The Gospel of Sarno

The following letter was sent to a friend struggling with a sudden onset of rheumatoid arthritis, which was preventing her and her husband from living abroad as missionaries. In hopes of helping her find a cure, I bought them a copy of Dr. John Sarno’s The Mindbody Prescription with the following letter. The article is titled “The Gospel of Sarno” because that is the tongue-in-cheek name my wife has given the treatment prescribed by Dr. John Sarno. For those suffering from psychosomatic pain, it is indeed “good news”!

By now you should have received Dr. Sarno’s The Mindbody Prescription. As one of the testimonials says, “He has cured millions.” Seems like quackery, I admit. Personally, however, I know four people who have been greatly helped by Sarno.

  • Myself—in 2010 I developed knee tendinosis which prevented me from squatting without pain. Last fall, after accepting Sarno’s diagnosis, I was able to squat pain-free.
  • My wife—her neck and wrist pain nearly ended her violin career a few years ago. She was cured in days after reading Sarno.
  • My wife’s best friend, Michelle—pain in her neck, arms and back nearly ended her piano career. Michelle went to the best hospitals in the Seattle area in order to diagnose and cure her pain, all to no avail. She was cured in days after reading Sarno.
  • Our good friend, Charles—his wrist pain developed in December 2012 and dramatically ended his high-profile violin career (his family’s source of income!). Charles received surgery, physical therapy, medication, acupuncture—even flew to Taiwan for very special alternative treatments. Nothing helped. After Sarno this past fall, he was cured in 3 days. He joyously resumed his career immediately—teaching, playing in orchestras, and in December he toured with a group on the West Coast. Truly amazing.

Our social circle contains many musicians, which is why three of these biographies relate to musicianship. However people of all stripes have experienced the same remarkable recovery.

As you’ll learn once you start reading The Mindbody Prescription, the prescription only cures if you believe the diagnosis. This is why Jennifer and I hesitate to share it with people who aren’t at the end of their rope. If you’re skeptical, it doesn’t work, simply because believing the diagnosis is the cure. Does it sound strange? Incidentally as Christians we have an excellent analogy in our own salvation. In salvation, the belief is the cure. And who can believe except he or she who is utterly hopeless, with nothing they can do but believe? The belief is the cure.

Unlike my wife and my friends, I did not accept the diagnosis for many months (consequently I was not healed for many months). Like you, I have an engineering mind and consequently I am skeptical of alternative treatments. Yet this is alternative medicine only in that it does not involve drugs or surgery. Certainly it is empirically verifiable.

While you read Sarno, you will notice he grounds his theories in Freudian psychology. My first thought was, “Well, Freudianism is wrong, therefore Sarno’s diagnosis is wrong.” Yet this is a logical fallacy (denying the antecedent). Sarno’s diagnosis is correct, I believe, but it is true because Christianity is true, not because Freudianism or psychotherapy is true.

Fundamental to Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) is that humans are more than blobs of matter (Sarno may disagree with this—if so I would argue that he is inconsistent). Rather, we are spiritual beings first, and material beings second. Indeed, the body is merely a house for the spirit. The mind, I would argue, is the spirit, not the body. Now, God has created us such that our minds do affect our body—profoundly. TMS then is simply a manifestation of the mind’s deep influence over the body. Why should a Christian, then, reject Sarno’s diagnosis?

Sarno says that TMS is caused by repressed, unconscious rage. As Christians, we might reject the “unconscious” part and attribute the “rage” to sin. I borrowed this from our friend Michelle: when you read of repressed or narcissistic rage in The Mindbody Prescription , simply replace these words in your mind with the effects of sin. Yes, understanding the diagnosis is nothing short of understanding one’s own sinfulness as a human.

This brings us to the most important question: is your joint pain caused by TMS rather than a true autoimmune disorder? You must decide in your own mind as your read The Mindbody Prescription. I would urge you, however, not to rule out TMS simply because doctors said that your symptoms point to RA. Indeed, the sudden onset, your young age, the occurrence in distinct parts of the body, and symptoms which are not unique to RA are all evidence that this could be TMS or that, even if you do have RA, it is greatly exacerbated by TMS.

Regarding the book, let me note that the introduction, first, and third sections are the most important. Much of the second section is case-specific and therefore can be skipped. Only Chapter 8 discusses auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.

It is my hope that this mindbody prescription eliminates or at least reduces Mary’s pain. We will pray to that end. Most importantly, we will pray that you trust God’s love and providence during this difficult time.