Behavior: Jogging for the Mind

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Running might cure the blahs

California Psychiatrist Thaddeus Kostrubala, 47, is a bald, intense man who for five years has practiced psychotherapy while jogging alongside his patients. Jogging, he says, makes people more talkative and breaks down the social barrier between a know-it-all therapist and a passive patient. But Kostrubala, a veteran marathoner and author of The Joy of Running, has a stronger reason for conducting his running dialogues: he thinks jogging is itself a form of therapy. So far he has trained two "running therapists" and claims some success in using jogging as a treatment for depression, drug addiction and schizophrenia. Says he: "I think this is a new and powerful way of reaching the unconscious."

The mystique of jogging, with its claims to work wonders for body and soul, has begun to invade American psychiatry. Some psychiatrists now routinely prescribe jogging instead of pills for moderate depression. Others use it to break down patients' defenses in talk therapy, and a few believe running produces chemical changes that help cure serious disorders. Jogging literature now features overblown claims for the method. Runner's World magazine says that Kostrubala may be "a therapeutic messiah who will lead the mentally disturbed out of the desert." Writer Valerie Andrews, in her forthcoming book, The Psychic Power of Running, argues that weekend jogging clinics "could well be the basis for the nation's first grass-roots movement in community mental health."

Several studies report that jogging works well for moderately depressed neurotics. In one test of 28 depressed patients, a team of psychiatrists and psychologists at the University of Wisconsin Medical School found that for most of them, 30 to 45 minutes of jogging three times a week was at least as effective as talk therapy. Psychiatrist Robert S. Brown of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, who says it dawned on him one day that "nobody jogging down at the track ever appeared depressed," finds that the exercise works better than pills in controlling depression. About 70% of all his patients, he says, are depressives, and all but 15% to 20% show "quick benefit" after only a week of running. Says U.C.L.A. Psychiatrist Ronald M. Lawrence: "Mild depression is more common than the common cold, but it can be markedly helped by slow endurance exercise."

Lawrence is founder and president of the American Medical Joggers Association, a group of 3,000 jogger-doctors. This fall he plans to start a Jungian talk-and-jog therapy with neurotic patients on Malibu Beach, charging $75 an hour. "Jogging is a way of reaching the unconscious rapidly," he says. "Man was meant to be a moving animal, but he's become sedentary. Distance running can bring us back to the basics of what we're here for." Lawrence has noticed that after 14 to 18 miles of a marathon, people often break down and cry, or babble to strangers about their childhood memories and problems-exactly the kind of breakthrough that conventional talk therapists look for.

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