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September 01, 1989 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-01

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tivities he enjoyed.
The illness, Dr. Siegel said,
turned the man's life around.
Not only did he continue to
live, he did so with more joy
than he ever had. Consequent-
ly, he was actually grateful he
had had the disease, Dr. Siegel
Dr. Siegel, who wears a
Mickey Mouse watch and
shaves his head so patients
with physical disabilities will
feel completely comfortable
around him, advocates such
techniques as a healthy diet,
keeping a journal, exercise
and meditation to achieve the
state he calls "peace of mind."
Yet he adds that "I never
said that if you love, jog and
eat right (and have a deadly
disease) you won't die. I'm try-
ing to help people learn how
to live."
lb help people learn how to
live, Dr. Siegel in his
workshops often asks par-
ticipants to draw and write to
express their feelings. One ac-
tivity consists of writing a love
note and a suicide note to
oneself. Dr. Siegel said he us-
ed to see page upon page of
suicide notes and very few love
letters. After the workshop,
most participants no longer
have any interest in the
suicide notes, he said; instead,
they are "choosing life."
Or, Dr. Siegel may ask so-
meone who complains, for ex-
ample, of chronic backache,
"What does it feel like?" and
then "How do those words fit
your life?"
Dr. Siegel said studies sup-
port his theories, though
because the field is so new, lit-
tle research has been done in
the area of the relationship
between the mind and the
He said, however, that
because "it's so expensive to
be unhealthy" more research
is certain to come.
Dr. Siegel also said he is
receiving more acceptance in
the medical establishment.
While his book jackets are
covered with rave reviews
from eternal optimist Norman
Vincent Peale and advice col-
umnist Ann Landers, some
physicians are less than en-
thusiastic about Dr. Siegel's
Some doctors claim his em-
phasis on the mind curing the
body may discourage patients
from seeking established
medical treatment.
Dr. Siegel, who recently
retired from his position with
Surgical Associates in New
Haven, Conn., to give
speeches and lead workshops
full time, said this isn't so. If
a patient wants chemotherapy
or pills that's fine, he said. The
key question is "Does he want

the medicine?" Because Dr.
Siegel believes people in-
tuitively know their own best
treatment, he disdains doctors
who prescribe medicine
without even bothering to talk
with their patients.
"It's so easy to say, 'Here's
the antibiotics, " he said. "It's
time we learned how to start
asking questions, like 'How
are you?' "
He believes some doctors
have learned how to be com-
fortable being doctors but not
people, which is why they
react negatively to his ap-
proach, Dr. Siegel said. "The
real villain in this whole thing
is medical education."
Dr. Siegel has put his
theories into practice at
ECAP, Exceptional Cancer Pa-
tients, small groups that offer
support to individuals with
serious illnesses who want to
participate in their own
The first ECAP group was
founded 11 years ago. Dr.

'It's so easy to say,
"Here's the
antibiotics." It's
time we learned
how to start asking
questions, like
"How are you?"

Siegel said he sent 100 letters
asking "Do you want to live
longer? We can guarantee it,"
to find participants for the
project. He received 12 replies.
"People were told they
would have to do some
`homework' and several draw-
ings," Dr. Siegel said of the
limited response. "Now if we
had said 'We have a magic pill
that will guarantee longer
life!' I'm sure it would have
been different. That's why the
groups are called exceptional!'
Originally established for
cancer patients, ECAP groups
now include individuals with
AIDS, multiple sclerosis and
other ailments, Dr. Siegel
Dr. Siegel finds his own
peace of mind by keeping a
journal, meditating, exercising
and spending time with his
wife, Bobbie, and five children.
His admirers and fans
abound. "I know there are a
lot of people who are alive to-
day simply because they got a
letter from me," said Dr.
Siegel, who says he answers
each letter "that needs a
Yet Dr. Siegel says he gains
as much working with pa-
tients as they do with him, he
said. "Sitting with people for
6-8 hours is actually therapy
for ma"

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