Brian Broom trained in medicine at the University of Otago. As a Medical Research Council (NZ) Training Fellow he studied and researched in Birmingham, London, and Montreal, returning in 1976 to the Christchurch School of Medicine to set up the Department of Clinical Immunology. He had a long-standing interest in the integration of mind, body, and the spiritual aspects of persons, and, increasingly, felt frustrated by both the lack of time to pursue this, and also the lack of skills to meaningfully engage the issues in depth. In 1981 he resigned from the School of Medicine and started psychiatry training, a pathway that eventually led him to becoming a trained psychotherapist and member of the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists. Furthermore, he had had a lifetime engagement with Christian spirituality.
All of this led to an ongoing active tussling with the integration of mind, body and spirit, in a cultural ethos that treats them as separated entities or compartments. In 1987 the opportunity arose to develop a Centre (Arahura, Christchurch) organized around integrative activities. Brian took up his clinical immunology specialization again combing it with his psychotherapy practice. The result was unnerving. He started to realize that patients, coming through medical doors with ‘physical’ conditions, often had invisible ‘stories’ apparently strongly related to the onset, triggering and perpetuation of the condition, stories that in his earlier period as a consultant physician he had been quite unaware of. In a significant proportion of patients the meaning was so obvious as to warrant calling the condition a somatic metaphor. The question became what to do with this new material. Gradually he developed an expertise in handling these patients, and in particular he has developed a model of illness relating to ‘the meaning of illness.’
It is widely recognized that his approach brings about healing change in many patients. This approach was published in 1997 in Somatic Illness and the Patient’s Other Story. A Practical Integrative Mind/Body Approach to Disease for Doctors and Psychotherapists that has enjoyed wide circulation internationally. He has trained and supervised many doctors and psychotherapists in the art of thinking about and working with the relationship between the ill and diseased body and the ‘mind’, emotions, and meanings. He has given workshops and lectures in Europe, UK, USA, Scandinavia, Australia, and throughout New Zealand. His work has been profiled internationally recently in two feature articles in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine:
B C Broom (2000) Medicine and Story: a novel clinical panorama arising from a unitary mind/body approach to physical illness. Advances in Mind/Body Medicine 16: 161–207Brian works now out of a number of convictions. Patients’/clients’ meanings (and the meanings in their families, societies, cultures) play a large role in the development of disease. Meanings and biomedical and other approaches are highly compatible, because illness is usually multifactorial and multidimensional. Disease can be accessed therapeutically via the meanings route. This is particularly relevant in chronic or recurrent illness, and in illnesses poorly responsive to biomedical technologies, and to which large amounts of public money are dedicated with little result. We can make a significant impact upon illness and suffering if we can help clinicians develop mindbody skills that can be used in whatever workplace they find themselves.
B C Broom (2002) Somatic metaphor: a clinical phenomenon pointing to a new model of disease, personhood, and physical reality. Advances in Mind-Body Medicine 18: 16–29.
Currently, on the theoretical side Brian is writing a new book developing a conceptual basis for understanding the person and disease as unitary, rather than divided into compartments of mind, body, spirit. The book explores the implications of this. On the practical side he is working with the Auckland University of Technology to develop a post-graduate diploma and masters’ programme in MindBody HealthCare. If approved this will probably begin in the middle of 2005.
Brian lives in Christchurch with his wife, Alison. Their three children have flown the coop, but remain as stimulatory as ever, and are three of his best intellectual discussants. He is delighting in being a grandparent. He has sold his boat and is still adjusting to that (but fishing isn’t as good as it used to be!). Gardening, especially creating something new, keeps him grounded. Books remain a long-standing ‘symbol of belonging.’ And in Christchurch he has a group of very loyal friends who share his interests, and who mitigate the difficulties of the integrative enterprise.