by Hazel M. Denning, Ph.D.
In 1978, a substantial grant was given to the Parapsychology Association of Riverside, Inc. to conduct a longitudinal investigation into the power of the mind to heal physical pathologies using hypnosis and regression as the primary interventions for healing. While hypnosis was to be used in all cases, the precise nature of the therapeutic intervention was left to each of the researchers involved in the project. The following report gives the reader an overview and summarizes the project. The full project report, including data tables, photographs, and case studies, as well as a bibliography and other materials, has been published as APRT Monograph No. 1, 1993.
The Parks Research and Education Project was announced in 1978 in the Newsletter of the Parapsychology Association of Riverside, Inc. (PAR) and, at completion, 916 participants were tabulated in the final analysis. Twelve researchers were selected who had a background in the counseling field and additional training was provided in hypnotic techniques including regression techniques. The researchers worked with participants for three years, with two, three, and five year follow-ups. The greatest value of the project was most dramatically revealed in those cases in which cancer, psoriasis, arthritis, migraines, and degenerative diseases were totally eliminated.
The merits of hypnosis as a tool for accessing the deeper recesses of the mind are well known. In the hands of a skilled hypnotherapist, many clients are able to explore their own subconscious minds to discover for themselves the emotional stress that is related to their problem. The recent research in psychoneuroimmunology, and the discoveries of the peptides created by the hypothalamus which can be directly traced from negative emotions to the offending physical manifestation, give us, at long last, physical evidence to support claims that changing the emotional patterns of the mind can produce a healthy physical organism.
An electronics engineer in Oregon had long been interested in hypnosis and was convinced that this tool could be used to bring about rapid changes in the lives of physically ill individuals. In 1978 he offered a large research grant to the Parapsychology Association of Riverside, Inc. (PAR) to conduct a project to test the hypothesis that the mind could heal the body of any physical illness.
The Board of Directors of PAR appointed a permanent committee of three, which was later increased to five, to design the project and administer all of the details of renting and furnishing a suite of offices, hiring secretaries, finding qualified researchers, and designing the project. Other members of the committee were Gail Ferguson, Jean Boehler, Phillip Laney, and A. L. Ward.
Four questions became the focus of this project: 1) Is there any substantial evidence for the many articles current in the literature claiming that if you change your thinking, you can “cure” whatever is wrong with you? 2) Is the power of mind energy, consciously directed or not, responsible for the placebo effect? 3) If so, what is the modus operandi for implementing it in the lives of the many who suffer almost unrelenting physical discomfort? 4) If it is the belief system or the emotional attitude of the individual that determines his physical condition, how can the mind, which is not aware of its own power over the body, be influenced for its own welfare?
Obstacles and Limitations
From the beginning it was clear there would be the standard obstacles which exist in the humanistic sciences and not in the noble sciences. First, a control group was not possible. Second, general cooperation from the medical profession could not be expected, though there were a few exceptions to this. Third, the conclusions would be largely subjective on the part of both the participants and the researchers. Fourth, few hypnotherapists are trained in statistical research, and a crash course was necessary for the researchers. Finally, it had been anticipated that medical records could be used for comparison, but a large proportion of the clients who came for help had suffered for lengthy periods and, having had little relief from medical intervention, refused to see a physician. All of these factors had an effect on the methodology, and, of course, the results.
The original plan included an office and staff in Los Angeles. About 300 people applied for help there but were lost to the project because of administrative problems. Researcher’s reports did not meet the standards set by the committee and the statistical advisors, and the office was closed.
Project Design and Parameters
The design for the research was carefully organized to give detailed information about each participant. A three page check chart on each participant was submitted by the researcher at the end of the series of sessions. The original plan called for follow-ups of six months, one year, two years, and five years. However, the case load exceeded our expectations and many were not contacted for the six month follow-up. On the one year and two year follow-ups all were contacted who could be reached on two phone calls. The final five year follow-up was given a more rigorous attempt, and in addition to phone calls, letters were sent to participants. Unfortunately, many who had moved were not traceable.
