HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE
with KENNETH R. PELLETIER, Ph.D.
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is "Health in the Workplace," and my guest, Dr. Kenneth Pelletier, is a professor at the University of San Francisco Medical Center, the author of numerous books, most recently Healthy People in Unhealthy Places; also Consciousness East and West, Toward a Science of Consciousness, Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, Longevity, Holistic Medicine, and probably a couple of others that I've forgotten. Welcome, Ken.
KENNETH PELLETIER, Ph.D.: It's good to be here. Thank you.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. It's a pleasure to see you again after nearly ten years.
PELLETIER: That's right. It's been quite a long time.
MISHLOVE: Since we were graduate students together at Berkeley.
PELLETIER: That's right.
MISHLOVE: Well, you've come a long way in your work. Right now, I think we ought to mention what you're doing with corporations. You're working with a team of ten or fifteen major coporations.
PELLETIER: Right. Starting back about three years ago, we have a group of fifteen companies, primarily located in Northern California, and we're working with them through our medical school, in essence to evaluate their medical plans, and to move their thinking and also finances to health promotion. We're still looking at the medical plans and saying, "How do you treat disease once it's evident?" But most importantly, what we're really interested in is: how do you keep people healthy, high-performing, and productive, before they become ill? The companies that are involved are really a bit of a Who's Who list. Just to mention a few, it would be AT&T, Bank of America, Lockheed, Xerox, Levi, Bechtel, Chevron, Apple Computer, Hewlitt-Packard. We've been working together now for three years; it's part of a five-year program, and we're learning by leaps and bounds.
MISHLOVE: What these companies are interested in, in effect, is creating optimal performance, optimal health.
PELLETIER: Exactly. I think the basic lesson is that out of the industrial revolution one of the misconceptions we had is that people were like interchangeable parts, and if someone or some group of people burned out, you could simply replace them. That's not true. It just simply doesn't work. One of the major trends we have now is that people are becoming indispensable to business. It's the one major resource that goes most untapped. So they're trying to take better care of people.
MISHLOVE: I've heard it put like this: that instead of trying to take our people and make them into better workers, companies are trying to take their workers and make them into better people.
PELLETIER: Yes, I think that's true, I really do -- primarily because you need the creativity of these individuals, and you need to care about the people that are part of a corporation. There's no question about the fact that that is very much of our future vision, and the other is that if you're pessimistic about humanitarian values, or if you think that that won't last very long, the reality is that now the economics are beginning to tell. There are studies -- and there's research going on now -- that what is at stake if they don't do that are literally tens of millions, and in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars, in excess disability, excess illness, excess medical care. So even if the humanitarian reasons fail, which are very genuine, very real, on the part of a lot of these companies, the economic imperatives are there to keep us honest.
MISHLOVE: American business is predicated, essentially, upon the profit motive, but what you seem to be saying is that when you look at the profit motive very carefully, you have to have good people to get a profit.
MISHLOVE: At least in today's environment.
PELLETIER: Absolutely. If you look at the fact that anytime you have a disability, that's a person who is not productive, who is literally costing enormous amounts of money, they could be there being part of a team, working together and really making an impact. That realization is sinking in, and it's a very important one, because it's originally where the company wins by taking better care of the people. The people win because they feel better taken care of. That's very clear. The studies have come out from AT&T and Johnson & Johnson which have shown really clearly that one of the intangible benefits of people being in these corporate health programs is that they feel better about the company and they perform better. So it's very exciting, it really is.
MISHLOVE: Let me take you back a few years and remind you of the days when I knew you as a graduate student at Berkeley. You were looking at the leading edge of mind-body control. As I recall, you did your doctoral work testing Jack Schwarz, the fellow who could put needles through his arms without feeling any pain. You were very interested in the idea that the mind can control these autonomic physiological functions.
PELLETIER: That's right.
MISHLOVE: It was leading-edge research at the time. How do you feel about that? Does that principle apply now in the world of business?
