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SUGGESTION AND HEALING MACK UPKIN* Today sick people face a strange and wonderful choice oftreatments: orthodox medicine, Christian Science, chiropractics, dozens ofdifferent schools ofpsychotiierapy, assorted gurus, "natural healers," shrines, patent medicines, unusual diets, folk medicine, magic, faith healers. AU have their well-intentioned practitioners and convinced adherents. Insistent , not-so-well-intentioned peddlers ofnostrums also assault us, day by day, with suggestions. Oil of Olay will make women look younger; Geritol will make your spouse or lover more devoted because he or she adores your radiant health; diis mattress will make you go bounding over the greensward in the morning. A child mashes its finger and screams with pain; Mommy kisses the place diat hurts and die child stops crying. Hundreds of thousands of people take vitamins every day and testify that they feel much better. In a book which remained on die best seller lists for many months, Dr. Jarvis recommended taking apple cider vinegar and honey—for reasons which made absolutely no sense. Again, those who took this concoction testified diat diey felt better. The history of medicine is an endless story of strange devices [1-3] intended to help the ill. Consider such therapies as bleeding, puking, purging, sweating, amulets, used for a thousand years. Consider the animal secretions and excretions, minerals, herbs, the "Galenicals" in common use into this century. I do not doubt that many patients believed die treatment made them feel better. That great physician, teacher, and scholar, William Osier [4], wrote, "patients are more damaged than helped by the promiscuous drugging which is still only too prevalent." Yet he treated pneumonia widi "bleeding , veratrum veride, Paquelin cautery, hot poultices, cold badis, Dover's powder and strychnine"; all now considered useless. The modern physician's surroundings—the certificates on die wall, ?Box 2, 5039 Old Clinic Building, 226 H, University of North Carolina, Chapel HiU, North Carolina 27514.© 1984 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/85/2801-0400 $01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Mediane, 28, 1 ¦ Autumn 1984 | 121 the deference paid the doctor, the dangling stethoscope, the white coat—all suggest that physicians help the sick. Hospitals have somewhat similar impact—everybody is aware that here are many desperately sick people; operations and childbirth take place here; the nurses and doctors wear uniforms and carry an air of authority; the atmosphere of tension and crisis—all these combine to inspire in many people awe, fear, an awareness of power, and the reasonable expectation of help. Parenthetically, over the ages, the surroundings of healers have created die same feeling, whether they were the temples of Asclepius or the Christian Science church. The differences in methods, objectives, intent, are obvious; the common denominators are less apparent. All depend to some extent on die fact that the great majority of illnesses will subside spontaneously after a time. Faith in each is fostered by the normal tendency to "post hoc ergo propter hoc" thinking [5] (it happened after this, therefore it happened because of this). The beating of tom-toms during an eclipse has invariably been followed by the sun emerging; this has been done hundreds of times widi never a failure. A particular medication or procedure has been used thousands oftimes for a specific disease or a symptom; almost invariably, symptoms have improved. It takes a comparatively sophisticated person to remember that most illnesses and most disquiet are self-limiting and may subside just as quickly without treatment. Any treatment of illness in a conscious patient has at least two components : people who are more or less disturbed physically, emotionally, or both, and somebody or something which conveys the idea that the treatment will make them feel better. The common agent used to convey this second portion, the idea, is what I call suggestion or persuasion [6] which produces faith or belief. I use the term "suggestion" as the direct or indirect delivery of an idea which is then accepted without critical thought by die recipient, resulting in alteration of function, sensation, attitude, or behavior. I would add that the suggestion may be given intentionally or not and may do good or harm. It starts a process by which one thought...


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