I was recently on a TV programme – Trusadh – about ME/CFS [links to Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube]. The relevance of my contribution lay in the fact I was doing a course of Mickel Therapy – a controversial treatment with many people claiming improvement and even cure, although it is not recognised by the NHS nor the ME Association.
However, while the programme was very good at highlighting both what it is like to live with ME/CFS, and the difficulty and diversity of opinion in identifying and tackling this debilitating condition, it didn’t give any real sense of what Mickel Therapy (MT) is. I’ve since seen plenty of comments left on different discussion sites where its clear many have been left with the impression it is just another version of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or psychotherapy, which it is not.
So I thought, having been through and benefited from MT I would give my interpretation of why it has had an impact on me, and what separates it from these other treatments.
At this point, I need to offer a disclaimer – I am not a medical doctor/researcher, and I am not a trained Mickel Therapist. These writings are entirely my own opinion and are not endorsed by anyone with a stake in what I say.
What I do have is a degree in philosophy – which could be said to be a 4 year training course on Bullshit Detection - and I have spent well over 5 years of my life crippled by fatigue and related symptoms, which no one in the medical profession was able to adequately explain or do anything about. Since going through a course of Mickel Therapy, my energy levels are much improved and I can see a path towards further recovery.
Much of the controversy of MT stems from it being a “talking therapy”, as opposed to a physical or drug based therapy, and the idea that words alone might be able to affect a physical condition can seem nonsensical. Indeed, it seems to imply the illness is “all in the mind” or, at worst, even a false illness belief.
So was I not really ill, responding to some kind of placebo effect, being conned or outright lying about my condition? Well, obviously I don’t subscribe to any of those theories, so what has been going on then?
In order for it to make any sense, we first have to break down some commonly held assumptions – the biggest being the mind is a separate entity from the body, and is in charge of what’s going on.
If you have this belief, then there are other assumptions that follow. You might think, for example, that you could compare the mind and body with software (the programming) and hardware (the physical components) of a computer. So if your computer stops working, you first have to figure out whether it is a hardware or software problem. Is it that the Windows Vista has corrupt files or a virus so can no longer boot up, or has the keyboard broken or the motherboard fried – in which case no amount of software changes are going to make any difference – the hardware needs to be physically fixed or replaced.
Bring this analogy back to humans, and if there is something wrong with the body, it needs to be physically fixed – you can’t talk a broken leg into healing itself.
But, how accurate is this model of human beings?
At this point, rather than doubling the length of this post, I would ask you to read a previous post of mine – Who’s In Charge, which outlines the mistaken idea that the conscious mind is somehow the primary authority that needs to be obeyed.
The point being, that once we start really thinking about it, the separation between mind and body is fuzzy at best. Most of what we think of as independent conscious thought has been driven by subconscious desires, habituated thought patterns and bodily functions. If you doubt this, see how long you avoid going to the toilet before it occupies your conscious thoughts so completely, you are utterly unable to think of anything else.
Our conscious thoughts are not the start of any action, they are the result of a whole mass of stuff going on in the body and brain before we become aware of them. Our thoughts can, of course, affect our emotions and vice versa, and even create feedback loops, which intensifies both, but they are rarely the starting point.
Can physical traumas affect the mind? Can mental states affect the body? Absolutely yes in both cases. To draw a hard line between the 2 is simplistic and naïve. However, if we think about them as different aspects of the same thing, different members of the same team, different faces of the same whole, then we open ourselves up to other approaches.
For example, each time we are in a stressful situation and our body goes into fight-or-flight mode, the brain activates a whole pile of chemicals and hormones to enable us to deal more effectively with the threat. Our heart rate increases, pumping more energy to our muscles, our senses heighten, and even our digestive system slows down as resources are diverted elsewhere. We have a very physical response. And once we perceive the danger to have passed, we start to calm down and the alarms are switched off.
Several theories are now pointing at the idea of mid-brain activity being at the heart of ME, CFS, Fibromyalgia and other fatigue and auto-immune conditions. The notion being put forward is that instead of switching off once the danger has passed, the flood of instructions keep coming. But the fight-or-flight response was designed to be temporary, not permanent, and consequently the person can end up with an array of symptoms, from fatigue to muscle pain to IBS as the body and immune system steadily wears itself out.
What causes the gate to be jammed open is unknown, but viruses and stress are the top runners. But whatever the initial trigger, according to MT, our relationship with our thoughts, emotions and more primal areas of our brain, are the key to rebalancing the system.
But this is not about using the conscious mind to instruct the body what to do, which is the approach of CBT and various psychotherapies. Indeed, trying to “will” yourself better can actually make your condition worse.
In part 2 I will go into more detail about this