Skin Deep: A Mind/Body Program for Healthy Skin; By Ted A. Grossbart, PhD, and Carl Sherman, PhD; William Morrow & Co.: $17.95.
The idea that skin disorders may have psychological causes is at least 100 years old. In 1891 two French physicians, Louis Brocq and Leonard Jacquet, made up the word "neurodermatis" to describe skin inflammations they believed to be the result of emotional stress. The same year, A.G. Polotebnoff, a Russian scientist, suggested that emotional upsets were sometimes among the causes of psoriasis.
Since your skin is closely linked with your nervous system, it is highly sensitive to your emotions. A persistent skin symptom is often a message from your "inner self" -- often a call for help. Deciphering this message is like learning to interpret another person's body language instead of simply listening to his words.
Is it possible, then, to listen to what your skin is saying and then perhaps rid yourself of skin disorders?
According to the authors, yes, it is possible. By applying a principle that is both ancient and modern -- "the mind and body are one" -- they have developed a blend of psychological techniques, which include hypnotism, relaxation, imaging, and a kind of psychotherapy that promotes understanding about conflicts concerning sex, identity, and relationships. They claim they have made patients' warts disappear, seen severe cases of hives go away and alleviated persistent skin conditions.
While the authors' techniques seem at times at bit unusual, we are reminded from time to time that the book has been endorsed by many major dermatologists, including the directors of the Seattle Dermatology Center and Vanderbilt University.
Grossbart is a clinical psychologist in private practice (and affliated with Beth Israel Hospital in Boston) and is a member of the faculty of Harvard Medical School. The techniques of self-help he teaches were perfected over many years' experience in private practice, treating patients suffering the mental and physical torments of skin disease. Together with his colleague Carl Sherman, Grossbart provides a list of exercises that will guide people through the psychological diagnosis and treatment of their own skin disorder.
This book will also lists 12 ways your skin problems are trying to help you and outlines specific methods for directing your mind's power to the healing of tormented skin.
There is also a special section that lists all major skin diseases, with brief summaries of the latest medical and psychological treatments for each.
The authors write: "Rather than a substitute for dermatology, this book can be employed as a useful, problem-solving supplement to it, or when all visits to specialists and superspecialists have failed . . . most people realize that having healthy and great-looking skin is an important part of being a healthy person."John Riddle is a writer living in Newark, Del.