Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/231

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227
PSYCHOTHERAPY IN FOLK-MEDICINE

PSYCHOTHERAPY IN FOLK-MEDICINE
By Dr. ABRAM LIPSKY
NEW YORK CITY

PSYCHOTHERAPY may look like a discovery of the twentieth century, but the truly remarkable thing about it is the extent to which it has been practised without being scientifically understood. It has been in the world since the remotest antiquity, nor has it ever left the precincts of civilization. A scholar spelling out an Assyrian inscription discovers a cure for rheumatism as follows: "Surround the patient with a circle of leavened meal, place his foot upon a reed-bearing dough, then put away the refuse-food. Take him seven time across the surrounding circle, saying 'Ea hath loosed, free the evil, Ea hath created, still the wrath, undo the knots of evil, for Ea is with thee! Physician of the World! Ninnissin! Thou art the gracious mother of the world, the leader of the underworld, the mistress of E-dubbo,'" etc. What is this but psychotherapy? A New England cure for rheumatism is to take a cat along to bed. That too is psychotherapy and rests on essentially the same principle.

The scientific person will say that these are interesting examples of heathen superstition, but that no one was ever cured by such means. That is just the question. In the light of our present knowledge, the probability is that both the Assyrian and the New England methods have worked—at least sometimes. Both are illustrations of the influence of thought upon the body. In the one case, faith of a religious nature dispels the physical symptoms; in the other, fear of the cat is probably the therapeutic distraction—or, as the psychologists call it, the "dissociation."

Popular psychotherapy has long known what science is only now finding out. The best known example of mind-cure is probably that of the toothache that ceases when the dental office is approached. If a man may cure his toothache by walking in the direction of a dentist's office, why may he not cure it by spitting into a frog's mouth, or scratching his gum with a nail and driving the nail into an oak tree, or pulling out with his own teeth the teeth of a dead man's skull, or solemnly repeating the lines:

Christ passed by his brother's door,

Saw his brother lying upon the floor,
 What aileth thee, brother?

 Pain in the teeth?