Scientific evaluation of the components of the immune system in the bloodstream have been shown to alter in response to psychological or emotional changes. Most emotions are associated with chemicals that are released within the structure of the brain. These chemicals trigger impulses along the central nervous system that then travel out to the peripheral nerves and exert an influence on the tissues of the body. The immune system is no different; the thymus and the bone marrow are particularly influenced.

The fact that the personality and emotions affect the nervous system which in turn affects the immune system is the basis of psychoneuroim-munology. Poor stress-management skills and negative emotions are immune-suppressing and predispose the subject to infection and ill-health. Studies show that people who remain healthy in spite of stressful life experiences have a more positive attitude to life in general than those who succumb to frequent illness.

Psychoneuroimmunology is a diagnostic therapy, combining modern scientific knowledge with psychotherapy. It aims to help prevent illness or aid recovery from existing ill-health by positive emotional counselling and methods of mind control, including visualization and guided imagery techniques. A sense of control and happiness, relaxation and a positive outlook are among the desired outcomes. The therapy has proved helpful for people with cancer and AIDS, and is often highly effective for those with less serious health problems.

Psychoneuroimmunologists may also use any other healing technique or medicinal therapy but always work on the principle that a ‘distress-free’ state of mind is essential for strong immune function, since the psyche, through the neurological system, affects the body’s defence mechanisms.