American society,” argues Dr. Dennis Jaffe, 33, “is not arranged to promote health. If you are a health addict, you are just as much a deviant in this society as if you were a drug addict. You need all the help you can get.”
The help Jaffe suggests is called “holistic health,” a movement that began on the West Coast a decade ago but is now catching on all over the U.S. For the patient, it is nothing more (or less) than “taking an active part in managing your own mental, emotional and physical well-being,” Jaffe explains. “It is getting in tune with your own body so you can read the messages it is trying to send you.”
The Yale-educated Jaffe, who has a doctorate in sociology, is author of a recent book, Healing from Within (Knopf, $10.95). He is also on UCLA’s psychiatry faculty and co-director of Learning for Health, a psychological clinic that specializes in psychosomatic disorders. Its patients are referred by physicians. “A person develops symptoms of hypertension and the doctor prescribes medication,” says Jaffe. “But how does he go about treating the cause of the problem? Unless the patient consciously works to eliminate the stressful elements in his life, his doctor may be fighting a losing battle.” Jaffe and other team specialists (including a psychiatrist, M.D. and nutritionist) work with patients to control stress, which is thought to be a catalyst in ulcers, hypertension, asthma, headaches and even cancer.
“A little appropriate worry is a good thing,” says Jaffe. “It can keep you on your toes just enough to do what you have to do about something.” Stress is another matter. Patients are taught to use techniques like relaxation or meditation therapy to diminish it. Although such mental exercises may take only a few minutes a day, Jaffe finds that people often abandon them because they aren’t getting instant results. “It takes time to get the benefits,” he says. “People’s habits are so conditioned they won’t change their patterns of living until they have had a heart attack.” (Four once-a-week group sessions at Jaffe’s clinic to learn “stress management” cost about $50. “We don’t take people into long, expensive therapies,” he says.)
For Jaffe, this is all part of “crisis intervention,” working with severely ill patients including those with cancer. Using a workbook, Cancer, he helps patients visualize their disease first by imagining the part of the body involved, “no matter how outlandish or awful,” then by actually drawing a picture of it. “For many, this is the first time they have received information from their unconscious and taken it seriously,” says Jaffe. Other methods of attaining body awareness include biofeedback machines that show patients the effects of their stressful thoughts. Jaffe is also an advocate of running: “It is the single most effective technique to deal with depression.”
His special interest is “lethal dyads,” or the destructive, illness-inducing interaction of two people. “When a couple marries, the patterns may not be so strong; 20 years later the two people can be horribly polarized,” Jaffe says, citing the example of a female patient with back pain. As she began to improve, “the husband began freaking out. The disease was not within the individual, but within the whole system—the couple’s system. The whole system must be treated.”
Jaffe lives with his wife, Yvonne, 34, a family counselor, and their two children, Oren, 6½, and Kai, 3, in Studio City. “Children can be the most stressful experience in a person’s life,” he finds. “Most work situations don’t make much room for the family.” Practicing his own medicine, he stays home one and a half days a week with the kids while his wife works and takes a dance class. “We need to learn self-regulation,” says Jaffe. “We must take charge of our diet, our exercise, our stress. We have to remember the mind controls the body, and our bodies have gotten estranged. We must rediscover them.”