College of Naturopathic Medicine — Spring Discovery Day

Healing Mind-Body
Medicine with Dr. Jonas

In Conversation with Dr. Jonas:
A Closer Look at Mind-Body Medicine

Sonoran | Dawn JonasIn the realm of natural medicine, the healing power of mind-body medicine has emerged as a beacon of hope for patients with conditions such as: joint and muscle pain, addiction, and more. As a licensed professional counselor since 2001, Dr. Dawn Jonas, NMD recognizes the pervasiveness of trauma and mental illness in modern life and how an overtaxed stress response is associated with a variety of medical conditions. An alumnus of Sonoran University of Health Sciences (formerly SCNM), class of 2016 and the current interim chair for the Department of Mind-Body, Environmental Medicine, and Naturopathic Philosophy. Dr. Jonas teaches Intro to Medical Psychotherapy, Crisis Intervention, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Clinical Clerkships. She also regularly guest lectures for Comprehensive Clinical Skills Assessment, Philosophical and Historical Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine, and New Student Orientation.

Ahead of Dr. Jonas’s keynote presentation and demonstration at the upcoming College of Naturopathic Medicine Spring Discovery Day held on the campus of Sonoran University, we asked Dr. Jonas a few questions about the powerful modality of healing mind-body medicine. When asked how mind-body medicine differs from other approaches in medicine Dr. Jonas answered with the following:

Many conventional healthcare providers approach the mind and body as if they are separate, and to some degree treat various systems in the body as if they are also separate. This results in multiple providers treating various ‘parts’ of a single patient, sometimes without regard to the influence that these parts are having on each other.

Mind-body medicine is a holistic system of medicine in which health care providers collaborate with patients to maximize the impact that a healthy body and well-tuned nervous system can have on the mind as well as the impact that mindfulness, emotional stability, and health-promoting attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors have on every system of the body. The mind and body are in constant communication, even when we aren’t paying attention. This system of medicine brings awareness to that conversation so that patients are better empowered and equipped to self-regulate in a way that increases their sense of agency and overall physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being.

In conventional healthcare, the patient is often a passive recipient of the treatment prescribed by an ‘expert’ provider. However, in mind-body medicine, the patient is a participant in their own medicine. The clinicians at Sonoran University who teach patients about mind-body medicine also embrace universal trauma sensitivity practices so that our patients feel as safe and as much in control of their care as possible.

As established, Dr. Jonas has had extensive experience with mind-body healing and the impact it has on patients. This spurred the question of when that pivotal or impactful event occurred that fueled the interest in this approach to healthcare. Dr. Jonas shared this experience with us:

Prior to expanding into the field of naturopathic medicine, I was a mental health counselor, specializing in trauma recovery. The majority of my patients were suffering from physical pain and chronic disease, as well as mental health problems. Very few of them received proper care for their physical ailments, often due to mistrust of conventional physicians and dentists. I asked one of my clients why she hadn’t spoken with her PCP about the symptoms she was experiencing, and she said that she didn’t want to have to explain herself to multiple practitioners and expected that she would not be believed or taken seriously. She said, “If only you could be the one to examine me and order the tests. Then I would get them. You know me best. I feel like I can trust you.” It was that day that I decided I would like to be able to provide the whole package to the clients I serve – a holistic approach to healing and supporting wellness.

When Dr. Jonas shared this personal impactful moment, it was no question what the next inquisition would be: Were there any other examples where significant mind-body was critical to a patient’s healing process?

Janice was a 51-year-old female who suffered from chronic joint and muscle pain. She had been treated for 10 years by a rheumatic pain specialist and saw several other practitioners along the way without success. The pain was triggered by anything that made contact with her body. There was also chronic tightness which caused headaches and discomfort with breathing. She felt angry, scared and deeply saddened by the losses associated with long term illness. As a last resort, Janice was willing to work with us to build a mind-body toolbox for herself, which included a variety of mindfulness and compassion practices, breath-work, therapeutic movement, acupressure tapping, and vagus nerve hacks (taught over a period of time). At four months follow up, Janice reported that the relationship she has with her pain had been ‘transformed.’ The following are her own words: “Pain is no longer my main identity. It’s just one piece of my life… I haven’t felt this comfortable in my own skin in decades… I still get frustrated sometimes, but there’s a lot more awareness around it.”

What are the three common misconceptions people have about mind-body medicine, and how do you address these misconceptions in your practice?

It is common to think that mind-body medicine is another word for mental health care. Providers and patients might limit their referral considerations to problems of stress, anxiety, and depression. However, mind-body medicine is appropriate for a variety of physical health diagnoses, including pain conditions, headaches, GI problems, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary conditions, urinary problems, hormone imbalances, menstrual symptoms and more. Nearly every physical ailment is vulnerable to being exacerbated by stress response, and mind-body medicine helps to mitigate the impact of stress on the body as well as the impact of chronic illness on the state of mind.

It is common to use mindfulness and meditation interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Mindfulness is a way of life. Meditation is a tool that can strengthen mindfulness. One of the most common things I hear from patients regarding meditation is that they’ve tried it and failed. However, the idea that one can get mindfulness meditation ‘wrong’ is a misconception. When practicing mindfulness, thoughts are welcome. Feelings are welcome. Anything that is present is welcome, and we merely bring awareness to it with an attitude of friendliness and compassion.

There is sometimes a concern that mind body medicine is not based in science. However, mindfulness practices and a variety of other mind-body tools (i.e., breath-work, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, neuro feedback, emotional freedom technique, vagus nerve stimulation, etc.) are evidence-based practices. The literature exploring the impact of mind-body medicine on health outcomes has grown exponentially in the last 3 decades.

Finally, what can attendees of the upcoming Spring Discovery Day expect from your presentation surrounding healing mind-body medicine, and what is one quick tip individuals can incorporate into their daily lives to improve their mental and physical wellbeing?

I will be talking about the healing power of mind-body medicine being practiced at Sonoran University and how it benefits our students and the communities we serve. In the wake of a devastating pandemic, there has been an uptick in the level of daily stress, micro-traumas and challenges impacting so many of us and our loved ones. It’s time to take charge of the health and wellness of our entire beings (body, mind and spirit). We will practice some mindfulness techniques together. One of the things that readers can incorporate into their daily routines right now is the STOP technique.

S – Stop  

T – Take a mindful breath 

O – Observe sensations, thoughts, emotions 

P – Proceed with kindness  

We can set alarms on our devices to remind us to stop periodically during the day in order to return to the present moment and check in with ourselves. With this new level of awareness, we can better understand and manage the needs of our mind and body. I will talk about this practice in more detail on Discovery Day.

Spring Discovery Day at Sonoran University of Health Sciences in the Lim Commons is April 20th, 2024—registration is open now!