The author explores the effect of using medical qigong on his clinical psychology patients.


Brother Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, NMD

Brother / Doctor Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, NMD is a Catholic monk and a Clinical Psychologist, Board Certified in Behavioral Medicine. He is also a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine specializing in Chinese Medicine, with sub-specialties in Medical Qigong and Chinese medicinal herbs. Doctor Seif is a past Board member, current Ethics & Integrity Chair, and a Professional Member of the National Qigong Association USA. He is also a Member of the World Academic Society of Medical Qigong (Beijing). Brother Bernard enjoys doing spiritual direction and giving retreats and workshops in America and abroad.


Brother Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, NMD

Much of my professional life as a Clinical Psychologist specializing in Behavioral Medicine has been spent in treating patients with serious medical disorders. I regularly employ the use of such modalities as clinical hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation training, massage therapy, and medical qigong within the context of individual psychotherapy when working with such patients. Many of the people I am honored to treat are dealing with such issues as chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, gastrointestinal problems, various forms of cancer, and mood disorders, e.g., panic attacks and depression.
I have practiced some form of self-cultivation qigong for most of my adult life, that is, I have used qigong to gather, circulate, and store the qi (life force) within my own body-mind. During the last twelve years or so, this personal cultivation has grown into ever-increasing medical qigong training and clinical practice. Thus, I often use qigong to gather, circulate, and store qi within the body-minds of my patients. This typically includes examining the tongue, the taking of the twelve pulses, using my “mind will” to emit qi to the person I am working with, and perhaps doing some form of bodywork or other Asian modalities to facilitate the flow of the qi within that person.
As my qigong adventure evolved, I began to speculate about the impact of medical qigong on the quality and length of treatment for my clinical psychology patients. Does medical qigong shorten the length of a course of psychotherapy? Does it help to reduce signs and symptoms earlier on in treatment?
A review of charts (by counting the number of treatment sessions to termination of psychotherapy) representing thirty years of clinical practice indicates that when medical qigong is added to one or more of the other modalities used during therapy, remediation of signs and symptoms occurs more quickly (often beginning with the first or second session) and the number of treatment sessions necessary to obtain remediation decreases by about fifty per cent. More specifically, a statistical mean of fifty sessions per patient is reduced to a mean of twenty-five through the addition of medical qigong treatment along with patient self-cultivation qigong as instructed by me.

As scientists, we may reasonably wonder if the years of clinical experience the doctor has been in practice also influences the length of treatment. In other words, even with the use of qigong, would not one expect the clinician to hone his or her clinical skills over the years and thus experience a decrease in the number of treatment sessions necessary for a positive outcome as a result of that additional experience?
Addressing this variable as a control factor, I studied the charts of patients for whom medical qigong was not used during the past twelve years, i. e., psychotherapy as the sole modality, and found that treatment did progress faster than when I began my career, but only by about twenty per cent. Comparing this to the fifty per cent decrease noted above when medical qigong was employed as part of the treatment protocol, suggests that the addition of qigong to the clinical treatment decreases favorable outcome time by an additional thirty percent.
A related benefit of medical qigong in clinical practice is that, at least in my experience, the doctor is less depleted, more creative, more empathic, and is thus more likely to communicate this positive attitude to his or her patients. Numerous empirical studies, including the extensive one end noted, clearly support the therapeutic effect upon the patient of such an attitude on the part of the practitioner.
The data analyzed herein were drawn from all my past patient charts and represent the wide variety of diagnostic categories treated by me over the last thirty years. Factoring out diagnoses into sub-groups and then measuring the impact of medical qigong upon those categories could make an interesting follow up study.
My reading of the scientific literature over the years indicates to me that the etiology of most disorders is multi-factorial. Is it not logical, then, to employ several modalities in treating such disorders that arise from a synthesis of many causes and thus use a multi-factorial treatment? East and West need the wisdom that the other contains, in my opinion, in order to make our world a healthier and happier place in which to live. Medical qigong appears to be a wonderful bridge to this end.
Without any attempt or desire to create a hybrid religion, one can easily see that qigong might also be a bridge between Eastern spirituality and Western Judeo-Christian religions and thus have clinical utility in that context as well. Observe the parallels in these two traditions, first by a passage from the Digha Nikaya which evokes the image of qi in my the mind:
“Ananda, having arranged one set of the golden robes on the body of the Lord [Buddha], observed that against the Lord’s body it appeared dulled. And he said: ‘It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvelous how clear and bright the Lord’s skin appears! It looks even brighter than the golden robes in which it is clothed.’” (Digha Nikaya 16: 4-37)
Like the dawning of a day, it gradually came to mind that the Judeo-Christian scriptures also contain many passages that for me, as a Catholic Christian monk, image the flow of qi in a fashion that is in harmony with my spiritual tradition. Understanding qi in this scriptural way is helpful to me personally as a wholistic practitioner and to a number of my patients who are Western Jews or Christians of various denominations. The passage where Jesus is transfigured before three of his disciples on Mount Tabor is but one such scriptural account:
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9: 2-3).
Unfortunately, even though numerous scientific studies support the efficacy of self-cultivation and medical qigong, and its application in the area of spirituality is eons old, it is the observation of this writer that supportive clinical and scientific data is often disregarded. This is the case even among scientifically trained professionals, when they read studies that contradict their prejudices.
One source to access qigong studies (of varying degrees of scientific rigor) is the Computerized Qigong Database on CD-ROM, created and periodically updated by Kenneth Sancier, PhD. A study of such material will allow the reader to form his or her own opinion as to the efficacy of medical qigong.
In conclusion, it may be said that qigong can easily be utilized as a tool not only for personal and patient growth and healing, but also as a vehicle for mutual respect and as a vehicle for celebrating diversity, both in terms of science and spirituality. Rooted in my own Catholic Christian and monastic traditions, I have never been more at home than with my Buddhist and Hindu monastic sisters and brothers while in Asia for portions of my medical qigong education and training.
Qigong is an invitation to celebrate all that we hold in common and to respect all that we view as different from ourselves. May Jesus and the Buddha help us all to become aglow with qi!

Contact Member:
Brother Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, DNM
420 Frantz Road - Salesian Monastery (Not 414, which is an internet error)
Brodheadsville, PA 18322-7722
United States / e-mail:
(2003) The Impact of Medical Qigong on a Wholistic Clinical Practice. Oriental Medicine Journal, 11, 3 (Summer), 16-17.