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Arabian Mental Medicine

The Arabian physicians who succeeded to the traditions of Greek
medicine preserved also those relating to psychotherapy. Rhazes, the
first of the great Arabian physicians, has a number of aphorisms that
show his interest in and recognition of the value of mental healing.
He insisted that "doctors ought to console their patients even though
the signs of death are impending. For the bodies of men follow their
spirits." He believed that the most important function of the
physician was "to strengthen the natural vitality for, if you add to
that you will remove a great many ills, but if you lessen it by the
drugs which you employ you add to the patient's danger." "Truth in
medicine," he said, "is a goal which cannot be absolutely reached, and
the art of healing, as it is described in books, is far beneath
the practical experience of a skillful, thoughtful physician."
Manifestly he realized the importance of the influence of the
physician over the individual patient.

His greatest successor among the Arab physicians, Avicenna (eleventh
century), "the Hippocrates and the Galen of the Arabians," as Whewell
called him, has some striking tributes to what he recognized as the
influence of the mind on the body. He appreciated that not only might
the mind heal or injure its own body, but that it might influence
other bodies, through their minds, for weal or woe. He says: "The
imagination of man can act not only on his own body, but even on other
and very distinct bodies. It can fascinate and modify them, make them
ill or restore them to health." In this, of course, he is yielding to
the dominant mystical belief that man can work harm to others, which
subsequently, under the name of witchcraft, came to occupy so
prominent a place for ill in European history. But at the same time it
is evident that his opinions are founded on his knowledge of the
influence of mind on body, as he had seen its action in medicine. From
him we have the expression: "At times the confidence of the patient in
the physician has more influence over the disease than the medicine
given for it."

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