About Dr. O. Carl Simonton
Dr. O. Carl Simonton was an internationally acclaimed oncologist, author, and speaker who was best known for his pioneering insights and research in the field of psychosocial oncology. After having earned his medical degree from the University of Oregon Medical School, he completed a three-year residency in radiation oncology. It was during this time that Dr. Simonton developed a model of emotional support for the treatment of cancer patients... an approach that introduced the concept that one's state of mind could influence their ability to survive cancer.
As chief of Radiation Therapy at Travis Air Force Base, Dr. Simonton implemented this model. This was the first systematic emotional intervention used in the treatment of cancer -- a program that was approved by the surgeon General's Office in 1973. While in private practice, Dr. Simonton utilized his unique approach for the treatment of cancer patients. A pilot study he conducted from 1974 to 1981, demonstrated an increase in survival time and improvement in quality of life. His early research established the foundation for two widely acclaimed books which he co-authored, Getting Well Again and The Healing Journey.
Dr. Simonton was the Medical Director of The Simonton Cancer Center in California, where retreat programs are offered for cancer patients and their loved ones. In recent years, his model has received great acceptance in Germany, Poland, Japan, Switzerland, Holland, and Italy where he routinely conducts training sessions for health professionals.
In November, 1997, he was honored by the American Medical Association for his film, Affirmations For Getting Well by Touchstar Productions. This video, used in practically every hospital in the US is presently being distributed to oncologists throughout our nation by SmithKline Beecham, one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Simonton touched many lives in his lifetime. His recent passing was a huge loss to both the medical community and the cancer community, but we move forward and make progress as Dr. Simonton was always one to look at death as just another part of life. In his absence, the Simonton Cancer Center continues his quest to help individuals build upon their strengths by enabling them to travel their healing journeys with hope and inspiration. His pioneered approach has great potential to become the 4th tool in our armamentarium against cancer along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
(**By clicking on any of the links above, you will be directed to www.simontoncenter.com, the website where you may purchase the items mentioned.)
How Dr. Simonton got started with this type of work
Dr. O. Carl Simonton was born in Los Angeles on June 29, 1942.
Dr. Simonton graduated from University of Oregon Medical School in Portland, where he also did his residency in radiation therapy. Prior to his residency he did an internship at Santa Barbara County Hospital and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California and received an intern of the year award. It was during his residency he noticed that many of the patients did not want to cooperate with a promising research project that was designed to increase effectiveness of Radiation Therapy (so called hyperfractionation or superfractionated radiation therapy) and decrease side effects. When Carl investigated that further, he discovered it was hopelessness that interfered with patients participating in the program. He soon discovered a tool for hopelessness in motivational psychology of business. It was relatively easy to find out the effectiveness of approaches in business. It turned out that those businessmen that imagined desirable outcomes were able to have the best business and financial outcomes. Inspired by these discoveries, in April 1971 he applied these concepts with his first patient.
The first patient was a 61-year-old male with an advanced throat cancer. He lost over 30 pounds, he could barely swallow his own saliva and had difficulty breathing. He was expected to get worse despite treatment. Carl taught this patient to imagine a desirable outcome, imagining his cancer as curable and his treatment as his allies and friends and as being effective and that his body was capable of overcoming cancer. What was the most astonishing was that the patient had no side effects to high dose radiation therapy. This was also an example that despite patient’s criminal past he could get well. Carl emphasized, “You don’t have to be a saint for a miracle to happen to you.” When the patient got well, Carl didn’t know how to proceed any further and Carl discovered the first signs of his own attachment to patient’s outcome and was worried what to do if the patient’s condition worsened. The patient had a very special, direct way of communicating. He stated, “Doc, in the beginning in I needed you in order to get well. Now you could drop dead, and I could still make it on my own.” As a matter of fact, he helped himself to techniques to free himself from arthritis and impotence.
The same year Carl became chief of radiation therapy at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. That is where he instituted a group an individual counseling as a part of the standard treatment for all cancer patients going through treatment at the center. In his program I got approval of the surgeon general’s Air Force office and the National Psychiatric Consultant to the Air Force.
This was another first for Carl. So he was the first one to introduce counseling to all cancer patients. In 1973 he led the field again by introducing family therapy as a standard form of cancer counseling at the Oncology Associates in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was the medical director of Cancer Counseling and Research Center.
The Simonton program is very frequently identified with simplistic understanding of visualization and mental imaging. I don’t remember Carl ever using the word “visualization” at least in 18 years that we worked together. For Dr. Simonton imaging was a natural process occurring in our lives all the time. His most frequent example of imaging was asking the audience, “What did you have for breakfast?” He emphasized that we all are expert at using our imagination in our own way. Try to sit for a few seconds and not imagine anything. Impossible! (Unless you are a master of particular meditative practices with dozens of years of daily, multi-hour experience) Carl considered the content and quality of these continuous cognitions to be the key for health. He developed a very sophisticated approach to shift thoughts in a healthy direction and refined mental imagery exercises that were individualized to the particular style, symbolism, and the needs of a person. His patients were becoming experts at using their continuous natural imagination in healthy ways that promote getting well. At this time he developed close ties with his life-long friend and colleague dr. Jeanne Achterberg whose research on imagery, shamanistic practices and mind-body medicine laid foundation to our modern understanding of psychoneuroimmunology.
