By Eleanor Eggers, Ph.D., LP, BCB, (Senior Fellow)

 Relaxation Therapy

Relaxation therapy involves learning and practicing deep relaxation in some form. There are two major methods of practicing deep relaxation, namely Autogenic Training and Progressive Relaxation. Both of them are very valuable.  Both have been extensively researched and have been found to be very effective for reducing and eliminating stress disorders. Both of them have spread all over the world, and the research reports are often published in other languages.  I have used both of them with my patients, and I have practiced both of them myself.  I have found them to be very effective for overcoming a variety of stress disorders. My favorite, however, is Autogenic Training.

Autogenic Training was invented in the 1920s and 1930s by Johannes Schultz, M.D., and further developed later with Wolfgang Luthe, M.D.  The two together wrote a six-volume text on Autogenic Therapy, which included Autogenic Training.  The six volumes were published in 1969 and 1970.

I prefer Autogenic Training for several reasons.  It is more interesting and enjoyable to do, and it does not require as extensive a time commitment as Progressive Relaxation does. In addition, the "formulas" can be used effectively in many life situations.  With my patients I have found that Autogenic Training is remarkably powerful for overcoming people's stress disorders.  Please see the section on Autogenic Training for detailed instructions on how to practice it.    


   Rationale for the Effectiveness of Relaxation Therapy

Why does this treatment work?  Because we are re-balancing the autonomic nervous system by practicing deep relaxation. The autonomic (or involuntary) nervous system has two divisions, the sympathetic (active or tense) and the parasympathetic (passive or relaxed). As a reaction to all the stress we have been subjected to, we have spent too much time in the sympathetic mode and not enough time in the parasympathetic mode.  As a result we have become “stuck” in the sympathetic mode. This sets up a condition of chronic low-grade tension. This constant tension is what causes the  stress disorders.

The good news is that stress disorders can be eliminated.  When we put the body and mind in a completely passive or inactive state (a state of deep relaxation) repeatedly over a long period of time, the autonomic nervous system becomes re-balanced and resumes its normal method of operation. It is as though we were reminding it to function in the way it was designed to function in the first place.  When it is functioning normally, it alternates back and forth between the sympathetic (active, tense) mode and the parasympathetic (passive, relaxed) mode. This gives the body a chance to eliminate the chronic low-grade tension which has caused the stress disorders. 

After about six months of practicing deep relaxation the stress disorders simply reduce in severity or go away entirely because the chronic low-grade tension has either diminished or disappeared.  The improvement  is  automatic.  Changes take place very slowly and very gradually. 

​Therefore, relaxation therapy is not a quick fix.  It usually takes about two months until one is able to notice an improvement in one's condition and about six months to achieve the maximum effect and eliminate the disorder.    


​                    A Few Words of Caution

Please consult your physician before using relaxation therapy to treat any stress disorders to make sure that he (she) approves. This is especially important if you plan to use it treat the stress component of a serious condition or one which could become serious.  Relaxation therapy is meant to be a supplement to medical care by a physician.  It is not meant to be used as a replacement for medical care.  You must never reduce or eliminate your medication without  the explicit instruction by your physician to do so.

People who take medicine for high blood pressure or people who take insulin for diabetes should monitor their blood pressure or blood sugar carefully throughout their practice and report any reductions to their doctors immediately because their medications may need to be lowered accordingly.  Deep relaxation practice tends to reduce both blood pressure and blood sugar. 

A few people should not  practice deep relaxation. These are the following:

  • ​​People who have very low blood pressure
  • People who have severe depression or mental illness
  • People who have post-traumatic stress disorder which

     involves frightening flashbacks during sleep or relaxation.  

People in the above categories can safely do Minis.  Minis are very brief practice periods of just a few seconds which involve quickly checking and relaxing certain critical areas of the body. I recommend that everyone practice the Minis.  Adding them to your practice of deep relaxation therapy will increase its effectiveness and speed your recovery.  The Minis are described in detail later in this section.