Donald Moss, Mind Body Medicine

Photograph of Don Moss

Donald Moss

Mind-Body Medicine Faculty

A partner at the Psychological Services Center in Michigan and the Director of Saybrook's Integrative Health Studies program, Psychologist Donald Moss can attribute his success to making some very impractical choices. "I never took psychology as an undergraduate," he recalls, "but I decided I wanted to be a psychologist. I'd taken some philosophy courses, and been introduced to the Humanist perspective on psychology - and it just seemed so exciting. There was more of an interest in what the human being is capable of - of our highest potential. It also seemed to be a deeper and a more profound view of human suffering, of the search for meaning."

He admits "It was not a very practical plan at all." But he did it anyway, following his passion.

He studied clinical psychotherapy "even though I didn't know what I wanted to do with it," and when he interned at the University of Pittsburgh Health Center he encountered patients with chronic illnesses for the first time. He saw that conventional medicine could not help them, but an approach that took the patient's mind into account along with their symptoms often could. It moved him to become a mind-body specialist.

This was another impractical decision: it was 1975, and the mind-body approach had very little credibility in mainstream medicine.

But he stuck with his dream, learning hypnosis and biofeedback, and conducting rigorous and thoughtful research. Over time a truth emerged: being "impractical" had also made him "ahead of the curve." As society and medicine became interested in alternative treatments Dr. Moss was ready with compelling research and case studies. He's seen research-based techniques he helped develop improve the quality of life for people whose doctors had all but given up.

"I think the general public is ahead of the medical establishment: the medical establishment is catching up," he said. "I see an increasing awareness and interest in mind-body medicine everywhere I go. I recently taught a class in Poland and they couldn't have been more excited. I took them on their first hypnotic inductions, many of them did biofeedback, and I couldn't give them enough. I've had this experience all over the world. People I trained in Honduras were very excited."

The global need, he says, is enormous. As western lifestyles displace traditional societies, uniquely western illnesses follow.

"I think of India where young people work in the call centers taking calls from western Europeans and Americans " and right away their standard of living is going up but their lifestyle becomes more sedentary, their sleep cycles go off, and their diet changes, and there's alarming increases in weight gain, blood pressure problems and even heart problems in relatively young people because of these changes in lifestyle," Dr. Moss said. "I've seen those changes in Jamaica where people are employed assembling clothing in factories for western youth, and the nurses I talked to are very upset about the increases in stress related illness. We need to build a world-wide understanding of mind-body health, because the western illnesses of lifestyle are rapidly becoming global illnesses."

Finding ways to mitigate the health impacts of the modern world has been deeply rewarding. "It's interesting," he says, "I have a lot of colleagues in Humanistic Psychology and Integrative Health, and we joke about not having made the timely decisions from a career perspective - we always swim upstream - but we've never had a moments boredom being ahead of the curve."

He also has advice for others looking to blaze their own path. "It's important not to be too practical. If you have a dream it's important to seek it out to the end. But also get good solid skills that will enable you to be successful in whatever you want to do. In health studies at Saybrook we've always had wonderful visionary courses but we're also trying to do a lot of practical hands-on experience in techniques."

As the editor of Biofeedback Magazine, Dr. Moss is deeply involved with alternative medicine on a global scale " experience and connections he's glad to share with his Saybrook students.

"I get excited over and over again with the dreams the students have that get actualized in research projects and master's theses and dissertations: our students are very creative and innovative and not held back by mainstream conventions. They have some of the craziest ideas that are worth having."