Mind Over Medicine and Compulsion


My first full-length book Mind Over Medicine came out of work I had been doing at Capital Radio, reporting on health and medical matters in a programme slot called ‘Check-up’. The book arose because I had become fascinated by the power still retained in the scientific era by non-scientific therapies. These alternative systems of medicine tended in various ways to examine the minds  and the emotions of patients in explaining how they are sick, or helping them get well. At the outset I did not assume this was a spiritual process – I mean, not in a religious sense – so I wanted to uncover any possible scientific explanations for their effects. That they had an effect was rejected by, or at least an embarrassment to, scientific doctors themselves, so the work had a pleasantly subversive feel to it.

Compulsion was a very interesting book to write. My friend the late Eleanor Stephens was producing a TV series on compulsive human behaviour for Channel 4 and wanted a book on the same subject to tie in. We got a commission from Boxtree Ltd and set about producing a text based on her own ideas on the subject, research for the series, and on transcripts from individuals interviewed.

We dealt with six common forms of compulsive (that is, addicted) behaviour: alcoholism, heroin addiction, tranquillizer use, compulsive work, anorexia nervosa and love addiction. Eleanor, who was a psychologist as well as a television producer (and once a core member of the feminist magazine Spare Rib’s editorial team), took the view that compulsions like this are symptomatic of deeper problems in the life and in the psyche of the sufferer. At a profound level, in other words, the alcoholic’s problem isn’t drink, and the anorexic’s problem isn’t food.  I still hold this to be true though, in the 30 years since the book was written, the most fashionable treatment has become Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which avoids tackling the root cause in favour of trying to control the symptomatic behaviour.

Eleanor made many other successful and powerful TV programmes, especially about human relationships. She died of cancer aged just sixty in 2005.


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