27 February 2012


Quote of the day

Life is hardly more than a fraction of a second. 
Such a little time to prepare oneself for eternity! 
                                                                                                         Paul Gauguin

While some would say you would have to be crazy not to meditate, is meditation on its own enough? More and more research is coming out to validate meditation’s benefits, but if you have an emotional or mental difficulty, is meditation on its own enough? Or do you need psychotherapy, or counselling? Or in the more traditional sense, do you need the added benefit of the wisdom that comes with mind training and teachings?

I first learnt to meditate through the great psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares when I used his methods way back in the seventies to help overcome my cancer. A world authority on hypnotherapy, Meares discovered meditation through his interest in pain management. He then turned his whole psychiatric practice over to therapeutic meditation, wrote the first major book in the world on the subject, “Relief Without Drugs” in 1967, and claimed meditation could and would heal just about anything.

Meares was very much a man of science. He believed good health was a dynamic state of balance and really valued the capacity of the body and the mind to return to that balance given the right conditions. His experience told him one of the most reliable and profound ways to do this was to meditate in a particular way.

Meares’ meditation method revolved around relaxing physically and calming the mind profoundly. He was of the view that in the resultant state of deep relaxation, the body returned to its natural state of balance, as did the mind. Put very simply, he believed this re-established the natural order of good health – in body and mind. He believed this form of meditation was enough.

After Dr Meares’ death in 1986, I have been fortunate to deepen my own experience of meditation through many years of study with the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche. A key principle in Buddhism is fundamental goodness; that in our essence we are all whole and pure and good. Sure, we stuff up from time to time; sure some people do really terrible things, but all that is due to disturbances in our mind. Because of our ignorance, because of our chasing after the wrong things, because of our aversion to other thing, because of what is going on in our minds and our emotions we make poor choices and stuff up. But in our hearts, in our essence, we are whole and pure.

In Buddhism, meditation is regarded as the reliable pathway to take us past our ignorance and stuff ups, to take us back to who we really are, to take our mind back to its natural, healthy state.

In theory this all sounds pretty good, but in real life, is meditation enough?

I have to say in my experience of working with a wide range of people and conditions over 30 years, maybe, maybe not. Whether meditation can fix significant emotional and mental health issues seems to depend on the techniques that are used, the capacity of the person involved, and the quality of their relationship with their meditation teacher.

I can speak with some experience and knowledge about three techniques that warrant serious consideration in the field of therapeutic meditation, the Meares technique, Mindfulness and Dzogchen.

i) The Meares technique. 

Ainslie Meares was my mentor from when I first started running lifestyle based therapeutic cancer groups in 1981, up until his death in 1986. He explained to me that if you have a glass full of muddy water and you keep stirring it, you just get more and more muddy water. However, if you calmly put the glass down and leave it, the mud settles and you end up with clear water. If the mud is the analogy for emotional anguish and mental turmoil, he claimed his method of meditation involved learning to allow our emotions and thoughts to settle, with the effect that the mind cleared.

I can attest to many people having this experience. Just like the natural property of water is to become clear when undisturbed, so too when we learn to relax profoundly in body and mind, the mind finds its own natural peace.

But here is the catch. What of the mud? The analogy is good as when I began teaching meditation I found many people reporting this new-found deep, natural peace; as long as they kept meditating. Many reported a “hangover” effect. That is, if they stopped meditating, the peace lasted a while, but then the old states of mind reappeared as the mud welled up again.

So for these people meditation became like many medications for psychological conditions. You needed to keep taking it; and for many, the meditation took on almost an addictive quality. There was a need to keep the meditation going to maintain equanimity. So a healthy addiction, one with many positive “side effects”, but somewhat addictive all the same.

When I asked Ainslie about this his answer was simple; “What’s the problem? Why stop meditating?

In fairness, Ainlsie was a pioneer and I imagine he would have addressed this issue in more depth had he lived longer.

ii). Mindfulness. 

If we use Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition and say Mindfulness is paying attention to our present moment experience deliberately and non-judgmentally, what does it have to offer psychotherapy? From the growing body of research, quite a lot it would seem; but there are two big issues worth being aware of if transformation is of interest.

Basic Mindfulness teaches us how to take the reaction out of things. So it is one thing to have a disturbing emotion or thought; it is another thing to be disturbed by that emotion or thought. Get it? Disturbing emotions and conflicting thoughts are common enough, often make good sense, sometimes not, but of themselves are just emotions and thoughts. They have the potential to be toxic, but of themselves they are just emotions and thoughts. It is our reaction to them, our secondary thoughts that they are bad or scary or wrong, or that something about us is bad, scary or wrong to be having such an emotion or thought, that creates the toxicity.

Mindfulness takes the reaction out. Mindfulness teaches how to be aware of our emotions and thoughts and to be non-judgmental. This leads to acceptance, relief and a clearer, more content mind.

But again, like with stirring the muddy water, what happens if you stop being mindful? Answer: it is easy to go back to the same emotions and thoughts with the same unhelpful reactions.

A more advanced form of Mindfulness takes us from the symptom to the cause. Disturbing emotions and conflicting thoughts do not exist in a vacuum. They have their own causes and conditions. What has been referred to as “Basic” Mindfulness, simply attends to the emotions and thoughts as they manifest, moment to moment. But these can be viewed as symptoms of deeper issues, the causes.

Transformative Mindfulness goes beyond the “simple” emotions and thoughts, to investigate and mindfully become aware of their causes. So for an adult who has experienced childhood abuse, there may be regular disturbing emotions and thoughts.

Basic mindfulness teaches us how to be aware of the thoughts without investigating or analyzing the cause. In doing so, it can free us from the anguish and turmoil of those emotions and thoughts, but it does little to transform the cause. This basic approach is very safe and easy and as such can be very useful, but it has the same quality of letting the muddy water settle and not doing anything about the mud at the bottom of the glass.
With Transformative Mindfulness we take our attention to the cause; in our example to the abuse. This is much more challenging and requires a good deal of mental stability so that it can be done in a way that is not overwhelming. It is a process can take some building up to and that can be supported and “held” by an effective therapist or group.

By giving our full attention, our full awareness to something like this, what happens is that the complex of emotions and thoughts around it can quite literally dissolve. This does not negate the memory of what happened, in fact sometimes the memories become clearer, but it does free the memory from the hurt and the adverse emotions and thoughts. It leads to a deep recognition that the event took place; bringing with it a new perspective and understanding, and what can seem to be a strange but powerful sense of acceptance and compassion – compassion for self and compassion for the others involved.
This is transformation.

iii). Dzogchen

Dzogchen can be translated as the great perfection and is regarded as the highest form of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism. It aims to go directly to the experience of our own true nature, that pure, enduring, fundamental aspect of our being.

Importantly, in Dzogchen there is the recognition that we all have this innate purity courtesy of being human. If we are alive, we have it. It is there, in us all, naturally. There is no need to seek it in some exotic external place, or to try to “make it happen”, it is just there, in us all the time.

The trick is to experience this fundamental goodness directly, but the problem is that most of us have lost touch with it. Meditation is how we reconnect, and the suggestion is that by doing so we reconnect with our fundamental goodness and that this flows into our daily life, freeing us from the effects of difficult emotions and thoughts.

So what of Psychotherapy?

Well firstly, for anyone having psychotherapy, or counselling for that matter, meditation makes the therapy easier and quicker. Meditation frees things up. It is like it weakens the glue that commonly binds us to the traumas in our lives. Frees us up to see things more clearly and objectively. Gives us the inner strength to revisit and transform old and current traumas.

Meditation facilitates the processes of psychotherapy and counselling.

So what is the difference between the two? The Oxford defines psychotherapy as “the treatment of disorders of emotion or personality by psychological methods”. Click here for the Wikipedia entry on psychotherapy - very interesting and informative.

Counselling is defined as “a therapeutic procedure in which a (usually) trained person adopts a supportive, non-judgmental role in enabling a client to deal more effectively with psychological or emotional problems, or gives advice on practical problems”.

Curiously, very little research has investigated the relative long-term benefits of the different psychotherapies. There is considerable controversy about which form of psychotherapy is most effective, and more specifically, which types of therapy are preferable for treating which disorders.

Back in 1952, in one of the earliest studies of psychotherapy, Hans Eysenck reported that two thirds of therapy patients improved significantly or recovered on their own within two years, whether or not they received psychotherapy.

Having completed a Masters in counselling myself, I always enjoy contemplating what makes for therapeutic change. Way back in 1957, Carl Rogers published a paper on this topic that I still find challenging and to have some validity.  The paper, entitled The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change was published in(link: http://shoreline.edu/dchris/psych236/Documents/Rogers.pdf)The Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 21, pp. 95–103. Click here for the full paper. In it, Rogers said that for therapeutic change to take place, the following are required, and I quote:

“1. Two persons are in psychological contact.

2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.

3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.

4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client.

5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference and endeavors to communicate this experience to the client.

6. The communication to the client of the therapist's empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.

No other conditions are necessary. If these six conditions exist, and continue over a period of time, this is sufficient. The process of constructive personality change will follow.”

In 2001, Bruce Wampold, a former statistician who went on to train as a counselling psychologist, published the book The Great Psychotherapy Debate. In it Wampold reports similar findings to Rogers:

1. Psychotherapy is indeed effective

2. The type of treatment is not a factor

3. The theoretical bases of the techniques used, and the strictness of adherence to those techniques are both not factors

4. The therapist's strength of belief in the efficacy of the technique is a factor

5. The personality of the therapist is a significant factor

6. The alliance between the patient(s) and the therapist (meaning affectionate and trusting feelings toward the therapist, motivation and collaboration of the client, and empathic response of the therapist) is a key factor.

Wampold concluded "we do not know why psychotherapy works".

Back to Rogers again. Very clearly, but speaking in psychological language, Rogers said it all comes down to care and love. If the therapist is caring and loving, and the client “gets it”, feels it, whatever else happens is only important in that it makes the therapist feel congruent.

So if someone who is trained and believes in one modality of therapy, breaks their rules and tries something else, it will not work. If they do what they have trained in, believe in, have experience of, and confidence in; it will work. So for example, one therapist who is passionate about short term therapy may well hold the potential to be just as effective for any given individual as another therapist who believes passionately win long term therapy. What is important is that the individual therapist is authentic. If they are drawn to short term therapy, they need to study and work with that. Drawn to long term therapy? Better study and work with that. Now there is something to challenge our way of thinking  - and our attachments to particular methodologies.

So is it the same with meditation? Do the different therapeutic meditation modalities rely on Rogers same six conditions? Does the impact of meditation depend more on the teacher than the technique? We can speculate, but the truth is we have no scientific evidence either way. Historically it is claimed the teacher is of paramount importance and it is easy to make a case for the advantages of different methodologies. But there is plenty more to learn.

So do meditators need psychotherapy?

In my early days I met plenty of people whose meditation served them well to allow  “the mud in the water to settle”, but who underneath remained quite disturbed. Not many in my experience fulfilled Dr Meares expectation that meditation would fix all their problems; some did but not many. Most still needed help and psychotherapy would have been a good option!

This is why I added imagery and mind training sections on emotional health to what I taught via my groups and writings. Getting rid of the mud left at the bottom of the glass required either concerted mental effort, and maybe a good therapy or two, or it required a more profound and more transformative style of meditation.

Shining the light of wisdom on old traumas with Transformative Mindfulness or the profound stillness of Dzogchen meditation will do the trick, but that takes developing quite a capacity in the meditator. This can be facilitated by a good relationship with a good teacher.

Sogyal Rinpoche has this effect on people – regularly. Over the years, one of the things that has given me more and more confidence in Rinpoche and his teachings, has been to observe the number of people whose lives have been transformed for the better through studying and practising with him.

In my own work, the focus has been on working with groups, and at the heart of those groups has been the teaching and practice of meditation. I see very few people individually. Instead, when people have problems or issues that surface, I encourage them to talk about it within the groups and we work on those issues directly. The experience is that many in the group will relate to whatever issue is presented, and everyone gets to work through their own variation in the process.

In doing so, there is an openness and ease that develops with the actual concept of having a problem. Instead of personal issues feeling as if they can only be discussed behind closed doors because they are somewhat shameful, embarrassing or too painful, there comes the recognition that everyone has difficulties and there is something liberating in being open with all of this. As well, a collaborative atmosphere develops and bonds the group with real care for each other developing. This takes the focus off the therapist (which can be very strong albeit useful in individual therapy and to a lesser extent in groups) and makes working through issues more of a community activity.

Throughout my 30 years working with the Foundation, and whether working with people affected by cancer, MS or other illnesses; or working in a prevention or wellbeing context, I have found working in groups to be the most effective. True, we have provided individual counselling as well, and there is no doubt some people have benefited from this a great deal. As I said, I do a little of this myself, but the focus has been on group therapy. What I also find very effective are short interventions around the edges of the groups, often in the form of brief conversations in the tea break during the group, or before or after the group itself.

What is also without doubt is that for those who can learn and apply what I have called Transformative Mindfulness, or the deeper essence of Dzogchen, then meditation is indeed enough.

It is worth noting some studies have shown group therapy to be more effective than individual therapy and there is little doubt it is more cost effective, with studies showing group therapy to be up to four times more cost effective then individual therapy.

So what to do?

Eat good food and meditate. Meditate in a way that feels congruent to you. Learn from someone you feel really cares about you and whose rational makes sense to you. Someone you feel some peace with, and with whom you can develop some confidence. Maybe it is as simple as aiming to open and trust your heart. If you do go to a therapist, be aware that the relationship you have with that person is of paramount importance. You need to feel that they understand you and are really committed to your welfare and wellbeing. Dare we say it, you need to feel they love you in an altruistic and deeply caring way.

Of course, just to complicate matters more, it is obvious that many resources available to a person experiencing emotional or mental distress—the friendly support of friends, peers, family members, clergy contacts, personal reading, healthy exercise, research, and independent coping—all present considerable value.

What is your experience?

If you have managed to read this far, you must have some interest! This is by far the longest blog I have ever written; maybe it is one of the longest ever written!!! However, it is linked to the talk I recently gave to the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists on this topic: Do meditators need psychotherapy?

So whether you are a therapist, a meditator, or simply someone interested in this discussion, please feel free to comment, either in the comment section below; or via email to info@insighthealth,com.au.


Meditation in the Forest with Ian and Ruth Gawler: April 30 to May 5 

The 7 day meditation retreat Ruth and I will lead prior to Easter in the Yarra Valley. Take time out to reflect, to be with yourself and like-minded people, learn more about and deepen your meditation; all supported by the great food at the Gawler Foundation and amidst the delights of the Upper Yarra forest.
This retreat is deliberately pre Easter so you have time to integrate and enjoy the calm over the Easter period.        Click here for details.


Where does your power come from?

Go with the flow, or intervene


CDs:   Healthy Emotions and Mind Training

BOOKS: Meditation - an In-depth Guide

You Can Conquer Cancer and The Mind that Changes Everything

ON-LINE: Mindbody Mastery – downloadable meditation program with great support package.

20 February 2012

Linking lifestyle, sustainability, the environment and health

Concerned about the environment? Concerned about sustainability? Worried about what sort of future our children will have? Good news! Pretty much anything that is good for our own sustainability, our own long-term health, is good for the environment.

This week let’s go “Out on a Limb” and examine how this works, how you can look after yourself, and in the process look after the planet. There are many simple solutions that follow.

These days the most prevalent causes of physical ill health are the lifestyle related, chronic degenerative diseases. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, MS are the obvious ones, but not far behind in what causes suffering are obesity, arthritis and bowel disease.

All are directly related to lifestyle; what we eat and drink, how much we exercise and smoke, our emotional health, state of mind and our spiritual life.

The causes of the chronic degenerative diseases are directly linked to profound issues of sustainability and the environment. So here are just a couple of key issues that are easy to remedy:

1. Saturated fats 

Consuming large amounts of saturated fats is one of the biggest health risks. Saturated fats come from animal fats and palm oil.

The environmental issue relates to land clearing – a total disaster with palm oil. With cattle, it takes around 20 times more cleared land to grow a kilo of protein when compared to that required to produce a kilo of vegetable protein.

Solution: Simple: A vegetarian diet. For the benefit of your health and the environment, do not eat animals and do not eat palm oil or use any products with palm oil in them. This means read labels as palm oil crops up everywhere.

2. Food production, processing and adulteration.

The way commercial forces are adulterating food production these days causes me deep distress. Go into a chicken or pig farm, witness the multiple spraying going on in orchards or commercial vegetable gardens, pick up an icy-pole with 10 added chemicals (some known to aggravate asthma in children, some banned overseas), read the labels on the supermarket shelves.

It amazes me some people seem puzzled by the fact so many suffer ill-health these days. 

Then there is the issue of food being transported across great distances. Oranges from South America, even just vegetables coming thousand of miles across country; this is a major issue.

