George Barton Cutten, Ph.D. – Three Thousand Years of Mental Healing

[Excerpt from Three Thousand Years of Mental Healing (1911)]


I find, by experience, that the mind and the body are more than married, for they are most intimately united; and when the one suffers, the other sympathizes.”—Chesterfield

The fact that there is a reciprocal relation between mental states and bodily conditions, acting both for good and ill, is nothing new in human experience. Even among the most crude and unobserving, traditions and incidents have given witness to this knowledge. For centuries stories of the hair turning white during the night on account of fright or sorrow, the cause and cure of diseases through emotional disturbances, and death, usually directly by apoplexy, caused by anger, grief, or joy, have been current and generally accepted. On the other hand, irritability and moroseness caused by disordered organs of digestion, change of acumen or morals due to injury of the brain or nervous system, and insanity produced by bodily diseases, are also accepted proofs of the effect of the body on the mind.

Recent scientific investigation has been directed along the line of the influence of the mind over the body, and to that phase of this influence which deals with the cure rather than the cause of disease. In addition to what the scientists have done along this line, various religious cults have added the application of these principles to their other tenets and activities, or else have made this the chief corner-stone of a new structure. There are some reasons why this connection with religion should continue to exist, and why it has been a great help both to the building up of these particular sects and the healing of the bodies of those who combine religion with mental healing.

James Gillick, "Silver Pot, Coral Necklace, Blue Glass"
James Gillick, “Silver Pot, Coral Necklace, Blue Glass”

We must not forget that in early days the priest, the magician, and the physician were combined in one person, and that primitive religious notions are difficult to slough off. Shortly before the beginning of the Christian era there were some indications that healing was to be freed from the bondage of religion, but the influence of Jesus’ healing upon Christians, and the overwhelming influence of Christianity upon the whole world, delayed this movement, so that it did not again become prominent until the sixteenth century. About this time, when therapeutics as a science began to shake off the shackles of religion and superstition, another startling innovation was noticeable, viz., the division of mental healing into religious and non-religious healing. This change came gradually, and as is usual in all reform, certain prophets saw and proclaimed the real truth which the people were not able to follow or receive for centuries.

Paracelsus, who lived during the first half of the sixteenth century, wrote these shrewd words: “Whether the object of your faith is real or false, you will nevertheless obtain the same effects. Thus, if I believe in St. Peter’s statue as I would have believed in St. Peter himself, I will obtain the same effects that I would have obtained from St. Peter; but that is superstition. Faith, however, produces miracles, and whether it be true or false faith, it will always produce the same wonders.” We have also this penetrating observation from Pierre Ponponazzi, of Milan, an author of the same century: “We can easily conceive the marvellous effects which confidence and imagination can produce, particularly when both qualities are reciprocal between the subject and the person who influences them. The cures attributed to the influence of certain relics are the effect of this imagination and confidence. Quacks and philosophers know that if the bones of any skeleton were put in the place of the saint’s bones, the sick would none the less experience beneficial effects, if they believed they were near veritable relics.”

What seemed to be a movement whereby mental healing should be divided so that only a portion of it should be connected with religion proved to be too far in advance of its time, and not until the advent of Mesmer was this accomplished. Healing other than mental, however, did obtain its freedom at this time. While Mesmer and his followers emphasized non-religious mental healing, it should not be thought that mental therapeutics was ever entirely separated from the church. There have always been found some sects which laid particular emphasis on it, and both Roman Catholic and Protestant orthodox Christianity have always admitted it. It has been considered, even if not admitted, that the power of the Infinite was more clearly shown by the healing of the body than by the restoration of the moral life. It is natural, then, that the sects which showed this special proof of God’s presence and power would grow faster than their spiritual competitors, but that they would decline more rapidly and surely than those which espoused more spiritual doctrines.

