15. Do I Need to Believe In It For It To Work?

A drawback to many mind-body therapies is the requirement to believe, without doubting, that they will work. In other words, there is claimed to be a direct link between the client’s ‘expectation’ and the success of the outcome.

This can be a depressing obstacle for those unable to fully “buy into” a given technique without having first seen some results.  They hope it will work and are willing to try, but there is anxiety that perhaps it won’t be able to work because they lacked conviction — which they couldn’t pretend without first seeing results.  Vicious circle.

I had a similar concern when I tried Graf Stress Management as a client. It was appealing to me, so much so that it deserved to be true, but it sounded too simple to be effective. So, I found myself simply going through the motions of the Stress Evaluation without real expectation of success.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter whether or not I believed in the technique — it mattered only that I was able and willing to deal with the stresses that were causing problems for me and to do those things that my intelligence indicated were needful. That much, I could do.

Initially, I sought Jan Graf’s help for infertility, with success. Upon becoming pregnant, I experienced extreme nausea and returned to see Graf a second time. The Stress Evaluation indicated that the nausea was due to psychological stress. In particular, I apparently felt a subconscious need to respond as a ‘normal’ woman by exhibiting nausea, a ‘normal’ symptom of pregnancy.

I had no problem believing this finding. My earlier visit had taught me that I could trust the muscle testing (applied kinesiology) as a diagnostic tool, and the pregnancy itself was proof that I’d gotten results from taking care of my stresses. But it stretched my credulity to think that I could take care of this problem simply by stating aloud: “I release the need to be sick to justify being accepted as a woman.”  I didn’t have a shred of confidence that merely saying that was going to change anything. I had literally zero emotional investment in the words. There was no “Aha!” feeling like I’d had with many of the stresses we’d uncovered in the first session.

Frankly, I doubted stress had anything to do with my nausea. I’d reasoned according to the theory of the day that it was caused by HGC in my bloodstream from to the pregnancy and as such, it was inevitable.

Nevertheless, I said it.  And I meant it — I was totally fine with no longer being nauseated just to show the world that I was a normal woman with normal symptoms of pregnancy. But did I think it was going to help? No. Not at all. I mean, this was real night and day nausea. Yet, to my surprise, about half an hour after I’d made that simple statement, I realized that I no longer felt nauseated. And it never came back, even on my next pregnancy.

That experience cemented the validity of Graf Stress Management for me. Simple means, when they’re on target, can work whether we believe in them or not. As soon as I’d taken care of my stress — even a stress I did not strongly identify with — the nausea ended, regardless of what I thought had actually been causing it and notwithstanding the fact that there still remained HCG in my bloodstream.

I learned from this experience that just because there was HCG in my bloodstream did not mean I had to respond to it with nausea — a lesson that can be broadly generalized to other health matters.  I also learned that stress management worked, whether or not I believed in Graf’s paradigm of stress-caused illness.  I mean, I had no trouble believing in it as far as the infertility was concerned (namely, that my subconscious fear of being rejected by my children had kept me from conceiving). But I was pretty sure that the nausea was an inevitable chemical imperative of pregnancy, not a “head problem.”  Yet the fact remained that whether or not I believed stress was responsible, as soon as I’d taken care of mine, my body took care of the nausea. The empirical evidence was undeniable.

It was clear to me that Graf Stress Management was a major advance over other mind-body strategies I’d tried which relied on techniques like affirmation and visualization.  Mu problem with them was that they required conviction about the thing being proclaimed (such as, “I am now easily becoming pregnant”), which was intellectually impossible for me since I was having the opposite experience.  I was neither “now” nor “easily” becoming pregnant.  Affirmations had to be believable, not just hopes that I was trying to brute-force into reality.

The unique contribution of Graf Stress Management lies in incisively finding and resolving the specific stresses burdening an individual — stresses that may be working insurmountably against the very thing visualized and affirmed.  For example, in my own case, without taking care of my fear that any children I might have would reject me, I doubt I should ever have conceived.

And that’s my objection to other mind-body approaches: without resolving any countervailing stresses, I see little possibility of them accomplishing the desired end.  I do not believe the mind can compel the body to do something the intelligence opposes simply by affirming or visualizing it, even with the sincerest conviction.  Affirmations can be helpful, but only if they’re your affirmations, consistent with the psychological particulars of your situation, as opposed to blanket statements claiming a desired result.



About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Richardson, in Rockville, Maryland, has been certified to practice Graf Stress Management since 1991. In addition, she holds a B.A. in Economics and an M.S. in Operations Research and formerly worked for the Congressional Budget Office doing econometric modeling.
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