PELLETIER: Absolutely. That research was between 1970 and '74, so that is going back quite a ways. The thing that intrigued me back then is that these individuals -- Jack Schwarz being one of them; we studied a group of six altogether -- demonstrated optimal states of health. There was something about the integration between their mental states and physical states. They could do things that none of us could do. They could control pain; they could stop bleeding; they could prevent infection. We demonstrated this; we have good hard published laboratory evidence. And that intriguing idea of what constitutes health is still what intrigues me. So now you look inside the business environment, and some of the same things that these people with esoteric meditative practices were telling me about visualization, about higher states of consciousness, about creativity, about the value of dreams, about being able to create your own realities and literally willing events to occur, are still true. When you find the leaders in business -- not necessarily your middle management, but the true leaders in business -- they sound very much identical. They usually have superlative states of health. They have a lot of mind-body integration; a lot of them do in fact do meditative practices. And they talk about many of the same things -- creativity, use of visualization, seeing events occurring and then in fact making those events happen. So it seems a long way away, but the question now has gone from one of optimal individual health to optimal collective health, in the form of these corporations.
MISHLOVE: Would you say it's the case that the leaders of these companies, who apparently have hired you, or are at least backing this program for preventive health or an optimal health approach, seem to feel that the kind of insights, the kind of mind-body control that they've established for themselves, being the elite, that that needs to permeate the entire organization?
PELLETIER: Well, it's interesting, because one of the things that I've found, one of the great frustrations of leaders -- leaders are visionaries, they're inherently visionary; that's what they do. And one of the great difficulties -- I've heard this over and over again from presidents or chairmen of the board or individuals at the top of their respective companies -- they say that the most difficult thing is translating this message down into the major work force. Middle management doesn't believe it. They don't think that that's what is required to keep active, to be vital, to be a leader. They have a misunderstanding of what it takes. So the biggest frustration is how to translate this. So it's true; the leaders do feel isolated. They have learned something very unique and very spectacular, and they have great difficulty articulating that.
MISHLOVE: So part of your job is to help articulate that to middle management?
PELLETIER: Precisely. In fact some of the companies -- as an example, AT&T, Southwestern Bell Corporation, which is the divested telephone company for the five southwestern states -- they have programs where they take their senior managers, usually in small groups, fifty at a time. So we're looking at, over the course of a year to a year and a half, maybe thirty seminars. It's a tremendous commitment of time. They use this to introduce new ideas. On one day they get introduced to thinking about new medical care; the next day on creativity thinking; the next day on computers; the next day on some new technology, or on some new marketing strategies. But it's a way of evolving the culture, of keeping them fresh, keeping them alive, keeping them alert. So there's a tremendous commitment that management makes to trying to translate this message down through the total corporate culture.
MISHLOVE: One of your earlier books, Ken, Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, is a book in which you deal a lot with the various types of meditation -- autogenic training, Transcendental Meditation, and the various practices by which the mind either makes illness or creates health within itself. At this point I gather, from looking at your new book particularly, there's a lot of very sophisticated knowledge, where you can say some people should try this type of meditation, and another type of person will do better with that type of meditation. Can you elaborate on that?
PELLETIER: Precisely. Let me take one step back from that. Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer is ten years old this year, and I'm rather astounded to see that in that ten years what's occurred is that the research back ten years ago was mainly in stress physiology -- what happens when we're under psychological stress in terms of chemistry and physical reactions. Now there's a whole new area of research in the last three years called psychoneuroimmunology -- psycho, the brain; neuro, the central nervous system; and immunology is the basic body-zone chemistry and defense against disease.
MISHLOVE: Mind over AIDS, or something, is what it sounds like.
PELLETIER: Well, what some of the recent research is beginning to show is that the same stress factors -- the same lack of social support, the same feelings of helplessness and hopelessness -- that predispose to disease in general, have an influence; they make a person susceptible to the AIDS virus. Everyone exposed to that virus, even people that test positive for that virus, don't in fact end up with AIDS. What is that factor that makes the difference?
MISHLOVE: It's a crucial question.