One of the stipulations made by the donor was that there was to be no long term therapy. His hypothesis was that the mind can cure the body of any physical abnormality and he believed it was possible to obtain significant results in three or four sessions. While this optimistic stance was not shared by the researchers, it was a goal which each kept in mind. Results did indicate that much could be accomplished in a minimum number of sessions. The average was 6.4 sessions per participant, though many exceeded that number.
The question of finding participants was solved by the enthusiastic public response. The goal was to use a cross section of the general population in age, sex, and occupation. In the first weeks of the project there was a three month waiting list, despite the fact that there were a total of twelve researchers working part time. The original participants enthusiastically advertised the project, telling their friends and relatives about their successes and recommending the program. They, in turn, became a network in recruiting others. In the final analysis there were participants from 129 cities or communities, including the states of New York, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.
No fee was charged the participants, but each was required to sign a waiver contract which stipulated that they would attend sessions as set up, hold the association blameless for any discomfort they might experience, and respond to the periodic follow-ups either by phone or correspondence.
Research Team and Methodology
The researchers selected were screened for a background of counseling and knowledge of hypnosis as well as a dedication to helping people. Their financial compensation was minimal, but they all were committed to the philosophy of the project. Five were psychology majors finishing their degree work at the University of Redlands and/or the California State University at San Bernardino. One was a Rolpher with a private practice, one a school guidance administrator, one a master hypnotherapist with many years of experience, one a social worker, and two were psychic counselors with many years of experience and strong academic backgrounds. One had been in the California State Rehabilitation Department for about ten years as a counselor and supervisor.
While hypnosis was used in all cases, the therapeutic methods were diverse. Some considered themselves eclectic, a few used ideomotor, neurolinguistic programming, and several used divergent types of imagery, including past-life therapy. The final results did not indicate a significant difference in the methods used.
At the completion of the project 912 individuals had been recorded. Two hundred forty-two (242) were males and 670 were females. The marital status of the males was: 122 married, 72 single, 43 divorced, one widower, two separated, and two unknown. The marital status of the females: 344 married, 113 single, 162 divorced, 35 widows, 12 separated, one living with a companion, and five unknown.
Thirty-four (34) professions were represented. During the five years of the project, 70 males and 209 females changed their occupations. No record was available on 143 males and 322 females.
Ages of the participants ranged from 5 years to over 80, with the average age 45.
Previous experience with hypnosis and counseling was tabulated and 441 (48.4%) had a background of counseling and 363 (39.8%) had been hypnotized before.
Religious preferences were tabulated as follows: 17 unknown, 273 Protestants, 138 Catholics, 30 of the Jewish faith, 14 adherents of Eastern religions, 14 Mormons, 53 miscellaneous Christian, 129 New Thought followers, 5 Atheist/Agnostics, and 239 expressed no religious affiliation.
Handedness was tabulated with the following results: No data 207, right-handed participants, 641, left-handed 59, and 5 ambidextrous.
The dominant response in hypnosis resulted in auditory dominance 101, kinesthetic 168, participants with visual dominance 476, and 167 unknown.
Researchers met regularly in staff meetings and the discussion often centered on the expanding possibilities of the project. It became apparent after a few months that another factor should be incorporated in the findings: Many participants were volunteering the information that their attitudes about life were dramatically changing following their sessions, even though in some cases their physical symptoms were not eliminated. Therefore a number of new variables were introduced, such as self-image and relationships. The participant’s approach to life was measured as “content,” “neutral,” and “malcontent,” on a scale of 1 to 7. Their attitude toward their chief complaint was tabulated as “acceptance,” “neutral,” and “rejection,” on a scale of 1 to 7.
Since the hypothesis was that the mind could heal the body of any pathology, the medical name of a chief complaint was not important for the process, but it would have value in analyzing the results. The intake forms therefore tabulated the medical history including medication, severity of the illness, whether it was chronic or of recent origin, and so forth.
