Using the mind to heal psoriasis: An interview with Bethany Shackleton

Using the mind to heal the body; is it possible?

Bethany Shackleton is a PhD student at the University of Manchester where she is studying the effects of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy on psoriasis. We caught up with her to find out more….

So Bethany, can you tell us a bit more about your study and why you chose this particular study?

This study is a preliminary study which is examining the effectiveness and the acceptability of using Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for people living with psoriasis. The premise is that MBCT can help people to manage their stress better and less psychological stress could improve not only quality of life but the clinical symptoms of psoriasis. Participants are attending an 8 week course where we meet every Wednesday for two hours for structured practice and discussion of how to integrate mindfulness into daily life and help manage stress.

What do we currently know about the effects of the mind on psoriasis in previous studies?

I performed a literature review into the stress-psoriasis link. The majority of studies have been retrospective in nature and found that between 30 -80% of people with psoriasis studied believe their psoriasis was triggered or flares up during periods of psychological stress. This connection has been supported further by some prospective studies.

Stress does not only impact upon the times of flare up etc but also on treatment outcome. A study by Fortune et al (2003) found that people with high worry cleared almost twice as slow during PUVA treatment than those with low worry.

Bethany, as well as researching the effects of the mind you also decided to study Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy yourself. What made you take that step?

After conducting the literature review of arousal reduction techniques I became interested in Mindfulness. I went to a BPS day on mindfulness lead by Lance McCracken (Bath University). I became personally very intrigued by this new way of approaching dealing with psychological stress.

Mindfulness as a concept is very subtle and I believed that I would not be able to fully comprehend it or be able to communicate it through my work unless I had started from the beginning and learnt it experientially as the course suggests. I first did the 8 week course in Manchester at Breathworks and then went to do my training to become a mindfulness instructor at Bangor University.

As I myself suffer from psoriasis this was a very rewarding process and practicing mindfulness definitely helps me with the strains of doing a phd!

In your opinion, what role does the mind appear to play in health and well being?

As someone who is so used to considering health to be mind and body it can seem strange for me to disentangle them. Whether it is an illness belief which someone holds about their diabetes which prevents them from adhering to a treatment regime or the cytokines in the skin feeding back to the hypothalamus and perhaps influencing mood. Health can only be considered in terms of mind and body as a whole.

Where do you see the future of this kind of research?

The future of this research is huge. From the psychological side we need to do more to pin point what are the active elements of psychological interventions is it relaxation or is it a change in thought content. I think the field of psychobiology as a whole, as overwhelming as it may seem is just so brilliant. ┬áThe research needs to be conducted with the utmost rigor in order to make it worthwhile. Rather than stabbing in the dark and trying to see what works we need to have a systematic approach to this complicated and holistic research.”

Listen to the full interview:

Discover more: