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It's all in your mind

New WVU institute embraces thought-based system of healing

Tuesday, October 24, 2000

By Deborah Weisberg

If you want to change your life, just change your mind.

Anita Dufalla, Post-Gazette

That's part of the thinking behind a movement to revolutionize the way people "do therapy" and find happiness and inner peace.

It also is part of the curriculum at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, which recently opened the Sydney Banks Institute for Innate Health. This is named for the millworker-turned-mystic whose beliefs began to attract followers 26 years ago.

"The traditional approach in medicine deals with curing disease instead of promoting health," said Dr. Robert D'Allessandri, dean of the medical school. He embraced Banks' theosophy, or insights, at a seminar five years ago and envisioned doctors treating patients by trusting their "innate wisdom" as much as technology.

"We know a lot about sickness, but not much about being well," he said.

    Banks' theosophy

Sydney Banks believes that people are shaped by three principles: mind, thought and consciousness.

Mind is universal creative energy, thought is the power to create moment-to-moment reality and consciousness is the ability to be aware of both what is created and that it is being created.

According to Banks, as people begin to realize the operation of these principles for themselves, they gain insights about how to reach their own wisdom and common sense. They find calm, clarity, security and a positive direction, regardless of life circumstances, because they see the inside-out nature of experience.

Read about

another alternative path to mental health.


The idea that our thinking creates our reality -- that we are one thought away from a better life -- may not have originated with Banks. But the soft-spoken Scotsman, who lives near Vancouver, British Columbia, convinced people of its wisdom by sharing an epiphany he had as a 43-year-old welder and parent, struggling with everyday problems.

"I was sitting in my living room with my late wife, Barbara, waiting to eat dinner, when, all of a sudden, I felt like I was being sucked out of a tunnel," Banks, now 69, recalled. "There was a white light and buzzing all around, and I burst out laughing because I had found the true meaning of the mind. I turned to Barbara, and said, I'm home free. I've made it. I told her, you and I will travel the world. We'll change psychology and help people."

What Banks learned that night, he said, is that all beings are shaped by three principles: mind, thought and consciousness. (See accompanying story.)

He quit his job and began writing and lecturing to share his vision.

"Whatever is on your mind is in your life," said Banks, a slight, bearded man who eschews publicity. "We create our experiences by how we think, and we use our five senses to bring our thoughts to life. Our thoughts are the brush we use to paint our life.

"There is no such thing as insecurity. It is only thought," he said. "Psychologists and psychiatrists take us to our past, but the past is nonexistent. It's just a thought, a ghostly memory."

Judith Sedgeman, assistant professor in WVU's Department of Community Medicine, said her life was transformed by Banks' teachings 17 years ago when she was running a medical management business in Tampa, Fla., and "felt more stressed out than my clients."

She was so impressed with his teachings that she helped develop the privately funded institute at WVU, the first medical school to use Banks' work. It is a third of the way toward its $10 million goal.

The institute, dedicated Sept. 20, aims to teach medical students how to incorporate Banks' ideas into their lives and medical practices so they can share these teachings with their patients.

The institute also is conducting related research, funded by health insurance companies, on the relationship between stress and disease. By following Banks' way of thinking, people can dramatically ease stress in their lives, WVU educators believe.

"Stress and depression are the largest factors in health care costs," Sedgeman said. "Stress drives disease."

There is no organization around Banks, just an ever-expanding network of those who believe as he does.

Sedgeman was a prime candidate for Banks' teachings 17 years ago.

"I was overwhelmed," she said. "I had no life."

A psychiatrist who practiced Banks' theosophy invited her to his therapy group. "I saw how happy his patients were, how they didn't stay in treatment long. Then, one day after about four months, I woke up and, for the first time, I didn't cry on my way to work, and I noticed how beautiful my neighborhood was. When difficult clients called, I found myself staying calm, and not feeding their reaction."

Elsie Spittle, whose husband worked with Banks in the mill and knew him before his enlightment, also is a believer.

"This understanding is one of the best-kept secrets going," she said.

"It just never occurred to me that thought could be used as a working tool."

Spittle, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif., takes Banks' work into corporations as a leadership development consultant. "We use the understanding to help people become comfortable in their own skins, to find their innate wisdom and to be confident," Spittle said.

"The understanding" is a term Banks' devotees use to describe his theosophy, and they talk about the soul as a reservoir of wisdom.

"It's a God-given intelligence that hasn't been contaminated yet by human thought. It can't be taught, only uncovered," said Banks.

God, he said, "is the energy of all things, either formed or unformed."

And love is always the answer. "When you see the innocence in the world, you'll live in that state. When I look at a prisoner, I see a beautiful human being who lost his way through wrongful thinking."

    For more information

"Releasing the Power in Health," a national conference about innate health and mental well-being, has been scheduled at the Westin William Penn, Downtown Pittsburgh, June 14-17, 2001. Sydney Banks is scheduled to lecture.

You can reach the Sydney Banks Institute for Innate Health at WVU by calling (304) 293-1917or by visiting

Banks has written three books:

-- "The Missing Link: Reflections on Philosophy and Spirit," (Lone Pine Publishing, 1998)

-- "In Quest of the Pearl," (Duval-Bibb, 1990)

-- "Second Chance," (Duval-Bibb, 1989)


Many of Banks' devotees are teachers, therapists, nurses, community outreach workers and corrections officers.

Ed Lemon, of St. Paul, Minn., was once a police officer with a number of excessive-force complaints. "I thought it made sense to beat people," he said.

Once turned on to Banks' teachings, "I learned that, at any moment, I have a pool of well-being I can tap into," said Lemon, who now works with teen-age offenders. "All you have to do is think it. I used to lose my temper. Now, I simply notice it, and it goes away."

Keith Blevins of LaConnor, Wash., said Banks' beliefs changed his psychotherapy practice.

Blevins claims he is able to help even severely disturbed patients by sharing the understanding that our thoughts create our reality. "I've worked with schizophrenics and I've seen them improve. Getting them to understand the difference between 'The fridge is talking to me,' and 'I think the fridge is talking to me,' that's a big step."

Frank A. Ghinassi, chief of Adult Services at Western Psychistrict Institute and Clinic, said he's not familiar with Banks' work, but that most medical schools are looking at nontraditional forms of therapy.

"That's not troublesome, as long as they try to find out the scientific underpinnings of those treatments. Research will help make the links.

"A movement may not present something as treatment, but individuals will perceive it as treatment," he said, "and I worry that a delay in seeking appropriate care could cause a lot of distress and pain."

Someone who has a major imbalance in hormones or neurochemistry will find it difficult to think his way out of the fact that his body is not producing what it needs to function, Ghinassi said.

Medical professionals must first restore the balance, whether through drugs or other means. "Once the balance is restored, you have some choice about whether to be depressed about your illness."

Deborah Weisberg is a free-lance writer who lives in the East End.

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