Can What You Believe Make You Well or Sick?


imageThis is the question Sternberg explores at Chapter 11 in The Balance Within, The Science Connecting Health and Emotions (2001). Sternberg’s work traces the history of connecting the human body with emotions and the way in which all emotions are integrated into the physicality of being human. This is what Fuchs calls Interaffectivity ( ).

Sternberg writes in this book about a history of medicine and the emotions with quite a lot of complex medical and biological detail. From early myths in the Greco-Roman world to modern studies in medicine, Sternberg shows how stress causation, suicide and mental illness are socially created and maintained.

Whilst modern individualist-cognitivist and behaviorist ideologies dominate in our society, Sternberg shows that everything from resilience, wellbeing, mindfulness and good health are socially interdependent. The idea that we can simply ‘will’ change in our lives completely ignores all the social influences that affect us. This is why the Prime Minister’s silly zero suicide campaign is so absurdly dumb ( Anyone who has worked in the sector knows just how complex the issue is. I remember working on the Suicide Task Force set up by John Howard Zero Tolerance Campaign in 2001 made up of experts across the country and when we got together we were all in unison that the zero tolerance discourse and language doesn’t work. For two years everyone on that task force worked against the rhetoric and nonsense discourse of zero.

Why do we speak nonsense to fallible people? There is no hope for fallible people in the discourse and ideology of zero, especially in mental health and suicide ideation.

The binary opposition mindset (eg. what other target can you have?) is based upon the most naïve assumptions about what it is to be human and is mostly infused with behaviourist nonsense. One can’t tackle issues of suicide or mental health without a social strategy. The truth is that zero discourse and ideology makes things worse, it makes people sick.

Of course we all know that dis-stress can make us unwell. Work in a toxic culture at work for too long and watch the absentee rate increase. Work in one of these crazy paperless or hot-desking environments and watch the by-products of mental illness increase (

So here is Safety Zero counting minor LTIs whilst their work environment is doing the most harm. Where is the vision from safety associations about this harmful stuff? Nowhere, because the associations themselves are signed up to zero!

Sternberg demonstrates that the human endocrine, nervous and immune systems operate independently of the brain (also read Claxton, Intelligence in The Flesh). Most of our emotions are beyond brain control indeed, only a few Buddhist monks seem to have the power to individually ‘will’ the kind of control needed to respond differently to pain. For the rest of us we are all susceptible to the context in which we work and live. So, when someone is suffering from chronic anxiety or depression, it is not an issue that can be simply ‘willed’ or overridden without a comprehensive and holistic view of their world. All medication does is dull the psychological pain but it doesn’t change the social context.

The same is true for young people at high risk. I remember working with countless young people in detention who were able to manage all kinds of concerns inside but when released without social change would return to abuse, violence or addictions very quickly.

Two thousand years ago the Greeks understood that the emotions and health care were one. Asclepions were named (health centers) after the Greek god of healing Asclepius. Asclepius symbolized the essentials of balance in living in diet, water quality, exercise, social support, belief and family. Also essential were understanding that sleep, music and belief/prayer were soothing to the emotions. Managing the emotions were critical for Asclepions.

Despite the close mindedness of Scientism and Rationalism we are finally realizing that traditional holistic Indigenous approaches to healing have value ( As much a Scientism denies the validity and rationality of spiritual reality and meaning, Indigenous healing beliefs are making a difference in how people live well in South Australia. Indigenous approaches to health and healing are now being recognized by experts as essential to a holistic approach to well being (

What are the implications of this for safety? Any discourse about targets, numbers and zero (thanks Prime Minister) tells people that all the person cares about is numerics and metrics. When your discourse is zero, then your policy becomes anti-human.

The safety industry doesn’t even understand itself as a helping activity, yet uses this nonsense language of ‘professional’! (; You won’t find any language in the non-vision statements floating about various safety associations about safety as a helping profession. Zero is not about helping but blaming! Helping is about subjects not objects! Safety has a long way to go before it matures to any sense of holistic approach to well being.

If you are interested in doing Dr Long’s Holistic Ergonomics Workshop on 6,7 August in Canberra, you can register here (

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

2 Replies to “Can What You Believe Make You Well or Sick?”

  1. There is more truth in the philosophy of this article than the casual reader might think. There is no doubt, and science is now backing this up, that the heart (read emotions) and not the brain controls health and wellbeing in our bodies
    The most powerful word in all of human history is the word BELIEF
    Therefore what you believe becomes your reality
    Listen to Gregg Braden, Bruce Lipton, Joe Dispenza, Wayne Dyer (RIP), Dandapani and others of similar persuasion on YouTube
    You believe what you like, but for me this is the correct path…. and l AM following it
    John McLellan

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