On Forgiveness From HIV
could spend all my time crying and worrying ...but it's not
helpful. I don't have a lot of energy to spare right now,
so why waste it on that?"
at being diagnosed with a serious disease is a very
common reaction. Someone looking for a rational explanation for
why this happened to them may rage against big corporations pouring
pollution into the environment, parents for passing on a "bad"
gene, or God for letting something so incredibly unfair happen to
at being singled out is normal, especially in those who thought
they were taking all the steps necessary to make sure that they
were safe. Can these negative emotions be bad for the immune system?
and breast cancer survivor Robin Haller says, "I could spend
all my time crying and worrying about what will happen to my kids,"
she said. "And I did do a little bit of that. But it's not
helpful. I don't have a lot of energy to spare right now, so why
waste it on that?"
people forgive themselves or others for contracting the disease,
if they can accept the facts and cope with them, does that make
them stronger, help them live longer and help the body heal?
and breast cancer have a lot in common. Both are serious, life threatening
epidemics, both are beginning to be challenged due to breakthroughs
by molecular scientists and other researchers, new drugs and better
treatments. What used to be a death sentence is now often treated
as a chronic condition that needs aggressive treatment and large
doses of hope.
by the Institute of Human Virology focuses on HIV, but the answers
that these researchers find will apply to breast cancer and many
Institute of Human Virology is a center of the University of Maryland
Biotechnology Institute and is affiliated with University of Maryland
Medicine. It is a unique center where epidemiologists, basic researchers
and physicians work side-by-side under one roof. The team has kicked
off a two-year study.
researchers plan to evaluate the power of forgiveness on physical
are looking at the effects psychological and spiritual attitudes
may have on the immune systems of patients with HIV -- and the preventive
role they may play in the transmission of the virus that causes
is hypothesized that being able to "forgive and forget,"
to let go of angry thoughts and feelings, may promote the body's
natural ability to return hyper-aroused physiological systems back
to more normal levels of homeostasis," Dr. Lydia Temoshok,
principal investigator of the study and Professor of Psychiatry
at the University of Maryland School of Medicine explains. "This
state of homeostatis is critical in maintaining an even keel, slowing
the progression of AIDS and in maintaining a higher quality of life."
accumulating research demonstrates a strong correlation between
psychosocial and spiritual influences and immunological, biochemical
and disease outcomes," says Dr. Temoshok. "But there have
been few scientific studies with empirical data to prove these theories.
This will be one of the first to systematically test these approaches
and document their benefit, perhaps not only to HIV/AIDS patients,
but to the general public as well."
HIV virus is perfect for studying effects on the immune system.
Dr. Temoshok says this in a slightly more scientific way, "HIV/AIDS
as an intrinsically immunologic disease provides perhaps the quintessential
paradigm for studying the impact of forgiveness on immunologic parameters
and health outcomes."
status of HIV/AIDS can be easily monitored using routine blood work.
Stored blood samples from each of the two hundred participants will
be examined to study progression of the disease -- or lack thereof
-- in correlation with reported spiritual attitudes and coping tendencies.
Immune system measurements such as CD4 cell count, chemokine production
and plasma HIV RNA levels will be monitored throughout the study.
Institute of Human Virology's clinical team will oversee the medical
components of the study. The IHV study also will examine the possible
impact of forgiveness on patients' emotional well-being, the care
of their own health and the health of others, engagement in treatment
and adherence to medical regimens.
part of a 60- to 90-minute structured interview, patients will compare
themselves to three identified coping styles.
they handle stress proactively,
they feel hopeless and/or that they've given up,
perhaps they've masked a state of depression with a seemingly
positive veneer -- the "Type C" coping style first described
and researched in the 1980s by Dr. Temoshok in studies of cancer
type of evaluation, Dr. Temoshok says, is less threatening to patients
than answering personal questions on a questionnaire and will help
researchers understand their coping patterns and proclivities.
markers in the patients' blood work may provide the first indications
of proof that there is indeed a direct correlation between mental
and physical health, but the study's real focus will be on the more
difficult to measure coping and homeostatic mechanisms believed
to be so interconnected with the progression of disease and functioning
of the immune system.
coping and adaptation appear consistently in the literature as key
among non-medical factors predictive of health outcomes," says
Dr. Temoshok. "We must evaluate the contribution that factors
such as forgiveness may have on health -- both across the board
and for those already afflicted with serious and chronic life-threatening
on the Web:
the Immune System
for Immune System Disorders