Category: Archive

Mind over matter

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The psychologist was profoundly affected by the dream. He suspected that his avid interest in Celtic and Greek mythology might provide a clue as to the meaning of the message. Clifton knew that the ferryman was somehow a reference to the Greek myth of the River Styx, across which a man ferries people to die.
He researched the etymology of the word “ferryman” and discovered that it derived from the old English word Faran, which means “to move.” He reasoned that his role was to help people move from shock and depression to a happier place. At the time, the 54-year-old had a practice on Park Avenue. “It was secure and paid for my children to go to school,” he said. However, the force of the dream was such that he left his regular job and set up the Center with the meaningful name.
The Faran Center, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is a place dedicated to helping cancer and depression patients. Clifton recognized that while traditional medicine provides the physical care, there was a need to address the devastating effects that a cancer diagnosis can bring.
“I have controversial ideas,” Clifton said. “Traditional support groups exist for these patients, but I think that they tend to reinforce someone’s identity with cancer. I don’t want people to deny, it but I also don’t think it should become someone’s label. If you start to think, ‘this is who I am,’ and keep reinforcing the cancer element, your whole world becomes that.”
His ideal is that the cancer leaves the patients as soon as possible and views the mentality and attitude toward the illness as a vital part of that process. In therapy, Clifton places the emphasis on self-discovery and growth. “They find something they have always wanted to do, e.g. learn to play the piano, go back to school, spend time gardening,” he said.
Clifton’s interest in Celtic mythology is evident in the Faran Center. Inspired by Newgrange, an ancient burial in the Boyne Valley of Ireland, the entrance to the hub of the Center has a special significance. The corridor is quite somber and dark, with a bright light and soothing pictures at the end.
Clifton acknowledges the nod to the ancient site.
“We have to be willing to go into darkness,” he said. “Only then, will we find the light. I first went to Ireland to visit Tyrone, where my grandmother is from. I knew about Newgrange from my study of Celtic mythology.”
Clifton did not start out with the aim of treating cancer patients. He said that he began noticing that cancer patients were the most serious about life, due to the specter of losing it. His theory was that if people explored their fears and found out more about themselves, whether they died soon after or lived for years, their life would be forever changed.
He mentioned a study that seems to support his hypothesis. The study was carried out by David McClelland of Massachusetts General Hospital on a group of Harvard students. To begin with, he measured the level of hemoglobin A in their system. It is an indicator of the functioning of the body’s immune system. A high count would be a sign of a strong immune system.
The doctor screened a film for the group. It was a dark story with images of death and destruction. On testing the hemoglobin levels, he found they were down. The second film he screened was a happy one, with positive images. The levels went up. The third film was about Mother Theresa helping the dying in Calcutta. Despite the disturbing images of death, the film also focused on the loving care the people were given. Not surprisingly, the levels had gone up. The theory is that if we think negatively, those negative thoughts will manifest themselves in a physical way.
Clifton describes the case of a former patient of his. “A French woman had just been diagnosed with stomach cancer,” he said. “She talked to me and told me that two members of her immediate family had died of the same illness. I immediately thought that she had to disassociate herself from them.”
He encouraged her to let go. He asked her to imagine walking down a road with these family members. When they get to a bridge, she had to turn to them and kiss them goodbye. Then she crossed the bridge, where her fianc

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