most surprising impact of all has come from the hypnotic suggestions whispered via headphones to patients under anesthesia. A study has demonstrated that several days after an operation, nurses were able to identify 80 percent of the patients who had received this intervention—because they recovered more quickly and experienced less pain than those who had not.

A surgeon tells the story of a patient whose friends had said a prayer over a stone they had all held in their hands. The stone was meant to remain with the woman during surgery, to bring her good luck. When the surgeon noticed that the stone was nowhere to be seen, he delayed the operation until it was found. Questioned about his decision, he answered simply, “When I operate, I need all the help I can get.”

Even if the conclusions reached by these studies remain controversial, is it reasonable to deprive patients of help that is not only harmless but so potentially beneficial?

Medical Miracles


Fiona T.
Past Member 5 years ago

We can help ourselves

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana5 years ago

Yes. mind over matter. So mind need proper orientation and training

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Wonderful. I'm going to print this for a young friend who is going in for her third back surgery! Thank you so much.

KS Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Tanya G.
Tanya G6 years ago

Thank you for this story, Megan. :-)

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago

How the mind affects everything... !

Jane Warren
Jane Warren6 years ago

People undergoing surgery need all he help they can get - whether it is approved by Western medicine or not. Acupuncture works for some as an anaesthetic for dental surgery.

Daria Kutuzova
Daria Kutuzova6 years ago

This is exactly what Aldous Huxley described in his novel "The Island"...

Low Key
Lucian Lendel6 years ago

To quote Henry Ford, "Whether you think you can or can't, you're right".
There is a part of our mind that runs our whole body in automatic mode - we don't need to think about beating our hearts. Would it be a surprise to learn that the same part of our mind can enable better, faster healing? Sure, you can wait for science to measure it and figure out how it works, but in the meantime, I'd rather use it any way.
People were taking advantage of the heat of the Sun before they could explain the complicated thermonuclear reactions that make it hot...

Jane H.
Jane H6 years ago

i believe it's true that attitude and mental preparation play a mjor role in successful surgery.