PELLETIER: It is being asked, and it's starting to have an answer. So at this point in time the important thing is that we've begun to realize that the mind-body linkage is inextricable, it is very subtle, and the ways that we influence it are very subtle. So again, if you go back ten years and look now, if you look at different kinds of meditation -- Transcendental Meditation, Zen, autogenics, use of biofeedback instrumentation -- you can be very, very specific. If a person is, say, very physical in their orientation, they probably will benefit from, say, a progressive relaxation. If they're very attuned to their breathing, then perhaps a Zazen kind of meditation would be better. If they are very attentive to their heart or circulatory system, something like an autogenic training. But all of us have something that will let us become attuned to subtle parts of our mind, subtle parts of our bodies.
MISHLOVE: You can determine this, say, through a clinical interview, or something, with the person?
PELLETIER: Right. You can do it through a clinical interview, and you can do it -- part of what we developed is a set of instrumentation, using very sophisticated forms of biofeedback, where a person will react differently. Like if I clapped my hands right now, you would respond differently than I would, and that difference in response we can measure, and once we can measure it, then we can say, "Very, very likely, when you're under stress, or when you respond to something that's very exciting even, this is how you respond. Therefore this form of mind-body integration or meditation would probably let you influence that reaction the most."
MISHLOVE: What you're saying reminds me of some old research about hand clapping. The Zen meditator has a spike that relates exactly to the hand clapping; the yogic meditator suppresses the sound completely.
PELLETIER: Precisely. It was a very early study. We didn't do this study; it was done actually in Japan, in the late 1950s. They wanted to see if a person's belief system showed up as a difference in the electrical activity of the brain. A Zen meditator is to accept every event equally, and so what you found is that when you would clap or have a noise, it would spike, spike, spike. In other words, the person was responding equally. Now that's not how the brain should respond. We have a built-in mechanism that the first time you hear something, you're very alert, and about the fifth time you hear it, it tends to go away.
MISHLOVE: It suppresses or fatigues.
PELLETIER: Habituates. And so it didn't habituate. Now that's unusual. Now on the other hand there was a form of yoga where the person was to shut out the outside world; you ignore all stimulus. And that person, you'd enter a novel sound, and there would be no spike. So again, you should have an orientation, and this person didn't. So their philosophies changed how their own brains responded to this stimulus -- which was one of the first findings that something like a philosophy or a belief system had a physical effect on the brain and nervous system.
MISHLOVE: In other words, you create your own reality.
PELLETIER: Precisely, that's what they were demonstrating -- that inside of their bodies they were creating their own reality, and what they were talking about is then that you extend that out into the world; you do in fact create your own reality in the world as a whole.
MISHLOVE: Would it be fair for me to say that this is the kind of thinking that you are now introducing into the business community?
PELLETIER: Well, oddly enough, it's not so much that I'm introducing it. It's there already. It's simply becoming more acceptable, more widely acknowledged. Larger numbers of people are participating in a form of thinking and a form of creativity that management always had to a large degree. Now, let me clarify this. We're talking about a fairly small number of companies, but they're vanguard companies. They've always been the innovative people, and they've always been innovative companies. Corporate America as a whole is probably not like this. We're talking perhaps about ten percent of the companies.
So they're an unusual group, a powerful group.
MISHLOVE: In California -- when you say Bank of America and Hewlitt-Packard and Levi's, they're certainly the Bay Area corporations.
PELLETIER: Precisely. I think that kind of innovative thinking is going on, because we have to. If you look at economics, if you look at world conditions, and the ambiguities and uncertainties, to rely on new insights, the continual need to meet challenge and ambiguity is a necessity. It's not a luxury anymore, it's a necessity. So anything that, one, works; and two, allows senior management in particular to address these challenges; and thirdly, pervades then down to the work force as a whole so you get everyone moving in the same direction, is something to which they're highly receptive.
MISHLOVE: In other words, there aren't the kinds of ideological blocks that one might have thought there would be to new ideas. If they work, business is ready to use them.
PELLETIER: Precisely. When I go back and forth between, say, an academic setting versus a business environment, the interesting thing -- and this is very striking -- is that the business environment is infinitely more receptive to new ideas, because they're not wedded to a dogma or a set of fixed ideas. The touchstone is: does it work? I rather like that criterion, because if something works, then like all good science, you try to figure out how that effect was gained and try to replicate it. That's a very pragmatic approach, and business is very practical.