Since the primary purpose of the project was to improve or heal physical conditions, no restrictions were placed on the type of physical problem presented. This resulted in 85 different pathologies tabulated, with visual (78) and weight (116) heading the list. Back pains accounted for 58 participants, arthritis 42, and migraines 39.
Data Collection and Statistical Considerations
The actual program of working with participants began in 1978 and in that year 359 people entered the project. In 1979 the intake was 503, and 50 entered in 1980. The next five years were spent in the follow-up program.
In spite of the best efforts at the five year follow-up, 465 participants were lost to the project over time. This was a loss of slightly over half (50.98%). Percentages of success were therefore computed on cases for which we had data. The success figures are based on four criteria: 1) mild improvement, 2) substantial improvement, 3) dramatic improvement, and 4) symptoms gone. The statistics are broken down and available in these four categories, but this report combines their results. Tabulation on each case was broken down into seven segments: 1) number improved, 2) no data, 3) deterioration, 4) no change, 5) undetermined, 6) no relief, and 7) other therapies used.
Twelve researchers worked on the project, though one dropped out at the beginning and saw only one participant. The total number of sessions spent with participants was 5,847, with an average of 6.41. The range was 44 sessions as the highest and the lowest was one session. Exceptions to the limit on the number of sessions were made in a very few special cases, thus accounting for the 44 sessions. Faced with the opportunity of working with multiple sclerosis (MS) and a few other diseases considered irreversible with medical intervention, the researchers elected to provide additional time for these participants.
Summary of Results
Following the last session participants reported 81% improvement, either mild, substantial, dramatic, or symptoms gone. At the end of the first six months no data was available on 471 cases. Of those reporting, 63% reported success based on the four criteria. At the end of the first year 63.58% reported success. At the end of the second year the rate was 65.4%, and the five year success rate was 64.8%. It was interesting to note that while the loss of data was high, 471 at six months, 382 at one year, 322 at two years, and 483 after five years, the success rate in percentages remained almost the same.
Breaking down the success rate at each participant’s last session, 268 reported mild improvement, 149 had substantial improvement, 127 stated dramatic improvement, and 120 were free of any symptoms. By the five year follow-up, 74 reported mild improvement, 49 substantial improvement, 52 dramatic improvement and 103 were free of symptoms.
Conclusions and Discussion
In spite of the evidence for the validity of psychosomatic problems, there are many professionals in the traditional medical and psychological disciplines who reject the mind/body connection. The Parks Research and Education Project has produced impressive evidence to support the theory that the mind does indeed control the body. The physical organism is a reflection in a sense, of the mind. But that mind power is, more often than not, coming from the unconscious rather than the conscious self.
During the five year follow-up on the PREP, many in the medical and psychological professions switched camps, so to speak, and now support the widespread investigations into the mind/body connection. The discoveries coming out of the recent psychoneuroimmunology research with the significant connection between the neuropeptides created by the hypothalamus and the physiological changes in the body can no longer be ignored. They have profound implications for all psychotherapists and counselors.
The results obtained from PREP provide practical information which can be used to further the study of the mind/body connection. A connection has been established which is tantamount to opening the door on a new dimension in which man’s capacity to control his destiny takes on new meaning. How can this knowledge be implemented in the lives of individuals? Recognition of the process by which thinking and feeling affect the responses of the physical organism does not provide the tools for changing the responses. The accelerating use of the transpersonal therapies, including hypnotherapy and regression therapy, does provide these tools.
The research completed by PREP incorporates numerous other variables not included in this report. Analysis of the project will continue for more insight into particular correlations. At the inception of PREP, a thorough literature search, including foreign sources, was made through the University of California, and no other project of its scope was found. The committee and the staff invested thousands of volunteer hours in the project, motivated by a firm belief that results would inform the public of an alternative to emotional and physical suffering, and be a challenge to other researchers to continue in this line of investigation.