Solution: Simple: Eat locally produced (preferably from around the corner, at worst 500Ks away), organic produce wherever possible. Ideally grow as much for yourself as you can. Home veggie gardens must be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your own health and the environment. Grow organically, grow sustainably – it is easy once you learn the basics.

Read labels, avoid chemical additives as much as possible, be selective. If you are just starting with this, it does take time on the first shopping expedition or two, but once you are familiar with the products and brands that are OK, it is easy.

3.  Meat, poultry and fish production

In my experience as a veterinarian, the intensive commercial production of chicken and pigs is an ethically embarrassment. The conditions are just unacceptable.
But there is more. A naturally reared, back-yard chicken can take 9 months (270 days) to be ready to eat (if a chicken is ever ready to be eaten). The chicken sold in places like KFC takes about 37 -39 days to grow from the egg to slaughter. The larger chickens in the supermarket freezer are around 45 days old.

A good deal of this shorter production time relates to genetic selection, but to sustain it relies on the regular feeding of low dose antibiotics (that are euphemistically called “growth promoters” rather than what they really are, antibiotics). The regular use of antibiotics in large populations of animals leads to resistance. This builds up in the animals and can be passed on to the people who eat the affected birds or animals. Most heavyduty antibiotic resistant bacteria stem from this source and once carried into places like hospitals, cause real havoc.

Good news is that the EU banned the use of these antibiotics about a year ago, but it is a disgrace they are still used in Australia.

Pigs have similar problems, and the same issues are beginning to surface amongst farmed fish.

Also, not many people seem to know farmed salmon is commonly genetically engineered. Atlantic salmon is modified by adding a growth hormone regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter from another fish, the ocean pout. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows, and the result is a fish that grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than the three years the naturally, selectively breed fish take.

On a more positive environmental note, farmed prawns have little problem in their production, while commercial prawn fishing can be very hard on the marine environment, so with prawns, locally farmed varieties are preferable.

Back to cattle. A great deal of the cattle consumed in Australia spends its last 2 months in a feedlot being fattened up for slaughter. On entry to the feedlot, it is common practice to inject a “growth promoter” that is actually a hormone that has a growth promoting effect (HGP). It is claimed about 40% of all beef consumed in Australia has been treated with HGP and the most common hormone used is oestrogen, the female sex hormone. Adds another twist to “give the man meat”. Coles created quite a controversy recently by advertising they would only supply HGP free meat. HGP treated meat is totally banned in the EU.

Solution: Simple: Be very aware of sustainable fish issues. If you do eat meat, only eat the naturally farmed variety. This too is easy as all beef for is tagged in Australia so its history can be followed; meaning butchers can be confident of where their animals came from. Totally reject intensively farmed chickens, pigs and fish. Farmed prawns are preferable if you eat them, and they come from Australia.

4. Sugar and salt

Sugar production has been linked to major reef destruction following run off of fertilizers and pesticides. The health issue is that both sugar and salt often lead to such strong cravings as to be effectively addictive; but then both can mask the body’s natural ability to discriminate regarding what is good for it and what is not.

To explain, most of us have the notion that animals in the wild have a good sense of what to eat when. I have always contended people have this same potential, but that most of us lost it due to poor eating habits. If you eat junk food regularly, your body accommodates to it and basically puts up with it even if you have a strong chance of developing one of the major degenerative diseases as you grow older. It is like the body and the mind loses the ability to discriminate.

When we eat a better diet, gradually we start to notice that when we eat healthy foods, we feel good; when we eat rubbish, we feel crappy. If we respond to these observations, we can arrive at a more personalized and individually appropriate way of eating.

My experience gained from helping many people to do this is that sugar and salt mask the taste buds and significantly reduce our capacity to notice what foods are ideal.

Solution: Simple: Remove sugar and salt from your diet; and with sugar, again you help the environment. It usually takes a week or two to get over the cravings, but then you will notice heightened taste sensations that more than compensate.

5. Country of origin

There are plenty of issues with this. For details, refer to my recent blog: click here.

Solution: Simple: Read the barcodes.

6. Marketing

It fascinates me how much effort the meat and dairy industry (I have not addressed the dairy concerns in this blog) put into marketing, while the fruit and vegetable mob do so little. But be aware of the efforts that go into swaying your opinion. One of the worst examples is how the CSIRO produced its book “The Total Wellbeing Diet” that advocated a very large intake of meat – way above the recommended allowances. Who funded the project? You guessed it, the meat industry (check the book Perfidy if you are interested). Scandalous!