On the other hand, it is not difficult to see why mental healing would be helped by its connection with religion. Religion grips the whole mind more firmly than any other subject has ever done, and when one accepts the orthodox conception of God, he naturally expects to come in contact with One whose sympathies are in favor of the cure of his diseases, and whose power is sufficient to bring about this cure. With this basis there is set up in the mind of the patient an expectancy which has always proven to be a most valuable precursor of a cure. The devout religious attitude of mind is one most favorable for the working of suggestion, and persons of the temperament adapted to the religious expression most valued in the past are those who could be most readily affected by mental means. For these reasons, it can be easily understood why mental healing has continued to be associated with religion, and why when thus associated it has been so successful.

To those not very familiar with mental healing, it has seemed strange that any law could be formulated which would comprehend every variety. In the following pages many different forms will be described, and in examining the subject it will be found that many and varied are the explanations given for the results produced. We find also a general distrust of all the others, or else a claim that this particular sect is the only real and true exponent of mental healing, and that it produces the only genuine cures. Those which claim to be Christian sects, however divergent the direct explanation of their results, give the final credit to God, and base their modus operandi upon the Bible—in fact, they claim to be the direct successors of Jesus and his disciples in this respect.

We find, however, that the healer connected with the Christian sect has no advantage over his Mohammedan or Buddhist brother, and that neither is able to succeed better than the non-religious healer in all cases. We recognize that when one class of healers fails in a case another may succeed, but the successful one is just as liable to fail in a second case when the first one cures. What particular form of suggestion is most effective in any given case depends upon the temperament of the individual and his education, religious training, and environment. When we consider the whole matter we are forced to the conclusion that mental cures are independent of any particular sect, religion, or philosophy; some are cured by one form and some by another. Not the creed, but some force which resides in the mind of every one accomplishes the cure, and the most that any religion or philosophy can do is to bring this force into action.

As a general rule, one sharp distinction is noticed between the religious and the non-religious healers, viz., the religious healer sees no limit to his healing power, and affirms that cancer and Bright’s disease are as easily cured, in theory at least, as neuralgia or insomnia; the non-religious healer, sometimes designated as the “scientific healer,” on the contrary, recognizes that there are some diseases which are more easily cured than others, and that of those others some are practically incurable by psycho-therapeutic methods.

The line has been drawn in the past between functional and organic diseases, the former including diseases where there is simply a derangement of function, like indigestion, and the latter comprehending the diseases where the organ is affected, like ulcer of the stomach. The more we know about diseases the less sure we seem to be about their classification; some of which we were formerly sure have recently caused us considerable doubt. For example, we have formerly classed cancer as an organic disease and consequently incurable by mental means. The question is now asked, “Is cancer an organic disease, or is it some functional derangement of the epithelium tissue which causes it to grow indefinitely until it invades some vital organ?”

A further question arises due to further study. Some of the latest investigators claim that most if not all persons have cancer at some time in life, but that anti-toxin or some other remedy is supplied by the body itself, and the growth is stopped and the tissue absorbed. The question then seems to be pertinent, “If the body can produce the cure within itself, and this would be functional, why cannot mental means stimulate the body to produce it?” or “Does not mental influence stimulate the body to produce it?” What the cancer experts tell us of the wide-spread extension of the disease and its spontaneous cure, the tuberculosis experts affirm of tuberculosis, and certainly of the latter disease spontaneous cures are not uncommon. We also know that mental influence may, in fact does, have an indirect but no less beneficial influence in the cure of tuberculosis. From these examples one seems to be forced to either one of two conclusions, either of which is contrary to generally accepted ideas, viz., first, that these are not organic diseases; or, second, organic diseases are aided or cured by means of mental healing. In general, however, the distinction holds good; the so-called functional cases are amenable to cure by mental means, and the organic are much less so.

Coming back, then, to the common law which underlies all cases or forms of mental healing, we find two general principles upon which it is built—the power of the mind over the body, and the importance of suggestion as a factor in the cure of the disease. The law may be tersely stated in the first person as follows: My body tends to adjust itself so as to be in harmony with my ideas concerning it. This law is equally applicable to the cause or cure of disease by mental means. To apply this law in a universal way as far as mental healing is concerned, we should notice that however the thought of cure may come into the mind, whether by external or auto-suggestion, if it is firmly rooted so as to impress the subconsciousness, that part of the mind which rules the bodily organs, a tendency toward cure is at once set up and continues as long as that thought has the ascendancy.