MISHLOVE: I'd like you talk again about a story you told me earlier, before we began. We'd been talking about your book Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, and you mentioned that now in its tenth year it's selling more copies than it did in its first year. Let's repeat for our viewers that wonderful story about how the name came to you.
PELLETIER: Oh, the title. Well, at the time of writing Mind as Healer, I was using the Buddhist koan, "The mind is the slayer of the real, but only the mind can slay the slayer." I was using that as a point of meditation, and all the nuances and subtleties of that phrase. I'd been using that for a period of time, and one morning I woke up, and as I was sitting down to write, up came this phrase, that the other side of the mind as slayer is mind as healer, and I wrote that down, "Mind as healer, mind as slayer," and at that time I had a terrible time convincing the publisher that we should change the title.
MISHLOVE: What did they want to call it?
PELLETIER: Well, the title which is still on the original contract is American Stress, which is pretty boring.
MISHLOVE: It might not be selling ten years later with that title.
PELLETIER: It certainly wouldn't. I don't think it would have sold in 1977. So that's how that title evolved.
MISHLOVE: But that's interesting. I think it's interesting almost from the point of business -- that is, concentrating on a Zen koan led you to this insight.
PELLETIER: Exactly. As you talk with business leaders, you find -- we did some very interesting research. We followed a group of executives before and after banking was deregulated, and before and after AT&T was divested or broken up. Now, those are incredibly stressful times, and we wanted to see which executives got sick and which ones stayed healthy, and one of the things we found about those executives who stayed healthy is -- again, contrary to the stereotype, and I say contrary because every stereotype I've had of the business executive, and again I'm talking about a rather select group, and they happen to be some of the most effective leaders that we have -- is that they didn't pay attention to dreams. Quite the opposite, we found that they paid a lot of attention to their dreams. They found a lot of insight in visual imagery, in fantasy and problem solving, that kind of thing. They had tremendous imaginations -- very fertile, very productive, very creative. And the group of executives that stayed healthier did have greater access to their dreams.
MISHLOVE: Very interesting.
PELLETIER: It has been.
MISHLOVE: Let me push this a little further with you, because I know you're acquainted with research, for example, in the area of psychic healing. Dozens of research studies seem to suggest that certain individuals can create a healing effect at a distance. Now, wouldn't it make sense, if you have a corporation with a multi-million-dollar medical budget, to employ this kind of technique?
PELLETIER: It should, and right now they're moving -- I don't think they're at that stage yet, I think at least overtly or at least publicly. I think some leaders in the United States Senate, in the business world, in academia, are certainly taking serious looks at the fact that there are very subtle influences on the healing process -- in proximity, at a distance, certain forms of electromagnetics, certain forms of perhaps herbal healing -- you find a great deal of this going on in England at the present time -- that there is something there that's a core of reality. Now, that's where, if you will, the cutting edge of the research seems to be. As that proves out, then I think you will see that showing up in the business environment. If I look back to ten years ago, I never would have thought that biofeedback would ever show up in the business environment. Now it's reimbursed by all the major insurance carriers; it is in the business environment. Meditative practices are fairly commonplace. So things that ten years ago seemed absolutely at the cutting edge of research are now totally acceptable, and I would assume that what we are seeing now as the cutting edge will in fact ten years from now seem very acceptable, very mainstream.
MISHLOVE: It used to be in the medieval period, for example, you would pay money to some of the monasteries of the Catholic Church, and they would pray for your well being.
PELLETIER: That's right.
MISHLOVE: I hate to think that we'd revert to medieval superstition, but could there be something behind that notion?
PELLETIER: Well, there is one study that was reported in the Medical Tribune. A group of cardiologists over a course of ten years -- I think they were a group of six or seven of them who had regular group meetings and group meditation practice -- what they decided to do was just at random select patients from their collective pool, which ended up totaling in the thousands; I think it was seven or eight thousand patients. They randomly divided them into groups that they prayed for or meditated with, versus a group that they didn't meditate or pray with. The group that they prayed with and meditated with, in retrospect -- they went back and reinspected the records -- had less subsequent coronary involvement, used less medications, had less complications if in fact surgery or medications were required. They generally, although they had diseases, were a healthier group than that group who had the same degree of disease status, but they hadn't had this group meditation and prayer. So clearly there are at least grounds for looking at the fact something was happening there.