Solution: Simple: Be aware of your own way of thinking, the impact of the media, practice mindfulness, train your mind, think for yourself, choose wisely and eat consciously.

And do what you can to bring about positive change. Consider relaying this blog to family or friends (if you do not know how to do this yet, ask a teenager!) Lobby politicians. Make the link. What is good for our health, is good for our environment. What truly sustains us, sustains our planet.


1. This week’s blog follows the talk I gave at Melbourne’s Sustainable Living festival, along with Paul Bedson. It was a pleasure to be asked to talk on the link between health, environment and sustainability.

2. Two weeks before the Happiness and its Causes conference in Sydney. For those who read this blog and do attend, come and say hello.

3. Day workshop near MELBOURNE coming up on Saturday, 24th March at the beautiful Duneira estate in Mt. Macedon.

4. Still a few places available for the meditation retreat Ruth and I will lead in the Yarra Valley at the Gawler Foundation, Meditation in the Forest: March 30 – April 5.


Will you have chemicals with that?

Would you eat like a dog?  Examines digestion and how humans are better suited to a vegetarian diet.

What fuel goes into your tank?

Eating for recovery


Mindbody Mastery: the online, downloadable meditation program with 6 months of support built in.

Sustainable seafood guide

Sustainable food 

CDs  Eating well, being well: Ian Gawler: wellness or maintenance diet

Eating for recovery: Ian Gawler: specifics for cancer


Perfidy: Geoff Russell: exposing the CSIRO wellness diet, its high meat content and funding by the meat industry.

Global Cooling: Strategies for Climate Protection: Hans-Josef Fell

13 February 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: More on the Inquisition and ground breaking news for MS

This week, coinciding with publication news concerning impressive research from the MS groups I have been involved with, it is clear there is a concerted push being mounted against Integrative Medicine, along with Complementary Medicine and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The lobby group calling themselves “Friends of Science in Medicine” has been active in the press and is targeting University leaders to ban the teaching of CAM in medical schools.

To quote from a recent press release from the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA): “Recent statements made by the lobby group calling themselves “Friends of Science in Medicine” are reprehensible for their lack of scientific rigor as they choose to ignore tens of thousands of peer reviewed or referenced publications supporting the efficacy of numerous natural and nutritional therapies.  This is a blatant mis-representation of information to the public and to the university vice chancellors they are lobbying.

AIMA gives our full and ongoing support for the teaching of university based courses which incorporate the study of complementary and alternative therapies which are evidence-based.  We also strongly support any university based research currently being undertaken or proposed in the field of complementary and alternative medicine.

It would seem all of this corresponds with the attack by Haines and Lowenthal questioning my diagnosis of secondary cancer. The MS research news is timely, as it demonstrates the efficacy of the lifestyle program in MS; the program that is so similar to the cancer program; the program that we know works for cardiac disease and for diabetes.

So this week a guest blog from Paul Bedson – senior therapist at the Gawler Foundation. Paul had a heavily edited version of his letter to the editor published in the Age; here it is reproduced in its entirety.

To the Editor,
I have been working as a senior therapist at the Gawler Foundation (TGF) for 10 years now.
I know the work, the clients and I know the founder, Ian Gawler. I feel compelled to respond to some of the inaccuracies in the front page story Dec. 31, 2011 entitled “Cancer experts challenge Gawler’s ‘cure’.

The first inaccuracy: quoting your article, “the 61year-old doctor’s books on curing cancer without conventional medicine are bestsellers.”  Ian never discourages cancer patients from mainstream medical interventions. In You Can Conquer Cancer he says “diet, meditation and positive thinking can be added as supportive measures to any medical therapy.”

The Gawler Foundation openly advocates an integrative approach to dealing with cancer. This integrative approach may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, complementary therapies e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine, psychosocial support, meditation, relaxation, nutritional and lifestyle changes. TGF informs patients of the whole range of treatment interventions that are available to them and supports their informed choices. Informed and empowered patients have been shown to have better outcomes.

The second inaccuracy: quoting your article, “His foundation’s residential program  …  have treated more than 15,000 sufferers”. TGF is not a treatment facility We do not offer medical interventions of a mainstream or complementary nature. We offer information, psychosocial support, inspiration, hope and peace of mind.

