The Center for Attitudinal Healing addresses a critical issue in our community -- the need for emotional and spiritual support for people affected by a life threatening illness -- and the model of care it has developed is making a significant difference. A very important study indicates that this kind of effort needs to be expanded. The study is the $28 million research project commissioned in 1995 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They found that close to 40% of catastrophically ill hospital patients die in pain, many spending their last hours isolated from their families. This indicates that a significant number of families face illness and dying with little or no emotional support.

      This is exactly the situation the Center for Attitudinal Healing has addressed since 1975. At that time, there was virtually no emotional support systems in our community for people affected by catastrophic illness. Most Americans no longer live in extended family situations and rarely die at home, as we did a generation before. Instead, illness and dying is largely relegated to hospital rooms where the medical problem tends to be the only focus. In this setting, the emotional experience is often one of fear and painful isolation, with few opportunities for people to open to a deeper experience.

      In the Bay Area, that need has been met by the Center for Attitudinal Healing. Since its beginning, the Center has directly helped more than 38,000 children, teenagers and adults. This year, we will provide more than 11,000 support group visits, help 180 families through home and hospital visits, provide over 1,000 crisis interventions, and fill 6,000 requests for information. Today, when a person in our community is diagnosed with a life threatening illness or has lost a loved one, they can come to the Center for support. But the need for support is constantly growing and we must increase the availability of service.

Support That Can Actually Change the Outcome
      What is doubly tragic about the findings of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is that certain methods of emotional support can actually improve medical outcome. Studies now show that support groups and an approach similar to Attitudinal Healing increases survival rates among people who are catastrophically ill. The study of D. Spiegel, et al (Stanford) on metastatic breast cancer showed that the survival rate was twice as long for patients in support groups compared to patients who did not participate in support groups (Lancet, 1989, 888-891). This study was corroborated by the study of R.I. Fawzy, et al (Yale) on malignant melanoma which showed a 60% reduction in the death rate for those in support groups (Archives of General Psychiatry, 1993, 50:681-689).

      "Love" as a source of healing and health has been demonstrated in a number of studies, including the R. Nerem, et al study (Science, 1980, 1475-1476). In this study, rabbits were fed diets high in cholesterol to induce arteriosclerosis. The experimental group was held, petted, and talked to on a regular basis. In short, they were "loved". The control group was fed the same food and given normal laboratory animal care, but not loved . The experimental group showed a 60% reduction in heart disease even though serum cholesterol levels, heart rate and blood pressure were comparable to the control group.

      Several studies have shown the significance that a sense of community plays in decreasing mortality rates among patients with heart disease and cancer. The Roset, Pennsylvania Study (Wolf and Bruhn) demonstrated that a strong sense of community where there are close personal ties and a feeling of being cared for and of caring for others reduces the rate of heart disease almost to nil.

      Berkman and Brelow's Alameda County Study (Oxford University, 1983), showed that patients who were socially isolated had a two to three fold increased risk of death compared to patients who felt most connected to others. This study corroborated similar findings of Roberman, et al (New England Journal of Medicine, 1984, 311:552-559). The research of J. Nielson (1996) at Duke University Medical Center Hospital indicates there is a direct correlation between a "committed spirituality" and rates of remission.

Attitudinal Healing
      These findings tells us in clear terms that addressing and resolving the fear and isolation that all too often surround illness and dying makes a significant difference. This is the essential aim of Attitudinal Healing: helping people overcome the fearful experience of illness and dying.

      Attitudinal Healing is both a psychological approach and a community building model.

As a Psychological Approach
      It integrates spiritual principles into a psychological approach. It essentially introduces the dynamic of choice into the psychological process. A set of principles offer opportunities for a client to step through the fear, conflict or separation that a seriously ill person may be feeling, and often recycling, and to make a choice to experience peace of mind instead, even in extreme situations. Attitudinal Healing defines health as inner peace and healing as letting go of fear. It regards the phenomena of love as a powerful healing force, attained and sustained by the letting go of fear.

As an Approach to Community Building
      Attitudinal Healing also defines the purpose of all communication as joining. In accord with this principle, the Center emphasizes "peer support". Peer support provides opportunities for people facing similar challenges to come together and give and receive support. The role of the Center in this process is to facilitate an atmosphere in which a deeper sense of connection between participants can develop. In this way a sense of community naturally arises and with it comes the potential for a more extensive network of support and for positive social action. Two of many examples of this kind of community action that the Center has accomplished is: 1) The book entitled "There is a Rainbow Behind Every Dark Cloud", which is one of four books published by the Center that gives a voice to children affected by serious illness, and 2) The Center AIDS Hotline for Kids that set up the first AIDS hotline for children in the US. The poster for the AIDS hotline is the most widely distributed AIDS poster in the world and has been translated into 15 languages.

Two Goals
      Yet, as the Robert Wood Johnson study reveals, problems of despair and isolation persist; here in our own community and communities around the United States. That is why the Center has set two goals for itself. The first goal is to increase the availability of services we already offer. That will mean increasing the number of groups we offer and the number of families we provide home and hospital visiting services. We intend to accomplish that goal by 1) increasing Center staff, and 2) disseminating our approach to hospitals and medical centers in the Bay Area. We have already built and tested an "in-hospital" program model in collaboration with Marin General Hospital and now are interested in replicated it to other institutions.

      The second goal we have set for ourselves is to expand our outreach to permit us to assist other communities around the United States to develop support programs similar to those we have initiated. In the last 21 years, the Center has helped over 130 communities around the world develop programs for the life threatened, and we want to increase that kind of outreach. The training programs for accomplishing this are already developed. What this means is building a full time training corps to reach out to communities in need of this kind of support.

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The Center For Attitudinal Healing
33 Buchanan Drive, Sausalito, California 94965
(415)331-6161, FAX (415)331-4545

Copyright 1996 by The Center For Attitudinal Healing and WebWare Corporation