The Sarno Method for psychosomatic symptoms

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By Dr. Moreno

 The Sarno Method for psychosomatic symptoms


The functional medicine community agrees that there is a strong mind-body connection, and that emotions can create physical symptoms—we call these symptoms psychosomatic.

Dr. John Sarno, a specialist in rehabilitation medicine at NYU Medical Center, has developed a method that explains how psychosomatic symptoms occur and how to treat them. Patients in our practice who have followed this method have found it to be a beneficial complement to our other nutritional therapies.

Dr. Sarno explains that during childhood and throughout a person’s life, one can deposit anger in the unconscious mind. When this anger is not identified or expressed, it accumulates and becomes rage. When the rage reaches a critical level in the unconscious and threatens to become conscious, the brain creates pain and other physical symptoms as a distraction, to prevent a violent emotional explosion.

In simple terms: to prevent us from perceiving negative feelings and emotions that have been stored in our unconscious mind, the brain creates symptoms to distract us.The brain thinks it’s helping us by protecting us from experiencing or feeling these repressed emotions. The brain can develop any symptom, including sore throat, backaches, stomach aches, headaches, allergies and skin conditions. We all experience one or more of them over the course of our lives. They are not imaginary or hypochondriac.

The good news is that, the same way the brain can cause pain or symptoms, we can use the brain to stop those physical effects. Once we become aware that the pain or symptom is being created by our own mind, the brain stops its protective mechanism and the symptom subsides. To facilitate this process, Dr. Sarno has developed a strategy to identify possible emotions that can lurk in the unconscious:

Set aside time every day, possibly 15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening to review the following material:

  • Make a list of everything that may contribute to those feelings
  • Write an essay about each item on your list —the longer the better. This forces you to focus on the important emotions in your life. There are a number of possible sources of those feelings:
  • Anger, hurt, emotional pain and sadness generated during your childhood or throughout your life; physical, sexual or emotional abuse, including not receiving enough emotional support, warmth or love; excessive discipline or unreasonable expectations.
  • Certain personality traits can contribute to emotional pain: if you expect a great deal of yourself; if you drive yourself to be perfect, to achieve, to succeed; if you are your own harshest critic;if you have a strong need to please people, to want them to like you, or if you tend to be very helpful to everyone and anyone.
  • You should put on your list anything in your life that represents pressure or responsibility: your job, your spouse if you are married, your children if you are a parent, your parents if they are living and, of course, any major problems in your life.
  • Add to your list those situations in which you become consciously angry and annoyed but cannot express it, whatever the reason may be.

You must sit down and think about these things every day in order to bring your ideas from your unconscious mind into your conscious mind. That’s where they have to get to in order for the brain to stop the protective mechanism, and for the symptoms to disappear.

Before trying this method, I strongly suggest that you read one of Dr. Sarno’s books to understand the explanation behind mind-body disorders. He is the author of 4 books, including Healing Back Pain and The Divided Mind: an epidemic of mind-body disorders. It is also very important to discuss this process with your therapist or doctor.

If you would like more information on how to integrate the Sarno method into your healing process, learn more about our practice or work with Dr. Moreno to improve your health, please call us to schedule an appointment.