An Interview with James Gordon, MD on Mind-Body Medicine and his book 'Unstuck'
In this edition of the Wise Counsel Podcast, Dr. Van Nuys interviews James Gordon, MD, a psychiatrist, advocate for mind-body medicine and the responsible use of complementary and alternative medicine, and author of the book, Unstuck:Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression.
Dr. Gordon has had a very rich and interesting career so far, and at the beginning of the interview, Dr. Van Nuys asks Dr. Gordon to talk about it some. After receiving what he describes as a conventional medical education at Harvard University in the early and middle 1960s, Dr. Gordon worked in San Francisco during 1967-68 at the Mt. Zion Medical Center. During this "Summer of Love" period he worked at the hospital and also part time at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, and was struck by the different ways that patients who had overdosed themselves on hallucinogens were treated. Many more patients seen at the hospital, who were subjected to the full institutional treatment and medical examination, required psychiatric hospitalization than was the case at the Free Clinic, where patients were handled with more of an educative, safe-haven place-to-crash-until-the-trip-was-over approach. This experience highlighted some of the failings of conventional medicine to him, and he became increasingly interested in exploring alternative medicine approaches.
Subsequent to San Francisco, Dr. Gordon worked at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, and then at the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) in Washington D.C. for over a decade. He later went on to found and direct the Center for Mind Body Medicine, which has as its goals to advocate for and to research alternative medicine approaches, and to help foster the incorporation of sound alternative medicine approaches into all levels of health care, both in the United States and elsewhere. The approach to care fostered by the Center stresses the importance of non-medical interventions including techniques that foster self-awareness (such as meditation, guided imagery, and promotion of self-expression through art, words, drawings and movement), self-care (such as exercise and diet) and social supportive care (including educational and meditative groups) in healing. In Dr. Gordon's view, the incorporation of such techniques into medical care represents a radical return to medicine's roots. A commitment to careful evaluation and study of these ancient techniques helps insure that the overall program that emerges is sound. Because a responsible program of mind-body medicine relies heavily on self-care and support group style interventions, it is a far less expensive approach to medicine than conventional medicine, while remaining highly effective.
Dr. Gordon has traveled around the world teaching local clinicians faced with extraordinary traumatic circumstances about the utility and techniques of mind body medicine, notably having worked in Mozambique, Bosnia, Israel and Palestinian Gaza. Presently, his Center is actively involved in helping American veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr. Gordon has applied his mind body medicine approach to the treatment of depression, and described his approach in his new book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. He is critical of the uncritical use of antidepressants as the treatment of choice for depression. In his view, based on direct clinical experience and review of the psychiatric literature, these medicines are not nearly as effective as they have been billed to be, and have significant emotional, sexual and neurological side effects, all of which suggest to him that they should be used as a treatment of last resort rather than handed out in the indiscriminate manner in which they are prescribed today. In Unstuck, he shows how the incorporation of mind body medicine techniques such as meditation, exercise, changes in diet, the use of vitamin and mineral supplements, group support, and expression of emotions can be a very workable path out of most depressions in the complete absence of prescription medication.
Dr. Van Nuys asks Dr. Gordon to comment on the utility of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a treatment for Depression. Dr. Gordon is very positive about CBT as a component of treatment intervention, but feels that its extreme emphasis on cognition limits its effectiveness. In his view, CBT is very useful for some individuals, but it will be most useful when combined with a program that also works with emotion, and with the body, through physical movement and exercise. Dr. Gordon speaks highly of the collaborative and active relationship that occurs between therapist and patient in CBT, contrasting it to the more passive relationship that occurred in older (e.g., psychoanalytic) forms of therapy. He is especially interested in the homework aspect of CBT, and how it forces patients to incorporate their therapy into their moment to moment lives rather than compartmentalizing it in discrete therapy sessions.
Spirituality is an aspect of Dr. Gordon's vision of mind-body medicine. This is less about becoming an active member of a given religious group, and more about finding something to relate to which is larger than one's self which helps to give meaning, structure and purpose to life. This can be God, or it can be something more secular; what is most important is that the connection fosters a true commitment, and promotes caring relationships between people characterized by love, gratitude acceptance and forgiveness. In Dr. Gordon's view, forgiveness and gratitude are anti-depressants.
At the end of the interview, Dr. Van Nuys asks Dr. Gordon to summarize his hopes. Dr. Gordon responds that he hopes people will read Unstuck and benefit from it, and provide him feedback on what works best and what doesn't work. He hopes that more and more health professionals will become educated about mind body medicine and will incorporate the approach into their clinical work. He hopes that people who are suffering learn that they have the power in large part to help themselves once they have learned how to go about this task.
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About James Gordon, MD
James S. Gordon, MD, a Harvard educated psychiatrist, is a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. He is the Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, a Clinical Professor at Georgetown Medical School, and recently served as Chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.
Dr. Gordon has created ground-breaking programs of comprehensive mind-body healing for physicians, medical students and other health professionals; for people with cancer, depression and other chronic illnesses; and for traumatized children and families in Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel and Gaza as well as in post-9/11 New York and post-Katrina southern Louisiana.
Dr. Gordon's most recent book is Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression, published by Penguin Press.