We inform patients about the emerging field called ‘lifestyle medicine’ and the possibility of improving their prognosis through dietary changes, moderate exercise, relaxation, meditation, counselling, group support, journaling, creativity, laughter, healthy relationships and accepting one’s mortality. This “lifestyle medicine” is grounded in current, worldwide research not just based on Ian’s personal story. We do not give any guarantees or make any claims of “a cure”, but we are passionate and committed to helping cancer patients improve their prognosis and quality of life.

The third inaccuracy: quoting your article, “Professor Haines said he was distressed at seeing terminal cancer patients who had chosen alternative therapies over conventional medicine after diagnosis.”

Although I can appreciate Prof. Haines distress, fortunately we live in a free society which respects the patient’s right to choose whatever course of treatment they trust. TGF respects that right and gives patients a broader range of information from which they can make their informed choices; not choices made from desperation, fear or lack of knowledge.
TGF does not recommend one treatment/approach over another, but does fill in the vacuum or lack of information presented by conventional medicine.

The fourth inaccuracy: quoting your article, Professor Haines says, “I’ve seen beautiful young girls with their whole lives ahead of them and they go into these holistic therapies and spend hundred of thousands of dollars and then in the end we have to look after them…..”

The implication here is that TGF is one of these holistic therapies that charges hundred of thousands of dollars. This implication is misleading, wrong and irresponsible. The main program TGF offers cancer patients (and their family support person) is a ten-day residential program in the Yarra Valley. The cost of the program including accommodation, all meals, lectures and workshops is under $3000 per person.

TGF is a registered not-for-profit organisation and the income from running our programs has to be supplement by fund-raising activities.

Overall your article casts dispersions on the integrity of Gawler Foundation and its founder, Ian Gawler based on a so-called “medical report” which is really just an unsubstantiated hypothesis. Far from deserving front-page status, the story smells distinctly of a “tall poppy” vendetta against a man who many know to be honourable and forthright and whose life’s work which has helped thousands of cancer patients.

To rectify the damage which this type of reporting can do to the good name of the man and the credibility of his work, and in the name of balanced journalism, I invite you to interview myself or any number of the cancer patients which have benefited so greatly by the work of TGF.

Yours Sincerely,

Paul Bedson (BA,BAcup,BCouns)                                                                                
Senior Therapist, the Gawler Foundation


1. MS research accepted for publication

Great news, the research evaluating the 5 year follow-up on people attending the lifestyle-based program for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that Prof George Jelinek and I established and that has been presented for years now at the Gawler Foundation has been accepted for publication in the journal Neurological Sciences.

Happily MS is easier to research than the cancer work I have been involved in, and this 5 year follow-up study reports on 165 people. The data demonstrates an improvement of around 20% on each of overall quality of life, physical health composite and mental health composite. By contrast, the average expectation across the board for the many thousands of people with MS who have been tracked is for around 10% declines in these figures over a 5 year period.  The people who attended the program have recorded a nett 30% gain! To my knowledge no drug has been demonstrated to come close to this level of benefit.

The full title of the paper is "Health-related quality of life outcomes at one and five years after a residential retreat promoting lifestyle modification for people with multiple sclerosis", and it is likely to appear in the journal in about 3 months, at which time we can talk about it more fully.

2. Talk on Sustainability.

As part of the Sustainability Festival, Paul Bedson and I will combine to present an hour on the topic of “A Sustainable Self”. I get to talk about food and other lifestyle delights; Paul will focus on the mind and meditation. Click here for details.

3. Jacqui Dodds is a psychotherapist of some insight and manages a great website called East/West Wisdom. On her latest blog she has a compelling article that is well worth a read titled Narcissism as defence or delusion?


1. On the diagnosis controversy

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition
And another thing
A survivor’s bemusement

2. On evidence in medicine

It only has to be done once
Just give me the facts
Recovery from MS is possible
Recovery from cancer is possible



Overcoming MS – an Evidence Based Guide to Recovery: George Jelinek
You Can Conquer Cancer: Ian Gawler


For Prof Jelinek


Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis – healing program for MS at the Gawler Foundation

06 February 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: Is prayer scientific?

Thought for the Day

If you stand for nothing
You will fall for anything

Many people believe in prayer. Many people have a positive personal experience of prayer and say it has significantly transformed some aspect of their own life or that of someone close to them. Many people even say prayer saved their life.