Hack Tuke quotes Johannes Müller, a physiologist who lived during the first half of the last century, as follows: “It may be stated as a general fact that any state of body which is conceived to be approaching, and which is expected with certain confidence and certainty of occurrence, will be very prone to ensue, as the mere result of the idea, if it do not lie beyond the bounds of possibility.” This is a fair statement of the law from the stand-point of consciousness, but does not include all of the vast influence of subconscious ideas which are so potent in the cure of diseases by mental means. Müller’s observation was in advance of his times, but could not be expected to include the results of the latest researches of modern science.

For a great many years physicians have recognized that not only are all diseases made worse by an incorrect mental attitude, but that some diseases are the direct result of worry and other mental disturbances. The mental force which causes colored water to act as an emetic, or postage-stamps to produce a blister, can also produce organic diseases of a serious nature. The large mental factor in the cause of diseases is generally admitted, and it seems reasonable to infer that what is caused by mental influence may be cured by the same means. There is no restriction in the power of the mind in causing disease, and should we restrict the mind as a factor in the cure? The trouble seems to be in the explanation. People ask, “How can the mind have such an effect upon the body?” and to the answer of this question we must now turn our attention.

We all recognize that involuntarily certain bodily effects take place. We blush when we do not wish to; we betray our fears by our blanched faces. Some other factors of mind than the conscious mental processes have charge, and rule certain functions. The heart, the respiratory apparatus, the glands, and digestive organs all carry on their regular functions during sleep and also better without our direction when we are awake. What is the explanation of this? We have recently been saying that the subconsciousness rules these physical organs, and through this that the effects already referred to take place. So much has been written recently regarding the subconsciousness that anything more at this time would be superfluous; suffice it to say that the general conclusions on that subject are accepted as the basis of faith cure. We may, however, go further in our endeavor to explain.

In such mental troubles as psychasthesia much has lately been heard about psycho-analysis and re-education. What does that mean in the language of the psychology of a few years ago? In cases of unreasonable fears or phobias, for example, there is a firmly rooted system of ideas which refuses to depart at the command of consciousness. We analyze the mental store to find out the cause of the unreasonable persistence, and sometimes, quite frequently in fact, have to resort to hypnosis or hypnodization to find the initial trouble. It is then corrected, and re-education consists in living over again from the first experience, the events connected with that fear and correcting them up to date. In this process minutes only are used where the original experiences took weeks. Putting it in other words, we have certain systems of ideas; as a psychological fact of long standing we know that other elements may be injected into that system so as to change it, or that one system may be destroyed and another system built up to take its place. This is the secret of cures of this nature—of mental troubles—the irritating factor, the thorn in the mind, is extracted.

We have heard in modern psychology of the hot and cold places in consciousness, or, to use other terms for the same idea, the central and peripheral ideas, meaning the ideas which dominate consciousness, and those which are in the background. The mind can readily attend to only one thing at a time; if that be pain, for example, that takes up all of our attention. On the other hand, if for some reason some other ideas suddenly become central, then the pain is driven away to the periphery and we say we have no pain, or we have less pain. The sufferer from neuralgia experiences no pain as he responds to the fire alarm, and the toothache stops entirely as we undergo the excitement and fear of entering the dentist’s office. Serious lesions yield to profound emotion born of persuasion, confidence, or excitement; either the gouty or rheumatic man, after hobbling about for years, finds his legs if pursued by a wild bull, or the weak and enfeebled invalid will jump from the bed and carry out heavy articles from a burning house. The central idea is sufficient to command all the reserve energy, and that idea which has suddenly and unexpectedly become central may remain so. What Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection” in the cure of souls, is the precise method of operation in the cure of some bodily ills.

