Was the U.S. hockey team hypnotized into winning its gold medal at Lake Placid last month?
Ask Dr. Elliott Dacher, and the answer is an unequivocal "yes."
So you're conjuring up images of Olympian scandals and Svengali and Jim Craig as Trilby? That's not exactly the school of hypnotics Dacher has in mind, although the relationship is clear.
Dacher, head of the Georgetown University Health Maintaince Program in Reston, Va., has been gradually switching his medical practice to a "wellness" practice over the past few years. In so doing, he has concluded the "it's-all-in-your-mind" cliche may be the most important truism of them all.
The more he gets into it, the more awed he is at the powers of the mind:
"Just look what happened to the U.S. hockey team. It is a perfect example of an altered state (of consciousness). They were one-minded. When they went out there they had their one mind focused completely on one thing. No clutter, just a narrow, direct attention. Their coach said -- I saw it on TV -- 'you were meant to be here' and they went out there in an altered state and maximized whatever their potential and skills were. It was a belief and activation of the mind which focused it down to the body . . ."
There is soft music. Then a soothing voice (male) says, " . . .feel the position of your body in space. No place to go right now. Nothing that you need to do. No problem that you need to solve . . ." -- From a "Wellness Network" relaxation tape.
Dacher is talking about self-hypnosis. Herb Brooks didn't hypnotize the team. They hypnotized themselves with a little suggestion from the coach and a lot of support from each other. And, says Dacher, "i would probably guess they were completely unaware of much that was going on around them except that they were doing what they were doing." Which, of course, was winning against impossible odds.
Last weekend, snow storm and all, Dacher and co-worker Joe Nocerino holed up at the Sheraton Inn in Silver Spring, with some 50 paying clients to help them break out of old thought patterns and set out in new ways to win -- over impossible odds.
Of those present at the two-day seminar presented by Dacher's Wellness Network (under the aegis of Quest, sponsor of a variety of alternative techniques and life styles), more than half were health professionals. The attending doctors, nurses, psychologists, health educators, fitness specialists, medical students are, as was Dacher, dissatisfied with the structure of the American way of health. Or the American way of sickness.
Dacher's challenge to his patients -- whom he now prefers to call clients -- is this: "If you can't (won't) take care of yourself, why should I take care of you?"
"You learn in Medical School that there's coxsackie this and strep that and influenza whatever, that there's a whole sea of germs out there, the germs are ubiquitous," says Robin, currently completing a medical residency in family practice.
"But the thing is, you don't get them all the time . . . somewhere in the middle of my training I started to get walking pneumonia and all the other things medical students get . . . People say 'oh, I got the flu,' but did they get it because they got the flu or because they got the flu?"
The basis of the health concept that virtually all of us have been taught, is what Dacher and Nocerino refer to as the "disease-avoidance model."
"It's very simple," says Dacher. "Individuals have to be aware of three or four very basic things: pain, blood, a lump or a disability -- not being able to do something they're ordinarily accustomed to doing.
"Those are the things you need to be aware of to know whether you're NOT healthy. If they're not there, then obviously you are."
The disease-avoidance model is also predicated on being motivated by symptoms to go to a professional.
"When you transport yourself to somebody else's desk expecting them to know more about you than you know yourself, it doesn't make any sense," says Dacher. "After all, it's happening inside us. So, demanded by this model is an erosion of confidence in our ability and judgment as to who we are, what's wrong with us and what we want to do about it. An erosion of our own ability to even make a judgment or have the audacity to make a judgment . . .
"It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't cost $142 billion a year, if it didn't detract from our dignity and if it didn't deprive us of the ability to direct and control our own lives . . ."
But here's the rub: It takes more than a few sessions in deep relaxation or hypnosis or self-hypnosis to break out of this disease model, and that's what the Wellness Network is all about. Self-hypnosis, biofeedback, all these things are splendid starting points for getting in touch with one's self. But translating them into a new living experience -- which Dacher feels is essential to break out of the old disease-oriented mold -- requires discipline, application and usually calls for support of a group.
It is very easy, says Dacher, to fall into the habit of using the relazation or self-hypnosis technique as "a pharmaceutical treatment for a stressful day." Like a pill, for example, rather than for "enhancement of life."
"Instead of the doctor being the rescuer," he says, "the techniques are the rescuers. Or the vegetarian diet is the rescuer. Or this fad or that . . . (leaving the individual) stil in the illness model."
Additionally, where one technique may be the key for one, it may be useless for the next, so "wellness" in the new sense requires some guidance, along with a good bit of trial and error and a lot of new learning.
("You learned the other," says Dacher. "You can learn this. I tell people who say they can't stop smoking that 'you learned how to smoke; you can learn how not to smoke.'")
"To keep a person from becoming a victim, you have to stop being a rescuer, and that's a hard one," he warned the potential wellness teachers. "Rescuing is a nice feeling, but the trouble is you always end up the victim. People don't like being dependent and they start persecuting the rescuer . . ."
Information on rescuing -- or non-rescuing -- is available from the Wellness Network, P.O. Box 2531, Reston, Va. 22091. Information on another Wellness Training Seminar the end of May may be obtained from Quest, (301) 652-0697.
From the relaxation tape: ". . . perhaps you can feel the fluttering of your eyelids. Fluttering is a sign that your eyelids are relaxed and you can notice that the force tending to close your eyes is a little greater than the force tending to open them . . ."