MISHLOVE: This was reported in a medical journal?
PELLETIER: It's a medical newsletter, a newpaper, if you will -- Medical Tribune. But it's a very good one, a very responsible journal.
MISHLOVE: I mean, if I were responsible, say, for a hundred-million-dollar health care budget, as many corporations are, and I thought to myself, "Gee, I could spend a little bit of money, hire a couple of meditators to work on my work force all year" -- I mean, it's kind of wild and crazy, and I suppose that anybody who makes that decision would feel that they'd risk looking foolish.
PELLETIER: Well, as I say, clearly they're not there yet. But that kind of research is being carried out. There's some serious research looking at spontaneous remission, which we do not understand, for which there are thousands of very well documented cases in the medical literature. So we're beginning to look at what are the subtle influences on the nature of healing and optimal health, and it may very well turn out to be some of these things. If it is, again, even on this timetable, I would expect to see in ten years things that we're only speculating about now, we may very well see proven out and therefore more acceptable.
MISHLOVE: Let me ask you a question about the field of holistic medicine. You've written a book by that title, and when people think of that term, often they get ideas of homeopathy, acupuncture, flower remedies, pressure points on the feet, reflexology, and the like. Surely you must have some sense of discriminating between which of this is quackery, which is a placebo effect, and which of it might be based on valid principles.
PELLETIER: Actually, when I wrote the book Holistic Medicine, the reason I called it that -- again that was 1979, and the reason I called it that then was that the choice was either to avoid the word altogether, or to try to establish some kind of quality control, or at least establish a quality of credibility.
MISHLOVE: In England I've heard the term fringe medicine.
PELLETIER: Fringe medicine, right. Their term now is complementary medicine, which encompasses much of what you've talked about. Then, in 1978, we were looking at the dietary influences on health, environmental impact, which is enormous in terms of carcinogens; and the other is many of the things that we're now seeing about cardiovascular disease -- the use of relaxation methods, diet, exercise. So the book really focused on those. It did not in fact address acupuncture or homeopathy or some of the other practices. Now, there is beginning -- and I have to say beginning -- there are two bodies of information. One is psychoneuroimmunology, which demonstrates that the mind-body system is very influenceable by the appropriate subtle energies, on the one hand; and on the other is some very good research -- there's just been a very good study published in Lancet, the British medical journal showing that homeopathy was more effective than a placebo with asthma. So we're getting a body of work -- in acupuncture, in homeopathy, in these other areas --
MISHLOVE: There are endorphins that are triggered by acupuncture.
PELLETIER: Precisely. We have certain forms of analgesia in acupuncture due to the endorphins. So I think that what is occurring is we're getting better clinical evidence that something is going on of a subtle nature. Now for me at least personally, it would be very difficult to write a comparable book about those therapies now, but within five years, I think that it will be possible.
MISHLOVE: We're beginning to have more integration.
PELLETIER: Very much. The scientific model is becoming more clear, more predictable. On the other hand the clinical studies are getting better that show us there's a real effect. How we put those two together is the great complexity right now.
MISHLOVE: It would seem, Ken, that what you're saying is that as we look into the future in our mainstream, large-scale businesses, or at least the innovative ones, and generally spreading out, we're going to be seeing more and more attention to the role of the mind and other kinds of subtle mechanisms with which the mind is involved, integrated into these institutions.
PELLETIER: Absolutely, because we're seeing that now, and it's an irreversible trend, and I say irreversible because it's now being driven by economic imperatives. So that is in fact a cause of optimism on both counts -- for both humanitarian and economic reasons.
MISHLOVE: Well, Kenneth Pelletier, it's been a pleasure having you with me. It's really wonderful how elegantly you're able to bridge these different worlds, from the business community to the frontiers of mind research. Thank you very much for being with me.
PELLETIER: Thank you for having me.