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Primitive man made no distinction between physical and mental ailments; he attributed both to the influence of spirits and demons and sought to obtain relief by averting the wrath of the malignant agents and involving the aid of the benign ones. Even when medical knowledge increased, psychic therapy predominated over physical treatment, and magic, religion or some form of mysticism was held as the sovereign remedy. Throughout the ages; man has been able cure illness by mental influence, but it is only in recent decades that psychotherapy has been placed on a "scientific basis," while technology and a secularized society has usurped the power of the individual.
The Simplest Form of Mental Therapy
Suggestion is the simplest form of therapy; a physician employs it whenever be assumes a bedside manner and whenever he assures a patient that his trouble is not serious and will soon pass over. Its most potent form is hypnotism (q.v.), the physician making strong suggestions that contradict the symptoms while the patient lies in a hypnotic sleep. A variant that is sometimes attended with satisfactory results in the case of children is to make the suggestion to the child during its natural sleep. The weakness of this method is that it attacks only the surface symptoms and leaves the source of the disorder untouched. As a result the effects are usually only transitory, relapses occur again and again, and frequently a symptom is removed only for another to take its place. In the most favourable cases the patient is left in a condition of psycho-sensual dependence on the physician who has effected the improvement- a highly undesirable state of affairs. In this case, the individual has not transformed their dependency by a result of genuine faith and inner knowledge.
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Auto-suggestion is a term denoting a mental process by which an idea is formulated in the subject's mind and accepted without the subject being aware of any logical or adequate grounds for its acceptance. It is a phenomena practiced daily, but is little recognized. The effects produced are similar to those producible by means of hetero-suggestion, in which the idea is communicated by another person. After a slight of hetero-suggestion, the recipient transforms it into autosuggestion, as it is reinforced by further heterosuggestions.
Suggestion plays an enormous role in daily life. Ideas published in the press, or opinions expressed by well-known personalities or even by friends and acquaintances for whom one has a high regard, are accepted unquestioningly and acted upon without any attempt being made to test their justification. Suggestion is used by advertisers. In medical practice, suggestion, whether applied consciously or unconsciously, is perhaps the most widely used and unrecognized of all remedial measures. The doctor's assurance that his prescription, toxic, harmless or otherwise, will soon give relief, goes a long way towards bringing about the desired result for both parties.
Whenever a pill, given as a result of a patient’s plea rather than a desired pharmacological effect, serves benefit, it is called a placebo. A placebo, from Latin for I will please, pleases not only the patient but also the administering physician as well. To distinguish the doctor’s professional exercise from that of the clergyman, and to spare his charge as being a quack, the term placebo was created.
When more powerful suggestion - hypnotism - is resorted to, the patient lies on a couch in a semi-darkened room and is asked to concentrate his attention on a given object- usually something bright -while a lulling effect is produced by a gentle buzzing or the rhythmical beat of a metronome. The degree of suggestibility, i.e. readiness to accept verbal suggestion, varies with each individuai and is dependent, according to Freud, on the repressed infantile reaction towards the parents.
A certain emotional relation, or "rapport," between the subject and the operator, or, rather, a one-sided relationship in which the subject is psychologically dependent on the operator, is the essential basis for suggestion. In its submissiveness and unquestioning acceptance, the attitude is identical with that of a child towards its parents - a combination of love, veneration, awe and fear.
The three processes characteristic of suggestion are ( 1 ) the emotional relationship or bond between the subject and the operator; (2) the acceptance of the idea suggested (heterosuggestion); and (3) the psychological effects of the idea after it has been realized (autosuggestion).
As a form of treatment, suggestion is unsatisfactory from the standpoint of both physician and patient. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature is by definition - magic. Symptoms may be alleviated for a shorter or longer period, but they tend to recur- at times with renewed intensity- and a permanent cure is seldom if ever effected. The underlying cause of the disorder is left untouched, the patient remains more or less dependent on the doctor and nothing is revealed that could be of value in throwing light on the origin of a functional nervous disease.
Throughout the ages efforts have been made to alleviate suffering by the power of the mind. In high cultures, religious medicine is something quite distinct from magic. Magic and sorcery are the influencing of events, people, and physical phenomena by mystical, paranormal or supernatural means. Magic works only when the intent of the recipient and that of the magician coincides. Religion offers moral acceptance of suffering with personal responsibility and dignity. Religion reinforces resignation to misfortune and offers a rationale, a life style, and community setting in which suffering can become a dignified performance. By surrender to God, or as an opportunity for closer association to a Saint or Savior, religious medicine stimulates personal responsibility for healing and a framework for the practice of folk, indigenous or practical medicine. Secular society has distanced religious organizations, leaving the church with only a small part of their former healing roles. Religious medicine offers compassion for the unfortunate, hospitality for the infirm, leeway for the troubled, and respect for the aged, and to a large extent, integrate the majority of their members into a hospitable, everyday communal life.