I have here made two suggestions which may help to show how mental healing may be brought about. Not simply the alleviation of bodily ills, but the complete cure may result from the influence on the subconsciousness. A large number of cures are brought about by faith in certain religious practices, this faith amounting to a certainty in the minds of the patients before the cure is started or while it is in progress. Trustful expectation in any one direction acts powerfully through the subconsciousness because it absorbs the whole mind, and thus competition with other ideas, either consciously or subconsciously, is largely excluded. It is this which acts in mental healing under the caption of faith, although some abnormal conditions may also arise to assist the suggestion.

That this confident expectation of a cure is the most potent means of bringing it about, doing that which no medical treatment can accomplish, may be affirmed as the generalized result of experiences of the most varied kind, extending through a long series of ages. It is this factor which is common to methods of the most diverse character. It is noticeable that any system of treatment, however absurd, that can be puffed into public notoriety for efficacy, any individual who by accident or design obtains a reputation for a special gift of healing, is certain to attract a multitude of sufferers, among whom will be many who are capable of being really benefited by a strong assurance of relief. Thus, the practitioner with a great reputation has an advantage over his neighboring physicians, not only on account of the superior skill which he may have acquired, but because his reputation causes this confident expectation, so beneficial in itself.

There have been fashions in cures as in other things. At one time a certain relic, or healer, would attract and cure, and shortly afterward it would be deserted and inefficacious, not because it had lost its power, but because it had lost its reputation, and the people had consequently lost their faith in it. Some other relics would then acquire a reputation, spring into popular favor, and the crowds would flock to them. We have many modern instances of this kind. If sufficient confidence in the power of a concoction, a shrine, a relic, or a person can be aroused, genuine cures can be wrought regardless of the healing properties of the dose.

The whole system of mental therapeutics may be divided into two parts; what we may designate as metaphysical cure denies that either matter or evil exists, and heals by inspiring the belief that the disease cannot assail the patient because he is pure spirit; the other class, faith cure, recognizes the disease, but cures by faith in the power of divinity, persons, objects, or suggestion.

Without doubt the best example of the former theory and the most successful application of it are found in Christian Science. Perhaps it is not so difficult to understand the frame of mind which brought about this theory on the part of Mrs. Eddy. Here was an hysterical, neurotic woman who knew nothing all her life but illness and misfortune. She had suffered much from many physicians and was none the better but rather worse. One physician had called her disease one thing, another had designated it another, until confusion and uncertainty were increased with every physician consulted. She began to despair of ever either knowing about her disease or of having it cured. As a last resort she went to Quimby, and he told her there was no disease and no need of suffering. He denied the suffering, and she accepted his teaching; she followed him in denying disease and then matter, and kept on with her theory of negation and denial until she evolved her present theory. It was a natural reaction from all conceivable pains characteristic of hysteria, to no pain; from all conceivable diseases which different physicians had opined, to no disease; from the infirmity of body with its inhibitory discomfitures, to no body. The history of the founder of Christian Science is its best raison d’être, especially from a psychological stand-point, and the rather strange thing is that a reaction from an abnormality, going as it naturally does to another abnormality, should find a response in the religious cravings of so many; the philosophy undoubtedly would not attract as it does were there not connected with it, in the practical working of the system, the lure of mental healing.

Faith cure, the other form of mental healing, has such a variety of forms that it is practically impossible to describe a typical one. Faith in some power, or, what amounts to the same thing, the uncritical reception of suggestions concerning the cure, is the common factor in all forms.

The question naturally arises, Which is the best form of mental healing? There is no best form for all diseases and all persons. For example, it matters not how new associational systems are formed so long as they are substituted for the pernicious ones. It may be in the common experiences of every-day life, through the pleading of a friend, during sleep or trance, in some abnormal state of a hypnotic character, or during religious ecstasy, and we cannot well say in any given case that one form will be more efficacious than another. Mental healing creates nothing new, but simply makes use of the normal mechanism of the mind and body. The question then is, What method of mental healing is most likely to stimulate the mental mechanism so that physiological processes will be set up leading to a cure? The great power of faith and expectancy may decide the question, and the answer may be in favor of the form in which the patient has the most faith, either on account of its reputation, or on account of some prejudice on the part of the patient.

Published by The Project Gutenberg, October 2007.