No Guts, No Glory

Psychologists are famous for trying to look inside people, presumably to try to help them-specifically, to try to help them feel better or behave more effectively. Now there's another way to look inside, and it, too, might help people to change in positive ways.

Bob, a burly, ruddy-faced man, and his wife were sitting across from me in the waiting room. Well, to be precise, this was an ancillary waiting room; the main one was filled. "What are you in for?" I asked. He said that he had retired a couple of years ago from the Los Angeles Fire Department and that he had first come to HealthView about a year earlier because he "felt like crap." His personal physician hadn't been very helpful, so he turned to new technology. The city was willing to pick up half the tab for a $900 "total body scan" of his aching insides, and the results, he said, saved-and changed-his life.

The scan revealed, among other things, extensive calcium deposits throughout his heart. But it wasn't the results that got to him; it was the way he was shown those results. We usually get results over the phone, days or weeks after we take a test. But the HealthView process is very different. First, Bob lay on a table for a few minutes while a computed-tomography machine (CT) scanned his torso and a computer constructed a detailed, high-resolution model of his insides. An hour later, a physician took him on a virtual tour of his heart, lungs, colon and other internal structures, pointing out irregularities large and small. Bob wasn't simply given the usual pronouncement: "positive" or "negative." He was shown, with eerie precision on a large screen, exactly what the inside of his organs looked like. Talk about impact.

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Bob was then escorted to HealthView's staff counselor and was advised about ways he could exercise and diet to improve his medical outlook, and he was also urged to return to his physician for an additional follow-up. Over the next year, he changed his diet radically (his wife confirmed this), started exercising regularly and lost about 30 pounds. He felt and looked like a new man and was returning to HealthView now to look at his new, improved insides.

Please note: None of this is about medicine. As clinic founder and director Harvey Eisenberg, M.D., told me, "It's all about behavior." Think about it: Someone shows you dramatic images on a screen; a counselor gives you some advice; you start behaving differently. You might seek medical treatment (after all, the CT scan sometimes picks up advanced tumors that other tests have missed), but at a minimum, you'll probably make constructive lifestyle changes. That's what Bob did.

The colorful images you're seeing on these pages are actual images of my insides. (Talk about self-disclosure.) I was nervous about undergoing the scan because I was afraid Eisenberg would find something I couldn't pronounce, but I came out fine. I do have some slight calcification in one coronary artery and some irregularities in my spine. As a result, I've cut down slightly on my Ben & Jerry's intake and I've begun doing back exercises every day with a huge, blue exercise ball. The only down side of this is that I sometimes trip over the ball. Maybe I should move it out of my living room, but I put it there deliberately so that I'd use it more often.

Oprah Winfrey has reclined on that same scanning table, as have William Shatner, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Wagner and other notables. After Dr. Eisenberg appeared on Oprah's show last year, his clinic was swamped with more than 10,000 phone calls, and appointments were filled for nearly a year. Following on the heels of Eisenberg's success, clinics like his have begun popping up coast to coast, like Starbucks, and they may soon be in every mall. Meanwhile, professional organizations, such as the American College of Radiology, have expressed concern about the overuse of this new technology. We're exposing people to radiation unnecessarily, they say, and no study has yet shown the medical efficacy of the scans.

But then there's Bob-and me, for that matter. We were taken on a fantastic voyage through our bodies, and we made positive changes as a result. The changes I've made are mainly preventative; Bob's are mainly corrective. Recent studies show that the new graphic warnings on cigarette packs in Canada are helping people to stop smoking, and those warnings are merely generic. Imagine the power of graphic warnings provided by your own body. You just can't shake the images. Your body is screaming, "Help me!" and the overwhelming tendency is to assist.

Studies testing the clinical efficacy of total-body scans need to be done, and quickly, because of the frantic pace at which scanning clinics are spreading. Based on existing improvement research, I believe that the vast majority of people will use the information provided by these scans in positive ways to improve their health. The total-body scan is, in my view, an ideal bridge between health and behavior. It shows you a side of yourself you've never seen before, and that, of course, is always illuminating.

Robert Epstein is editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, University Research Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University and Director Emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University.

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