Since 1973 Dr. Simonton with his then wife Stephanie, a psychologist, was conducting the pilot research project through privately funded sources. At that time he was strongly advocating patients’ autonomy and empowerment in the process of treatment, which was not so obvious in the era of doctor’s paternalistic attitudes. This concept is much more embraced today. His approach was getting media attention and he attracted leaders in different psychotherapy approaches to work with him -- from traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian therapy, Gestalt, Systems Therapy, NLP, etc. However, as an oncologist, he was not wedded to any psychological school of thought. He was only interested in applying what was helpful to his patients and their families. As a scientist with an incredible intuition, he was able to discover these factors that promoted healing for his patients and incorporate to his program which continues to evolve. evolved.
Dr. Simonton and the mind-body connection:
written by Dr. Mariusz Wirga
The power of Dr. Carl Simonton’s message is derived from the lineage of Hypocrates, the father of medicine, who maintained the beliefs that we are healthy by nature and that our bodies naturally have the tendency to regain health and get well. Individuals, as well as physicians and other professionals caring for patients, need to support these processes and do no harm to these natural healing processes.
Medical science now supports the understanding that we all produce cancer cells, and that these cancer cells are naturally recognized and eliminated from our body without any conscious effort from ourselves. The process of identifying and eliminating cancer cells is a natural process that has been functioning effectively since before we were born.
This process is an innate and natural one that can be strengthened by returning to our true nature – contacting our real selves. While this goal has been aim of millennia of spiritual and scientific exploration, Dr. Simonton provided a simple but powerful path.
We humans are guided to our own true nature by engaging in activities that bring us joy, meaning, and deep fulfilment. Recognizing that our nature is to be kind, caring, and compassionate (purely loving), Dr. Simonton emphasized that we need to align our ways of thinking, and our ways of being, with the laws of nature
In fact, this is the first rule for healthy thinking that he taught to his patients, their support people and families. Because healthy thinking is a new and foreign concept to most, Dr. Simonton developed a way of cultivating healthy thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes through imagery practice. Imagery-based healing practices were understood and recorded in cave paintings as far back as 40,000 years ago. Early humans were more in tune with the forces of nature, and more aligned with their own true nature. They recognized that imagining desirable outcomes helped them thrive, whether in hunting, regaining health, or healing. Even though science lost this message somewhere along the way, Dr. Simonton reminded the thousands of people that he touched that imagery is, indeed, a powerful process deeply tied to their own true nature.
The Simonton program that he developed is the only psycho-oncology program that has been in continuous operation for over 38 years. Because of Dr. Simonton’s uncompromising integrity, his method has gained strong followings in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, and Japan, and training centers have thrived in these locations. As an oncologist he was interested in giving patients and their families the most effective tools for getting well and maintaining hope in all stages of life. His revolutionary methods, closer to psychotherapy than medical practice, drew equal parts praise and criticism, but he remained true to his philosophies throughout his career.
Simonton’s research with terminal patients, first published in 1981, demonstrated that clinical work with imagery and belief systems could not only improve their quality of life prior to death, and quality of death for those who died, but also prolong life and getting well. Many leading psychotherapists from across the theoretical spectrum were attracted to and collaborated with Dr. Simonton, allowing him to scientifically test which types of interventions worked best for his patients. As an oncologist he was not wedded to any particular school of psychotherapy – he was committed without compromise to implement whatever helped his patients.
The medical establishment initially rejected his findings and approaches, but after nearly 30 years, the scientific evidence has finally caught up with Dr. Simonton (and the cavemen) and proven that psychotherapeutic interventions not only provide comfort to cancer patients, but also enhance quality of life and improve survival.
Despite criticism, Dr. Simonton continued to stay true to his philosophy, refining his approaches and advancing the reach of the Simonton Program. He worked with patients all over the world, and taught an army of therapists interested in providing effective help to cancer patients and their families. With the science of psycho-oncology still in its relative infancy, the full impact of Dr. Simonton’s work is yet to be realized. For those countless lives touched by Carl, directly and indirectly, professionally and personally, we celebrate a man who found his true nature and shared it with joy, meaning, and deep fulfillment.
In the care for cancer patients and their families Dr. Carl Simonton pioneered the fourth modality. In the treatment of cancer currently there are three accepted treatment modalities: radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Each has its place. But the fourth modality needs to be put in place, the focus on the role of the mind/body relationship in health and illness.
Even such establishment groups as the National Institute of Health ‘s Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine reports that: 93% of Americans say that perceptions, thoughts and choices effects physical health. The recent 429 page report of Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies titled Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs states that “A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that the psychological and social (“psychosocial”) problems created or exacerbated by cancer (e.g., depression, other emotional problems, or a lack of information or skills needed to manage illness) can be effectively addressed by a number of services and interventions.” The IOM sets standards of practice in Medicine and voices strongly that: “Today, it is not possible to deliver high-quality cancer care without addressing patients’ psychosocial health needs. All patients with cancer and their families should expect and receive cancer care that ensures the provision of appropriate psychosocial Health services…” But they conclude that: “In spite of this evidence […] attention to patients’ psychosocial health needs is the exception rather than the rule in cancer care today.”
Throughout his life Carl was promoting the motto: “Don’t let the things that we don’t know stop us from applying things that we do know.” In the words of the old Chinese proverb: "The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." Dr. O. Carl Simonton was the person doing it since April of 1971.
"Don't let the things that we don't know, stop us from applying the things that we do know."
If you would like to learn more about the Simonton Cancer Center, click HERE and you will be directed to the Simonton Cancer Center's website.