But what do the scientists say? What research is there to support the power of prayer?

Let us start with a definition. Prayer is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "a solemn request to God or an object of worship; a supplication, thanksgiving, or other mental act addressed to God" and as " a formula or form of words used in praying"  - so in the literal English sense, God figures prominently in prayer. Of course, prayer features prominently in all the great religious traditions.

To be clear, prayer in relation to healing falls into one of two categories: intercessory prayer, which involves praying for the benefit of another person; or personal prayer, which involves praying for oneself.

Intercessory Prayer

When it comes to scientifically validating the healing potential of prayer, nearly all the published research focuses upon intercessory prayer (IP).

Much excitement was created in the research and wider communities in 1988 when the cardiologist and committed Christian, Randolph Byrd published a landmark paper demonstrating the benefits of IP for people recovering in a coronary care unit (CCU).

Working in the San Francisco General Hospital, Dr Byrd used a prospective, randomised, double blind protocol making the study quite sound from a scientific point of view. Practising "born again" Christians from a range of faiths were assigned to pray for people they never met, and who did not know if they were being prayed for or not. They were instructed to pray daily for the rapid recovery of those assigned to them; and for the prevention of any complications and death, in addition to other areas of prayer they believed to be beneficial to the patient.

The results demonstrated that those prayed for had significantly fewer complications and required less medication. Mortality was the same for those prayed for and the controls.

Byrd's much quoted study attracted a good deal of support and criticism.  The Harris study in 1999, was another similarly well designed and well conducted study that showed positive benefits in reducing complications in a CCU.

However, the most recent Cochrane Review (Roberts 2011) on IP sits on the fence. The Cochrane Reviews, which are given a good deal of weight in medical circles, aim to provide the evidence base on a particular subject and commonly use a process that selects for high quality research while filtering out observational and population based studies.

Roberts concluded that at present there was no good quality scientific evidence IP led to positive or negative outcomes and that further research would be required to settle the matter scientifically. This enthusiasm for more research is shared by many other researchers, clinicians and members of the wider public for whom the topic of IP remains of great interest.

Personal Prayer

Personal prayer involves a spectrum of inner practices which range from prayer in the traditional sense, through to the repetition of a particular prayer or the use of a mantra, and on into the use of contemplation and sitting quietly in silence. Techniques in this spectrum include praying for oneself by appealing for divine intervention or praying that the best outcome possible will flow from the present circumstances and trusting in that outcome.

However, this type of prayer can also cover a range of inner practices which may produce significant cognitive shifts such as from despair to acceptance, and can include the use of visualisations and contemplation that leads to insight, clarity and the development of particular traits such as compassion and happiness. It even may be that simply sitting quietly in silence is the most powerful healing practice of all.

There has been very little specific research published on the benefits of personal prayer. However, this form of inner practice overlaps with that of contemplation and meditation which have attracted a great deal of recent study. It is relatively easy to make the theoretical connections between the practices of personal prayer, contemplation and meditation. As such, it is reasonable to conject that many of the positive health benefits associated with the practice of meditation are likely to be reproduced via personal prayer. Here it is worth noting that there are currently over 7000 studies in the medical literature around the world attesting to the positive benefits of meditation in a wide range of physical and psychological conditions.

In summary 

The existing research on the healing benefits of prayer are scant and include both positive and negative findings. Research in this field is challenging but due to the huge public interest in it, warrants more attention. There may be particular benefits in examining the linkages between the practices of personal prayer, visualisation, contemplation and meditation and the wealth of research available and continuing in the latter fields.

Speaking personally

Pray regularly. It could transform your life. It could save your life.

And if anyone offers to pray for you, thank them kindly, accept  and ask them if they have any friends who will join in!


1  Dr Craig Hassed's excellent review of prayer and spirituality in his 2006  paper on Mind-body medicine, listed on the Gawler Foundation's website.

2, The Cochrane Reviews:  Mainstream evidence based medical research reviews

3.www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/corehtml/query/static/clinical.shtml. This may be the longest address known to man, but it gives you free access to Pubmed database.
 A search of this database has not been done for this article.

4. Good positive books: Both by Larry Dossey: Healing Words(1993) and Prayer is Good Medicine (1996)

5. Wikipedia: the section on prayer is pretty good and has a lot in common with that above. The link is to prayer, then go to efficacy of prayer healing.